[muh-lat-oh, -lah-toh, myoo-]
Mulatto is a term used to describe a person with one white parent and one black parent, or a person whose ancestry is a mixture of black and white. Perceived as pejorative and demeaning in some cultures, its current usage varies greatly.


In Portuguese-speaking Africa, the term mestiço is used to describe people of mixed European and African ancestry.

Of São Tomé and Príncipe's 193,413 inhabitants, the largest segment is defined as mestiço and 71% of the population of Cape Verde is also classified as such. The great majority of their current populations descend from the mixing of the Portuguese that initially settled the islands from the 15th century onwards and the black Africans brought from the African mainland to work as slaves.

In Angola and Mozambique, they constitute smaller but still important minorities; 2% in Angola and 0.2% in Mozambique.

In South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, the term Coloured (also known as Bruinmense, Kleurlinge or Bruin Afrikaners in Afrikaans) refers to individuals who possess some degree of sub-Saharan ancestry, but not enough to be considered Black under South African law. In addition to European ancestry, they may also possess ancestry from Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and St. Helena. Besides the extensive combining of these diverse heritages in the Western Cape, in other parts of southern Africa, their development has usually been the result of the meeting of two distinct groups. Thus, in KwaZulu-Natal, most coloureds come from British and Zulu heritage, while Zimbabwean coloureds come from Shona or Ndebele mixing with British and the Afrikaner settlers. Griqua, on the other hand, are descendants of Khoisan and Afrikaner trekboers. Despite these major differences, the fact that they draw parentage from more than one "naturalised" racial group means that they are "coloured" in the southern African context. This is not to say that they necessarily identify themselves as such – with some preferring to call themselves "black" or "Khoisan" or just "South African."

Latin America and the Caribbean

Mulattoes represent a significant portion of various countries' populations in Latin America: Dominican Republic (73%), Cuba (51%), Venezuela (30%), Brazil (38.5%), Puerto Rico (up to 11%), Belize (25%), Colombia (14%), Haiti (up to 5%).

The roughly 200,000 Africans brought to Mexico were for the most part absorbed by the mestizo populations of mixed European and Amerindian descent. The state of Guerrero once had a large population of African slaves. Other Mexican states inhabited by people with some African ancestry, along with other ancestries, include Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Yucatán.

In one recent genetic study of 800 Puerto Ricans, 61% had mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from an Amerindian female ancestor, 27% inherited mitochondrial DNA from a female African ancestor and 12% had mitochondrial DNA from a female European ancestor. Conversely, patrilineal input as indicated by the Y chromosome showed that 70% of Puerto Rican males in the sample have Y chromosome DNA from a male European ancestor, 20% inherited Y chromosome DNA from a male African ancestor and less than 10% inherited Y chromosome DNA from male Amerindian ancestor. As these tests measure only the DNA along the matrilineal and patrilineal lines of inheritance, they cannot tell with certainty what percentage of European or African ancestry someone has.


According to the IBGE 2000 census, 38.5% of Brazilians identified themselves as pardo, i.e. of mixed ancestry. This figure not only includes mulatto people but also includes other multiracial people such as people who have European and Amerindian ancestry (called caboclos). According to the IBGE census 2006 even 42.6% of the Brazilians have identified themselves as pardo.

The term mulatto (mulato in Portuguese) is not commonly used anymore in Brazilian society. Instead, other terms widely used are moreno, light-moreno and dark-moreno. These terms are not considered offensive, and focus more on the skin color than on the ethnicity (it is close to other human characteristics like tall and short). Those terms are also used for other multiracial people in Brazil, and they are the popular terms for the pardo skin color used on the 2000 official census.

May 13th is Mulatto Day in Brazil. The date is a reference to all that participated in the struggles for abolition of slavery in the country, as José do Patrocínio, Luis Gama and André Rebouças and recalls the signing of Lei Áurea, on May 13, 1888, which abolished slavery in Brazil.


In Haiti mulattos represented a smaller proportion of the population than in many other Latin American countries. Today they constitute about 5% of the population. In the 18th century, they made up a class of their own, the gens de couleur. Often they were highly educated and wealthy. Many Haitian mulattos were also slaveholders and as such actively participated in the suppression of the black majority. However, some also actively fought for the abolition of slavery. Distinguished mulattos such as Nicolas Suard and others were prime examples of mulattoes who devoted their time, energy and financial means to this cause. Some were also members of the Les Amis des Noirs in Paris, an association that fought for the abolition of slavery. Nevertheless, many mulattos were slaughtered by Black Haitians during the wars of independence in order to secure Black political power over the island. Earlier some Black volunteers had already aligned themselves with the French against the mulattos during the first and second mulatto rebellion. In Haiti, mulattos initially possessed legal equality with the white French population. This provided them with many benefits, including inheritance. In the 18th century, however, Europeans fearful of slave revolts had restricted their rights, but they were successfully reclaimed in 1791.

United States

Mulatto is no longer commonly used in the United States. Some who prefer terms such as biracial, may consider it offensive. It existed as an official census category until 1930. In the south of the country, mulattos inherited slave status if their mothers were slaves. As for free mulattos, in Spanish and French-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly New Orleans, Louisiana), a number of mulattos were free and slave-owning. Although it is commonly used to describe individuals of mixed European and African descent, it originally referred to anyone with mixed ethnicities; in fact, in the United States, "mulatto" was also used as a term for those of mixed white and Native American ancestry during the early census years. Mulatto was also used interchangeably with terms like "turk", leading to further ambiguity when referring to many North Africans and Middle Easterners.


The etymology of the term is uncertain. It may be derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word mulato (a small mule), which itself is derived from mulo, mule; from Old Spanish; from Latin mūlus), by analogy with the mule, which is the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey.It was once a generic designation name for any hybrid.

Some dictionaries and scholarly works trace the word's origins to the Arabic term muwallad, which means "a person of mixed ancestry". Muwallad literally means, "born, begotten, produced, generated; brought up, raised; born and raised among Arabs" (but not of pure Arab blood). Muwallad is derived from the root word WaLaD (Arabic: ولد direct Arabic transliteration: waw, lam, dal). Walad means, "descendant, offspring, scion; child; son; boy; young animal, young one." Muwallad referred to the offspring of Arab men and foreign, non-Arab women. The term muwalladin is still used in contemporary Arabic to describe children of Arab fathers and foreign mothers. According to Julio Izquierdo Labrado, the nineteenth-century linguist Leopoldo Eguilaz y Yanguas, as well as some Arabian sources muwallad is the etymological origin of mulato. These sources specify that mulato would have been derived directly from muwallad independently of the related word muladí, a term that was applied to Iberian Christians who had converted to Islam during the Moorish domination of Iberia in the Middle Ages.

However, the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) casts doubt on the muwallad theory. It states, "The term mulata is documented in our diachronic data bank in 1472 and is used in reference to livestock mules in Documentacion medieval de la Corte del Justicia de Ganaderos de Zaragoza, whereas muladí (from mullawadí) does not appear until the XVIII century, according to [Joan] Corominas".

See also


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