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The Word Mulatto

Updated on August 7, 2009


Yes I am mixed: black and white. Because of the way that I look there is not a week that goes by where someone does not ask what am I. They are asking about my nationality because I have a look that people of different nationalities can relate to.  Even though I am mixed I have never really had an identity problem. I understand that some mixed children go through life not knowing where they fit in or what category they belong to.  That was never really me. I have been accused of being too black, too white, not white enough and not black enough at different instances of my life which has always made me sit back and laugh. I do not feel defined by my races, never have, I am simply me a combination and culmination of my parents; plain and simple. I have been called a lot of things in my life Oreo, nun, newspaper, zebra grey girl.  Basically anything that represents a combination of black and white I have been called. And there are many names that children of interracial relationships can be called by; mixed, bi-racial, multi-racial and the list goes on and on.

Being called all sorts of names makes it really easy for me to understand the concept that a word is just a word and I try not to give words any negative power.  Sometimes that is not easy to do and it has taken a long time to feel this way.  However, there is still one word that gives me problems to this day. This word just rubs me the wrong way every time I hear it.  The word is Mulatto.  The word Mulatto just hits a nerve every time I hear it and I have never liked the word from the first time I heard it. I still hear this word today and with children of interracial relationships such as Tiger Woods and President Barack Obama the word Mulatto has had somewhat of a resurgence. When I first heard the word Mulatto I had no idea what the word meant just the sound of it alone was ugly to me. Then when I finally was old enough to look up the meaning it just made me dislike that word even more. Mulatto is a derivative of the word Mule which is a hybrid/product of a donkey and a horse.  When I was a little girl in the 1970s the dictionary definition actually included the word mule.  Since then the dictionaries have been updated to say the product or offspring of one black/African American and one white/Caucasian parent. This definition is more to my liking although I still cannot get the word mule out of my head.

I do not believe that Mulatto was meant to be a hateful word but the very definition is something that I would not want to identify myself with.  I understand that it is just a word and if I don’t give it the power it can’t hurt me. But the word has always sounded ugly to me even before I knew what it truly meant.  Since the word is making a comeback I am trying to turn the image in my head around from negative to positive so that I do not shutter at the sound of the word every time I hear Mulatto.



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    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      6 years ago from West Coast

      Investing - Thank you for this detailed information.

    • profile image


      6 years ago


      In any case, we still must investigate other data to see whether the term mulato is, in fact, derived from mulo. Before doing this, however, note should be taken of the argument made by R. Dozy to the effect that the Arabic language had developed a term for mulato derived from a term for mulo. Dozy argued that nagil (mulato) was derived from nagl (mulo). The fact is, however, that nagil and nagl in Arabic seem to refer to date palm trees and palm trees (nakhl and nakhla) and not to mules. The term for mule is baghl and no Arabic dictionary consulted by this writer has any term meaning mulato, mixed-blood, hybrid, half-breed, half-caste, or mestizo, which can be in any way whatsoever related to 'mule'.

      An Arabic-Spanish dictionary of c.1500, based on the Arabic of Granada, has:

      mulo de asno y yegua = bágla, baglát (pl.)

      mulo de asno y yegua = bágal, ábgál

      muleta mula nueva = bugáyla, bugayalit (pl.)

      muleta nuevo = bugáyal, bugayalit (pl.)

      The terms used in the Arabic dictionaries for mulatto etc. are muwallad, plural muwalladun (translated as mulatto, half-caste, mestizo, hybrid, half-breed, half-blood, as well as other meanings); hajin, plural hujana (translated as half-breed, mulatto, hybrid); khelassi (probably archaic, from khalat or khalata [to mix], translated as mulatto); and mojanis (from hajin), translated as half-breed and half-caste.

      Dozy also asserted that another term in Arabic for mulato is hudairi, derived from áhdar (green). Akhdar does mean green, but no dictionary has any derivative referring to mixed-bloods or to people of color (i.e., 'olive'-skinned, loro color, and so on). One of my Arabic-speaking informants thinks that khudairi 'could' be used in North Africa for a type of skin-colour but that it is in no way similar to the concept of mulato. That is, it might refer to a color between black and white but not to admixture. Khudari means, at present, a greengrocer.

