Mulatto denotes a person with one white parent and one black parent or a person who has both black ancestry and white ancestry. The term may be perceived as pejorative in some cultures and situations. Its current usage varies greatly.
The etymology of the term is uncertain. It may be derived from the Portuguese and Spanish word mulato (referred to casta), which itself is derived from mula, mule; from Old Spanish; from Latin mūlus), by analogy with the mule, which is the hybrid offspring of a horse and a donkey.
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," with the implication of being 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), and it should be kept in mind that colloquial Arabic pronunciation can vary greatly. 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 governance 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 18th century, according to [Joan] Corominas".
In Portuguese-speaking Africa, the term mestiço is used officially to describe people of mixed European and African ancestry. However, the term mulato is widely used and no longer has pejorative connotations.
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 South Africa the term Coloured (also known as Bruinmense, Kleurlinge or Bruin Afrikaners in Afrikaans) used to refer 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 India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, 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 a small number preferring to call themselves "black" or "Khoisan" or just "South African."
Mulattoes represent a significant portion of various countries' populations in Latin America: Dominican Republic (73%), Cuba (70%), Venezuela (30%), Brazil (38.5%), Puerto Rico (up to 11%), Belize (25%), Colombia (14%), Haiti (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.
Other sources cite that more than 50% of Cubans are mulatto, about 40 percent of Brazilians are mulatto/mestizo, and 67% of Venezuelans mestizo with African ancestry.
Mulatto are also important in Argentina (in Provincia de Buenos Aires), Uruguay, and Ecuador, but their numbers are undefined. In Argentina and Uruguay, mulattoes tend to have more European than African ancestry. An Inter-American Development Bank Study accomplished by Cowater International in Canada and written by Michael Franklin and Margarita Sanchez provides some additional data into populations with African ancestry in Latin America. The study provides a breakdown of populations with African ancestry in Latin America. This IDB study reports that non-blacks with African ancestry make up more than 30% of Colombia's population. Record keeping on race in Latin America has always been suspect, and the numbers of mulattoes or mulatto-mestizos are likely to be higher.
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 mulato people but also includes other multiracial people such as people who have European and Amerindian ancestry (called caboclos). A majority of mixed-race Brazilians have all three origins: European, African, and Amerindian ancestry. According to the IBGE census 2006 even 42.6% of the Brazilians have identified themselves as pardo.
The term mulatto (mulato in Portuguese) does not carry a racist connotation and is used along with other terms like moreno, light-moreno and dark-moreno. These focus more on the skin color than on the ethnicity, although they can refer to hair color alone - e.g. "light-moreno" would be "caucasian brunette". Such 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.
Mulatto existed as an official census category until 1930. In the Southern United States, mulattoes inherited slave status if their mothers were slaves. As for free mulattoes, in Spanish and French-influenced areas of the South prior to the Civil War (particularly New Orleans, Louisiana), a number of mulattoes 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. In the 2000 United States census 6,171 americans self-identified with mulatto ancestry.
In addition, the term "mulatto" was also used to refer to the offspring of whites who intermarried with South Asian indentured servants brought over to the British American colonies by the East India Company. For example, a Eurasian daughter born to an East Asian father and Irish mother in Maryland in 1680 was classified as a "mulatto" and sold into slavery. Although still in use, in the last half century the term mulatto has fallen out of favor among some people and may be considered offensive by some in the United States. Today the preferred terms are generally biracial, multiracial, and multiethnic.
Miscegenation in Spanish colonies
Mulatto (from Spanish mulato, small mule) is a word referring to a person who is born to one Black parent (often an African-American) and one Caucasian parent. The term may be considered offensive or rude to some, because of its origin. The term is also used to refer to a light brown color, because of a mulatto's skin color. Many people prefer terms such as "biracial" and "of mixed race" over "mulatto".