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July 11, 2005 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Mulattoes Child-bearing amongst slaves started around the age of thirteen, and by twenty the women would be expected to have four or five children. To encourage child-bearing some population owners promised women slaves their freedom after they had produced fifteen children. The folks who told these stories had reasons to cry out in anger that most of us (on the blue) probably don't.
posted by snsranch (37 comments total)

 
The price of freedom shall be your first born son first fifteen children.
posted by caddis at 8:04 PM on July 11, 2005


To me, it really reveals the mindset of slaveowners - it's like they only saw the short term future and completely ignored/didn't-consider/weren't-able-toconsider(intellectually) the ramifacations of the outcomes of their economic/philosophic choices.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:30 PM on July 11, 2005


To me, it really reveals the mindset of slaveowners - it's like they only saw the short term future and completely ignored/didn't-consider/weren't-able-toconsider(intellectually) the ramifacations of the outcomes of their economic/philosophic choices.

I don't think the slaveowner's were being particularly unsustainable in their actions. Not more so then today with our oil dependancy, for example. With Nuclear proliferation, and so on. Eventualy they could have moved to limit and regulate slave reproduction.

The problem was that they were crule, and inhumane.
posted by delmoi at 9:36 PM on July 11, 2005


The folks who told these stories had reasons to cry out in anger that most of us (on the blue) probably don't.

Wait a second, are you implying the average poster to MeFi is probably better off then a human fucking slave?

But... but... UDF was out of tuna fish sandwiches today, and I accidently shrunk one of my favorite tee shirts, not to mention my nasty sunburn is starting to peel. So I've faced hardship too...
posted by Jezztek at 9:49 PM on July 11, 2005


And now the modern-day bigots complain about the large numbers of blacks surrounding them.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:53 PM on July 11, 2005


On the other hand, my own"swipe of the brush" was acquired differently: the usual pattern was that runaway slaves would hide in the hills and intermarry with the remnants of Native tribes (who also included white members and mixed-race kids), whose offspring might then marry whites such as young men who preferred life in the hills to being drafted by either side in the Civil War, and naturally there was a continuing influx of African genes from runaway slaves and later poor freedmen too.

Thus you'd find these areas -- villages, "hollers", sometimes half a county -- populated by "tri-racial isolates" of varying complexions and "racial features". This is how the people around the Lumbee River became an English-speaking Indian tribe of black people. You see, the terms "mulatto" and "quadroon" having gone out of style, one now refers to someone who is, say, 1/2 European, 1/4 Native and 1/4 African as "black" -- unless for example his name is Locklear and he's from Robeson County, North Carolina; this distinction became fairly important in working-class East Baltimore in the 1970s. (Another distinction is that between peoples like the Lumbee and maverics like my dad on the one hand and the "federally-recognized tribes" on the other: a lot of the latter have as much non-Native blood as he did, but they have the government's permission to call themselves 'Indian.'")

My dad, though he was from western West Virginia and so not Lumbee, was of a similar mixture; he enjoyed hanging at the mainly-Lumbee Baltimore American Indian Center, but according to him what stopped him from closer association (besides being too old and crippled to do much) was that the "respectable" part of Lumbee life centered around their churches, which tend to be Baptist, Pentacostal and various varieties of "holy roller" -- while he was a "mainstream" left-liberal United Methodist ("in other words some kind of commie to them" as he said).

But anyway. The point of this rambling rant is (or was supposed to be) that not every mixed-blooded (or "mulatto" or "quadroon") person, even 150 years ago, was the product of rape and/or slavery. Some people came by it honestly.
posted by davy at 10:02 PM on July 11, 2005


Or rather they saw the long term. Raping slaves was also a way of breeding new slaves. Why buy slaves when you can just force them to reproduce?
It strikes me that even today, people who have any black ancestry at all are considered "black." For instance, Halle Berry is almost always referred to as a black woman or an African-American woman, while she is actually bi-racial. But I guess that might be her personal preference as to how she is identified.
posted by crapulent at 10:09 PM on July 11, 2005


It's amazing to consider that the children's fathers were emotionally capable of allowing their children, their own flesh and blood, to suffer as slaves. What infinite evil devolves from our capacity to look on others as less than human.
posted by scheptech at 10:36 PM on July 11, 2005


not dissing anyone for using the term lightly, and not trying to be pedantic (and none too successfully, i might add), but i think it should be mentioned that the term "mulatto" is considered offensive by lots of folks because it is akin to calling someone a mule (which is where the word comes from). most folks wouldn't take well to being called a "mutt" by another, and "mulatto" is even worse because it implies that the two parents are of a different species from one another, and cannot reproduce in the next generation.
posted by RedEmma at 10:41 PM on July 11, 2005