      The Muwallad and Malado Theories

      The above discussion is of some interest because Dozy was a major opponent of a theory that the term mulato was derived from Arabic muwallad, a term which we will now proceed to discuss. Before beginning, however, it is important to state that some authors seem to have confused muwallad with another Arabic word, maula, and that, in fact, the two terms may have merged together in both Spanish and Portuguese. This issue will be clarified subsequently, but we will begin with a focus upon muwallad and its supposed Iberian derivatives, muladí and malado.

      Corominas in his etymological dictionary refers to the Hispano-Arabic word muladí, used in Spain for a 'Christian Spaniard who made himself a renegade by becoming a Muslim'. This muladí was thought to be derived from muwallad, signifying ' "Arabized foreigner', and at times "mulato" '. Also according to Corominas the term 'was pronounced muellad in the Arabic of Spain'.

      Let us begin the analysis of muwallad by first looking at what scholars have said about the term in both its Spanish and Portuguese forms. Muladi is usually given as a Castillianized form while malado or maladi are given as Portuguese forms.

      The Portuguese historian Oliveira Marques states that between 868 and 930 a rich Portuguese landowner named Abd el-Rahman ben Marwan ben Yunus called Ibn el-Jilliki (the Galician) ruled the al-Gharb (Algarve). He was descended from a northern family 'which had passed over to Islam and had become muwallad (converted). ... Later on, ... many Christians were converted to Islam and became muwalladun (from which comes the Portuguese word malados).' In addition, many mozárabes (Christians as well as Jews) lived in al-Gharb where they wrote Latin with the Arabic alphabet.

      The Grande Enciclopédia Portuguesa e Brasileira has a large section illustrating the use of muladi in the tenth century especially. Muladi was: 'a term which the Arab historians used to designate the indigenes of the Iberic peninsula, children of indigenes converted to Christianity. Its general significance is the child of an Arab father and a non-Arab mother.'

      It seems likely that the above passage should read 'converted to Islam' instead of 'converted to Christianity'; however, the latter part is probably as intended: a child of an Arab parent and a non-Arab parent.

      González Palencia, in his study of Islamic Spain, described the various classes of Christians converted to Islam:

      « Renegados y muladíes. Los renegados ocupaban una situación intermedia. Se distinguian: los maulas, cristianos casi todos, procedientes de esclavos y siervos visigodos, que alcanzaban su libertad profesando el mahometismo ... , los muladíes, hijos de padre o madre musulmanes y considerados por la ley como musulmanes; a todos se les conocía por el nombre de muladies (muwallad, adoptado). »

      He defines two types of muladíes (from muwallad), those of visigodo origin (West Goths) who had been enslaved and later converted and who were also called maulas and those who were of half-Christian, half-Muslim background and who had not been slaves themselves. It is especially significant to stress that he places maulas under the broader category of muladíes and that the term muwallad is defined as meaning 'adopted'.

      Simonet does not list muladi or maula in his Glosario as terms peculiar to Mozarabic Spain but in his introduction he states that: 'Not only the Mozarabs, but also the Muladíes or Islamized Spaniards conserve ... the proper language of the race to which they belonged ... [the Romance].' By muladíes Simonet meant native Spaniards converted to Islam. (The term was reportedly transcribed in Latin as mollites).

      An historian of Spain also tells us that: 'these mozarabes ("almost Arabs"), as Christians living in Andalus were called, were soon outnumbered by the muladíes or converts' [to Islam]. He also refers to the muladíes of Saragossa in Aragón, both references being to the epoch of Islamic power in Spain.

      Lévi-Provençal states that 'new Muslims' (néo-musulmans) in the period of the Caliphate of Cordoba were known as muwalladun (plural) and also as musalima and asalima. These converts, adopted into the Arab-dominated Muslim society during the eighth and ninth centuries, came to form the most numerous part of the population of Andalucia. They, along with the Mozárabes, continued to speak 'Romance' (as well as Arabic).

