Why You Can Kiss My Mulatto Ass

Why You Can Kiss My Mulatto Ass


Mat Johnson, BuzzFeed Contributor

“The recent re-emergence of mulatto identity isn’t about race, it’s about actively acknowledging a multiethnic reality in a simplistically racialized world.”

Yo, I’m a mulatto. And I have to tell you, it’s great. I was black for most of my life, which is also great, but the thing is I look white and, coincidentally, my dad’s also white (he’s great too), and after a while I needed a word that offered me a better fit, and acknowledge my father and his whole family’s impact on my life, which was also a big part of my identity. So I converted to mulatto, which I see as a subset of the larger African American experience.

I actually love the word mulatto. I love it for its rolling linguistic sound — moo-lah-toe — sliding off my tongue the way Lolita did for Humbert Humbert. But I also love mulatto for the illicit pleasure of watching the uncomfortable cringe the word sometimes elicits from others, even when I say it to describe myself: an African American novelist who just happens to look like a washed-up Latvian rugby player. The discomfort is a response I’ve encountered from black people, from white people, and even sometimes from many mulattoes — or rather, I should say, “first-generation mixed people of black and white ancestry.” That inelegant mouthful is what mulatto means, but I can’t shorten it without saying “mulatto,” because there is no other word in the English language that captures that meaning while connecting it with the larger sociopolitical history of North America.

The word mulatto is at some level absurd: Of course it’s absurd; it’s an antiquated relic of a racist past. Just like the reductive racial classifications of black and white, which are equally absurd in the face of the overwhelming complexity of ethnicity, caste, and historical context…

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