My Webster's Collegiate dictionary has it that the word dates from 1593, which of course predates the system of American system of chattel slavery. The Wikipedia article you link (sorry, I still trust Webster's more, so I looked at it first) itself states that mulatto's Spanish word of origin was once a generic term for any sort of hybrid.
posted by raysmj at 10:55 PM on July 11, 2005


I gladly refer to myself as a mutt and I'm damn proud of it too. I've also managed to become middle-aged without producing offspring, but I'm sure that's due more to my personality than my ancestry.
posted by davy at 11:23 PM on July 11, 2005


I had entered my sixteenth year, and every day it became more apparent that my presence was intolerable to Mrs. Flint...I, whom she detested so bitterly, had far more pity for her than [her husband] had, whose duty it was to make her life happy. I never wronged her, or wished to wrong her; and one word of kindness from her would have brought me to her feet.
Harriet Jacobs

It struck me when I was reading this that I sympathize with both women, white and black (to categorize them simplistically). The man is committing adultery and isn't even being discreet about it. It is a blatant flaunting of marriage vows. Yet the wife is utterly powerless to do anything about it other than to persecute the poor girl. *sigh* men...

crapulent: I think it's interesting that black means different things in different places. Perhaps one day we'll all have a narrower range of skin color? Though I'm sure we'll still find something or another to distinguish between we and they.
posted by state fxn at 1:46 AM on July 12, 2005




mulatto
A. n.

1. A person having one white and one black parent. Freq. more generally: a person of mixed race resembling a mulatto. Cf. METIS n. 1, QUADROON n.

Now chiefly considered offensive.


2. fig. A hybrid. Obs.


1664 BP. J. TAYLOR Dissuasive from Popery I. i. §3 Purgatory, which is a device to make men be Mulata's as the Spaniard calls half-Christians.

metis
Chiefly N. Amer.

A. n.

1. A person of mixed descent.



quadroom

1. a. One who is the offspring of a white person and a mulatto; one who has a quarter of Negro blood. b. rarely. One who is fourth in descent from a Negro, one of the parents in each generation being white.


In early Sp. use chiefly applied to the offspring of a white and a mestizo, or half-breed Indian. When it is used to denote one who is fourth in descent from a Negro, the previous stage is called a terceron: see the transl. of Juan and Ulloa's Voyage (1772) I. 30, and cf. QUINTROON.


(From the OED)

The practice of coming up with words for the various percentages of mixed race blood in an individual is repellent to me - for surely the main motivation for doing so was the enforcement of racism. However, they were less enlightened times. The use of such words today is far less understandable/excusable. snsranch's usage is in referencing its historical use, which is necessary and valid (IMHO). To not use the term in this context is to ignore historical correctness in a misguided effort to be politically correct.
posted by spock at 3:48 AM on July 12, 2005


Anyone want some DQ?
posted by sohcahtoa at 4:55 AM on July 12, 2005


Halle Berry is almost always referred to as a black woman or an African-American woman, while she is actually bi-racial. But I guess that might be her personal preference as to how she is identified.

I think you are correct that it is her preference.

A contrasting case would be, I'm thinking, Tiger Woods, whose father is black and mother is asian, and whose famous discussion of his self-identification as mixed-race on Oprah caused some controversy at the time.

Google also coughed up this link, that seems to be somewhat pertinent to this discussion:
Mixed Media Watch
posted by anastasiav at 5:41 AM on July 12, 2005


Two books I've read recently address these issues from different viewpoints and both are well worth the read.
They are: The Grandissimes and A Lesson Before Dying.

There is only one race, the human race, homo sapiens, pigmentation is only a variable function of D3 uptake.
To treat others as less than ourselves simply because of pigmentation or cultural differences is the pinnacle of stupidity.

New DNA tests would surprise many who imagine they have no African ancestry. Be proud to be of mixed "race" all us mongrels of the world!
posted by nofundy at 6:17 AM on July 12, 2005


'mulatto' really is extremely offensive and nobody with an ounce of shame uses it any more. I don't think snsranch knew this though...

Still, what's most amazing about this is, as others have pointed out, the raping of slaves broke just about every social/religious taboo in the book but it was something accepted if not praised. Really does drive home the reality of how one great injustice can totally warp an entire culture.
posted by nixerman at 6:29 AM on July 12, 2005


Halle Berry is almost always referred to as a black woman or an African-American woman, while she is actually bi-racial. But I guess that might be her personal preference as to how she is identified.