      Now let us look briefly as the term malado in Portugal, recalling that Oliveira Marques (above) states that malados took their name from muwalladun. Santa Rosa de Viterbo, in his publication of 1798 on the subject of archaic terms used in Portugal in former times, wrote a very significant section on malado (a term which I have not seen in any of the Portuguese dictionaries from the 1560s through 1798. He states:

      « Malado: O que vive em terras de Senhorio. ... Tambem no Seculo XII. se chamárão malados, mancebos, ou criados de servir, os filhos, que ainda estavão de baixo de Patrio Poder. ... No Foral de Thomar de 1174 onde diz no Latin: Pro suo malado, o Tradutor verteo: Por seu mancebo. ... No Foral de Pena - cova de 1192 se diz = Miles, e sui maladi. »

      To review his major points: malado (maladi) referred to someone (such as youth, servants, children) living on the feudal domain of a lord, but also in the 1100s malado was used as an equivalent for 'servants' who were the children who continued under their father's power. He then cites the use of malado in latin to mean 'servant' (1174) and the use of maladi as a plural form (1192).

      Santa Rosa de Viterbo also cites many pertinent examples. A document of 1075 used malado for criado (servant) as in vestros mallados (your malados). Maláda referred to 'a female slave, servant, concubine, young girl, maid or servant-girl, who by condition' or by obligation had to serve 'their Lords or Masters'. A document of 1279 used malada in such a way, to refer to servitude under certain conditions or obligations to a lord or owner. (It was a concept far broader than slavery, as such.)

      Maladía and maladya referred to obligatory service or to a demand for service and thus the term was used in a contract of 1297. As late

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      Thanks for your comments iloozyun.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      no no no. 'mulatto' means mix of a donkey and a horse, always resulting in a sterile donkey that proves they should not have bred.

      are you self-proclaimed 'mulattos' going to call your kids 'quadroons' and your grandkids 'octoroons'?

      slave words akin to the n-word, yuk.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Floeticpoet - Thanks for sharing your experience. It is always interesting what others go through.

    • floeticpoet profile image


      9 years ago

      Triplet Mom, thank you so much for this wonderful and inspirational hub. You have truly spoken to me this day because I have experienced being called pretty much all of the words you've listed above. My parents are both mixed ( no one in my family is just one race)my mother is french-west indian, asian, and french european, and my father is native-american indian, african american, and irish. So my two siblings and I all came out different ( to the point where we don't even look related). It gets difficult at times when people see us together and they mistake my brother for being my boyfriend, because us being related doesn't even cross their minds. So thanks again for this very inspirational hub.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Haute Coco - Wonderful sentiment and oh so true. My children range in hues even though they are triplets. But their personalities have nothing to do with their skin tone. I am glad that we are different. Being the same would be boring.

    • Haute Coco profile image

      Haute Coco 

      9 years ago from Georgia, USA

      im sure there are a million and one stories just like yours.

      My mother is part Chinese and Native American. My father could be Sidney Portier's twin.

      Although I never considered myself MIXED, I knew I was different. We weren't raised mixed. My mother always thought of herself as a woman of color. And so I have taken on the same role. We can only be who we are. nothing more.

      I have an 11 yr old daughter who is as chocolate as they come. but I have taught her to love the skin she is in. God made us different for a reason.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Elisabeth - I bet his stories were wonderful. I would love to have heard some of them. Thanks for sharing.

    • elisabethkcmo profile image


      9 years ago from Just East of Oz

      great hub!!

      my late husband was mixed, his dad a black soldier, mom a german girl, they met and married in 1950. He had many many stories to tell about being a little brown boy with blonde hair in a small German town...

      and of course, he was an incredibly handsome man

      take care and keep writing!

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      QG1Moore - It amazing the experiences people have. I suppose its got a lot to do with the environment a person is in or exposed to. Thank you for your comments.

    • QG1MOORE profile image


      9 years ago

      I have two close friends who are bi-racial. One experienced no problems in school but the other experienced several negative experiences during her school years. I didn't know what the word mulatto came from. I learned something new today.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Nemingha - Thank you so much for your comments. That really makes me feel so good. I can honestly say that it is not easy to do when others want to use words to define who you are. Thank you again.

    • Nemingha profile image


      9 years ago

      I really cannot express the impact the first two paragraphs of this hub had upon me or the emotion it aroused. No, I am neither black or the product of an interracial marriage - but I am just so darn delighted to see (or in this case read) someone who refuses to be defined by what they are, and is just comfortable with being who they are. You are truly inspirational!

