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The Tragic Mulatto Myth Debunked: Holding Tight to All of Our Roots

By Guest Contributor Aisha Schafer, cross-posted from Clutch Magazine

I’ll admit it. I absolutely hate the word mulatto. Along with a few other such terms like “jungle fever” and “swirling.” It brings forth no romanticized, nostalgic sentiment for my multi-racial ancestry when I hear or see it. Mulatto.

Let me list a few of the main reasons why I loathe this word:

  • The word mulatto is derived from the Old Spanish word mula meaning mule—the crossbreed offspring of a horse and a donkey. It is an outdated term used to label people with relatively equal White and Black ancestry. And, yes, while it may be true that my Black ancestors were enslaved and often bred to labor as such, they were not animals. Any language that dehumanizes them or their descendants so that they potentially are viewed as comparable to a mule is problematic to me.
  • Since the term mulatto was formed as a label to be applied to those people of equal White and Black ancestry, I, along with many others, don’t quite make the cut. My mother is Black American and my father is biracial born from a Japanese mother and White American father. The term mulatto excludes anyone who has other multi-racial heritage outside of the Black/White binary in addition to having Black and White ancestry.
  • Now, this one may be a personal hang-up, but I cannot seem to see the word mulatto on paper (or computer screen in our modern tech-infused culture) without connecting it to the adjective tragic, as the two words are often observed in cahoots with each other.

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