Halle Berry has never had a problem mentioning her caucasian parentage, nor have many other bi-rcial celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, or Roy Campanella back in the day. But our society deems that anyone who is black at all, is completely black; if you are anything of the other, you are the other, in other words, rather than a person with unique heritage like any other. So it's not so much a choice she's made as one society has made for her, IMO FWIW.
posted by jonmc at 6:46 AM on July 12, 2005


Funny, I was taught the word mulatto in school (US, 1969), as merely a technical term. Never had a use for it, never had reason to question it. Much latter, I learned the term "pickaninny" for the same thing, in a book of fiction. Never had to use that one, either.

'Race' is a ridiculous concept. The only race I recognize is the rat race.
posted by Goofyy at 7:10 AM on July 12, 2005


davy: i refer to myself as an American Mutt, too. however, referring to oneself with a derogatory term is somewhat different than being described that way by someone else.

i only mentioned it because so many of my friends had no idea the term was offensive (living in an overwhelmingly white town, i guess), and since this thread will exist in the ether until the world explodes, it deserved a few words. (not because it is wrong to use it to describe a historical reality. however, i guess i do wonder if you would use "nigger" as an FPP title for the sake of historical accuracy.)

BTW, i never thought Metis was used except in northern US and midwestern Canada, and only in reference to white/native mixed ancestry. that term, as opposed to this thread's title, is one of pride to those it describes, AFAIK.

on preview: and you wouldn't actually use "pickaninny," would you? i mean, it would seem that instinctively we know that's derogatory.
posted by RedEmma at 7:31 AM on July 12, 2005


'mulatto' really is extremely offensive and nobody with an ounce of shame uses it any more

Did you click the link? Its the title of the (educational, non-offensive, full of historical quotes) web page that is the link here. Please go click the link.
posted by anastasiav at 7:45 AM on July 12, 2005


oops. i meant to say Métis=French Canadian and native ancestry.
posted by RedEmma at 8:00 AM on July 12, 2005


anastasiav: but isn't it curious that a history ed website, one that would presumably be used to teach children, doesn't even mention the issues in using this word today? it's like teaching Huckleberry Finn without making any reference to the fact that the word "nigger" isn't to be used in polite speech. (which has happened in the past, and led to some pretty nasty playground encounters, as i've heard. this is why black parents sometimes try to get the book banned from the curriculum.)

i suspect that the writers of the website didn't know it wasn't acceptable modern terminology either, which would be why they don't use quotations around the term when describing Frederick Douglass et. al. in the third paragraph.

i wasn't even commenting on the website itself, until now. it seems to me that the writers' leaving that out does a disservice to the students who might use the site. it sets them up to be reprimanded.
posted by RedEmma at 8:14 AM on July 12, 2005


but isn't it curious that a history ed website, one that would presumably be used to teach children, doesn't even mention the issues in using this word today?

Yes, but then take them to task for that, not for using the word at all, even in this historical and limited context. Actually discussing the history behind the word makes it so much more understandable why using it today is seen as derogatory.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:57 AM on July 12, 2005


i don't think i took anybody to task, exactly.

socahtoa--i didn't see your links until today. high-larious if it weren't so ... [something].
posted by RedEmma at 10:19 AM on July 12, 2005


i don't think i took anybody to task, exactly.

socahtoa--i didn't see your links until today. high-larious if it weren't so ... [something].
posted by RedEmma at 10:20 AM on July 12, 2005


From the movie "Bullworth"-When asked about his stance on race relations, Warren Beatty, in the title role replies, "I think we should all fuck each other until we're the same color. Sigh, maybe someday...
posted by primdehuit at 11:53 AM on July 12, 2005


OK I'm clueless what is the matter with "High Yellow Butterscotch Sundae" in sohcahtoa's links, someone want to explain why that's offensive? And I think the perceived insensitivity of the MooLatte is way overblown (and people who enunciate probably wouldn't even notice the similarity).
posted by Mitheral at 11:57 AM on July 12, 2005


the term "high yellow" is along the same lines as "mulatto," without the covert connotation of "not quite human." the point is that naming food items after racial differences is in poor taste, at least, and more than likely clueless in its disregard for customers. you don't call asians "yellow people," do you? i mean, that used to be okay, but we're moving onward, aren't we? trying to be respectful of one another?

[inward plea that no one hops onto the "this is so PC" high horse.]
posted by RedEmma at 12:17 PM on July 12, 2005


"High yellow" is a term used to describe light-skinned black people, or light-skinned people of culturally black ancestry.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:18 PM on July 12, 2005


RedEmma writes "the point is that naming food items after racial differences is in poor taste, at least, and more than likely clueless in its disregard for customers. you don't call asians 'yellow people,' do you?"