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Jules - I remember that time completely I thought it was strange too. With my kids being various hues on the spectrum there are many speculations made about them too. Yes there are way too many presumptions made on race alone which is completely unfair and usually untrue as well.

    • profile image

      Julia Newlin 

      9 years ago

      Hey girl - i remember someone asking us if we were hispanic sisters. I remember thinking that except for having brown skin and being on the shorter side (esp. me!) we didn't look much alike. Maybe it was when i had that awful spiral perm?? ha ha. (i'm always mistaken for a latina - i don't mind.) My son, especially looks mixed race. His skin is browner than mine. I tell them they are earthlings. they think i'm crazy. :) I say they're Californians. ---- all sorts of stuff. For the last decade, i've put decline to state on the race box for things. I've felt if i check any box, presumptions are made about who i am and what i "should" be like. i just don't check it anymore. :)

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      P & O - Its really interesting to hear what words are used around the world. Thanks for sharing. We use Mixed-race too but there are so many other words that are used as well.

    • Plants and Oils profile image

      Plants and Oils 

      9 years ago from England

      I've vaguely heard the word but I don't think we've ever really used it in the UK. "Mixed-race" is what you hear here.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Dynamics - Your grandmother had a wonderful response! Sometimes people focus way too much on categories or labels when we are simply people.

      jetta - Thank you so much! I think you hit the nail on the head its not the word so much as how it is used. Because words can take on so many different meanings. How interesting that the same people could be called so many different things from Mulatto to Negro in 10 years. Wow.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing your story. I've never liked that word either, didn't realize it made reference to a mixing of "animals", hmmm. I can remember when researching our ancestry and looking at the 1910 Census, my grandparents were referred to as Mulattos, and 10 years later they were Negroes. Other words that rub me the wrong way are "ethnic" when used to clump all minority groups together, and "exotic" usually making reference to a nonwhite who is pleasing to the eye. Again, thank you for your writings, I learn something new every time. Peace and blessings, always

    • DynamicS profile image

      Sandria Green-Stewart 

      9 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      TM, I don't like the word either. I didn't know that it was associated with mule. Wow! My grandmother was of mixed heritage, black & white and she also hated the word mulato. She would say "I'm God's child" when she was asked about her ethnicity.

      You go girl, forget those haters...

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      Well I have been hearing it a lot more lately. Most people who use it do not use it to be hurtful. Its just another way of saying mixed or bi-racial.

    • suziecat7 profile image


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I hope it is not making a comeback. There are too many hurtful words that need to go away. A very thoughtful Hub.

    • Triplet Mom profile imageAUTHOR

      Triplet Mom 

      9 years ago from West Coast

      G-Ma - Thank you so much. I am ok with it all you really have to stay positive and move forward. Its not always easy but it will make you crazy if you don't. Yes I still want to meet. My schedule just took a turn down incredibly busy lane so I need to figure it all out first.

      Nobody - Thank you very much. I enjoyed your story. Sometimes you have to refocus the negative comments to find the alternatives.

    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 

      9 years ago from Rochester, New York

      As the know-nothing white parent of two black children, I remember the first time race really hurt me. My daughter was out playing at a little playground out side our house with several other children of the immediate neighborhood. She came in to ask her mother to wash her. My wife took her to the sink and held her up so she could get her little hands wet and she said "No. Wash me so I am not dark anymore. Make me look like you." It seems that the other black children playing with my daughter wouldn't play with her or let her play because she was too dark. My son is not as dark as my daughter. My daughter is so pretty to me I can't describe it. What I said to her was to point out that no one matches in color and that is how God wants it to be. She was the color she was supposed to be and she was so beautiful the other kids were jealous. Then I showed her that her mother was lighter than I am and if she looked at anyone they would not be the same color. She seemed to accept that but she would not go back out to play. Tripletmom thank you for writing this because these things are so hurtful. Bless you hon. Love nobody

    • G-Ma Johnson profile image

      Merle Ann Johnson 

      9 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

      Good for you! ! ! is so sad when these things can effect us for a long time..but you seem ok with it all...You are a real sweetie, and sooo??? will you make it next time me and Candie meet? Please ?? :O) Hugs G-Ma


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