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hybridity - race - black - white

Movie poster for The Black Klansman (1966)
image sourced here.

Tagline: This Is Andrea ... She Had To Have His Love ... Even Though Her Baby Might Be Black!

This Is Jerry ... He Passed For White ... to pierce the innermost secrets of the white man ... and his women!

In literature: Clotel, Or, the President's Daughter (1853)


Mulatto (also Mulato) is a term of Spanish and/or Portuguese origin describing first-generation offspring of African and European ancestry. Formerly a feminine form, mulattress was formed on analogy with "negress." The forms "mulatta/mulata" survive in Spanish and Portuguese. Thus, though many Americans of Hispanic and/or Latino origin identify themselves as mulatto, the term is rarely used by non-Hispanic African Americans.

In colonial years the term originally referred to the children of one European and one African parent, or the children of two mulatto parents. During this era a myriad of other terms, both in Latin America and the USA, were in use to denote other individuals of African/European ancestry in ratios smaller or greater than the 50:50 of mulattos: "octoroon" for example. Today, mulatto refers to all people with significant amounts of both European and African ancestry.

The origin of the term is that it derives from "mula", the Spanish word for mule, once a generic designation name for any hybrid. As a result, it is considered offensive by some English-speakers, who might prefer the term "biracial" instead. Interestingly, Spanish-speakers do not consider "mulatto" offensive. An alternate etymology traces mulatto to the Arabic muwallad, which means "a person of mixed race or ancestry". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulatto [Apr 2005]

The tragic mulatto myth

Lydia Maria Child introduced the literary character that we call the tragic mulatto in two short stories: "The Quadroons" (1842) and "Slavery's Pleasant Homes" (1843). She portrayed this light skinned woman as the offspring of a White slaveholder and his Black female slave. This mulatto's life was indeed tragic. She was ignorant of both her mother's race and her own. She believed herself to be White and free. Her heart was pure, her manners impeccable, her language polished, and her face beautiful. Her father died; her "negro blood" discovered, she was remanded to slavery, deserted by her White lover, and died a victim of slavery and White male violence. A similar portrayal of the near-White mulatto appeared in Clotel (1853), a novel written by Black abolitionist William Wells Brown. --http://www.ferris.edu/news/jimcrow/mulatto/ [2004]

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