So it's another racial descriptor, got it. I had never heard the term "High Yellow" and had no idea it was a slur. If I saw a food named High Yellow Blank I'd assume it was a description of the food, like maybe high yellow pie for a lemon meirange pie. Now if someone set out to offend people that would be wrong of course but sometimes there is no ill will just ignorance. Like the urban legend about Chevy's Nova[1].

You know it's no wonder cars are painted "sandlewood" and "sea-breeze" and "vitamin C" and "butane"; it seems like at one time or another most base colours and simple adjectives have been co-opted as a racial or other slur.

[1]Which is one of the coolest names for a car ever in US English: GM made four cars all on the same platform. The Chevy Nova, Olds Omega, Pontiac Ventura and Buick Apollo
posted by Mitheral at 2:22 PM on July 12, 2005


I find it interesting that in America if a person had any African ancestry they were/are black forever and ever, amen. But in Australia, if a person had any white ancestry they were white and therefore taken away from their native/black parent in order to save their European/white genes and reduce the black ancestry until the children were clearly white again and the bi-racial error was erased. Completely different philosophies of racism, coming from cousin communities. I've never understood how that happened.
posted by loafingcactus at 4:53 PM on July 12, 2005


Métis=French Canadian and native ancestry.

Well, maybe originally, but not according to Yannick Noah. Is this song known at all in the US? Do we even know who Yannick is??!?
OK, maybe it's not a phenomenal musical accomplishment, but I will argue that it could be looked at as a testimony to Francophone culture and the métissages that have resulted.

-- Je suis métisse, un mélange de couleur Oh oh
Oh métisse, je viens d'ici et d'ailleurs

"I'm métisse, a mixture of colors
Métisse, I'm from here and elsewhere"

(rough translation leaving out the "oh ohh's")
in any case, this is all over the French and African airwaves..

Today in France the word "métisse" is fairly all inclusive. It might indicate European and African, African and Asian, Arab and Northern European, Central American and Mongolian, maybe even Corse and Breton.. Europeans in general could easily be looked at as métisse. Just take the example of a small, albeit important, area of Europe -- the Flanders Not exactly homogeneous, but it's so much easier to say "white".

I would argue that there are just "more obvious" and "less obvious" métissages and we all fall in somewhere.


For the past two years, I've been living on the island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. Métissages here are basically the norm. There are significant populations from the Comoros (a population with roots in East Africa and also the Arabic countries of Yemen and Oman -- speaking Shingazidja, a Bantu language very close to Swahili), Madagascar (18 different ethnic groups with origins in Africa and Indonesia - speaking Malagasy, an Austronesian language), Reunion Island (people with origins in both Europe and India), Europeans, and other random passers-by. Don't worry, there's no real need to walk around with a sticker on your forehead... only if it makes you feel more comfortable.


In any case, the word "race" is really hardly used in France, and never in the context we find it in the States. A main example would be that one is NEVER asked to fill in a circle claiming one's ancestry or origin for any reason. It's all part of the Republican ideal.

Why are we so insistent as to use terms such as "biracial" and "mixed-race" in the US? Is it still that taboo? To me, these terms sound cold, detached and scientific. Also, I can see somebody lightly referring to himself as a "mutt," but I would hope if I ever have a child with somebody and he/she falls into the "more obvious" category, others wouldn't think like that. But, maybe I've been in France too long.

for those who read French :
Métis

comparison of the French and British idea or even non-idea of race -- pdf
posted by pwedza at 5:24 PM on July 12, 2005


Mayotte
posted by pwedza at 5:25 PM on July 12, 2005


Why are we so insistent as to use terms such as "biracial" and "mixed-race" in the US? Is it still that taboo?

because we're obsessed... OBSESSED, i tells ya. and yes, to your second question, although wait about two more generations...
posted by RedEmma at 6:19 PM on July 12, 2005


This is a great discussion. There is a lot here I wasn't aware of before.

I hadn't realized the term mulatto was offensive, either. Being in Los Angeles, there are a lot of offensive terms that one has to avoid using, but a lot of Angelenos wouldn't even know what mulatto means. In any case, I'm glad I know now that it's offensive.
posted by halonine at 11:50 PM on July 12, 2005


OT

Pwedza: thanks for the link about Flanders. Now I understand fully why my partner (Flemish) is such a PRICK about speaking Dutch in Brussels, but nowhere else (he speaks fine French). He is usually nice to everyone and speaks whatever someone is most comfortable with (of his 4 languages). But not in Brussels.
posted by Goofyy at 2:31 AM on July 13, 2005


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