How a Beautiful Mulatto Broke Hearts By Using Colorism
I will remember this past summer, in part because of the rise of Black women rappers, taking the game by storm. They feel comfortable in their skin and spoke with a braggadocious flair. These women actively changed the narrative about the role of women in Hip-Hop.
Artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B, and Saweetie reflect a new generations’ perspective. The Grammy winner, Cardi B, spoke at length to Bernie Sanders and advocated for meaningful structural change throughout this past election cycle. Megan Thee Stallion used her platform to speak out about the injustice following Breonna Taylor’s slaying, and Saweetie sent the Twitter world a flutter when she set strict standards for the men she dates. In America, society often views women through stereotypes. Many view Black women as either Jezebels or role-models. However, Black women are dynamic and refuse to limit themselves.
Mulatto, a beautiful Atlanta rapper, hopped on the scene and threw salt on the unity which characterized the latter half of this year. She broke hearts when she called her best friend an orangoutang. While some brushed this off as comical banter, comparing dark-skinned women to monkeys has a dark past. Comparing Black women to primates is cruel, dehumanizing, and bigoted. Mulatto’s verbal assault shows that not everything that glitters is gold.
Alyssa Michelle Stephans chose a rap name that angered many Black people. Many people remain unaware of the significance of the term mulatto, thinking it refers to the simple blending of white and Black people. However, history runs deep into the red mud of the Mississippi River.
In the South, Spanish, French, and German colonists joined the slave trade with the British in disenfranchising Indigenous and African people. Within Louisiana, the leadership between these European nations switched several times from French to majority Spanish rule. Today, Louisiana still describes its sectors as parishes, deriving from the French. The rest of the United States are divided into counties.
European conquerors wanted a term to describe the product of racial mixing. The Spanish used the phrase, Mulatto, which referred to someone mixed with African and European lineage.
In 1850, things got a little more explicit. The U.S. Census Bureau rolled out two new racial categories: “B” for black and “M” for mulatto, a term for someone with one black and one white parent that became sort of a catch-all for anyone perceived as racially ambiguous, including many Native Americans (Donnella, 2016).
While this type of racial mixing is mostly consensual in our modern society, history shows the painful experiences that led to the creation of mulatto people. Slave owners raped African women, producing many mulatto children. If these children passed the brown paper bag test, they received better treatment than their dark-skinned siblings.
Many struggled with their racial identities in a country that puts people into boxes. The term “tragic mulatto,” refers to those who did not feel they fit in with Black or white people. Not every mulatto person felt their existence was tragic, with the majority of them finding love and acceptance among their Black family members. Some who passed the brown paper bag test enjoyed benefits due to their proximity to whiteness.
The fathers of these children were sometimes the slave-owner or his white friends. As slaves were the property of the plantation owner, the rape of a black woman by whites was not considered a crime. First-generation children of mixed race were called mulattoes (Simpkin, 2020).
Black women had no legal recourse to stop their slave masters from committing these crimes. In 1855, a Black woman named Celia resisted her rapist slave owner. Unfortunately, the crime for such resistance was the death penalty. He purchased her when she was fourteen years old, and she had no legal right to turn down her oppressor. On December 21, 1855, the judge ordered that they hang her by the neck until death.
Thus, you can see why these babies got the nickname “tragic mulatto.” This name didn’t only refer to their perhaps tumultuous opinions about their racial identity but also in the story of their conception, which deprived Black women of their humanity.
Despite the troublesome history of the term, many Black people in the South proudly call themselves mulatto. Like many racist terms used against Black people, there will always be those who try to reclaim words. While Mulatto intended to bring something positive to the conversation about mixed-race people, her decision to use her light-skin to assert privilege over others raised concern amongst many Black women.
Colorism thrives within our community today because of white supremacy. The system pits Black women against one another because light-skinned women get advantages in educational, professional, and interpersonal facets. When Mulatto chose her rap name, she expressed two concepts: that she self-identified as a light-skinned mixed African American woman and wanted this aspect of her character highlighted for the world to see.
Who is Mulatto?
She is a homegrown Atlanta native who rose to fame after participating in The Rap Game(2016), a Lifetime reality TV show. Hosted by some big names like Jermaine Dupri and Queen Latifah, Mulatto received the best thing a young artist can — a golden opportunity. Ever since then, Stephens has put out music with some big names in the rap industry. In 2018, she worked with 2 Chainz, Future, Janelle Monáe, and Jacob Latimore. Her career is definitely on the upward moving track.
Like most women of color, she experienced racial discrimination. Police officers accused her of committing felony theft, claiming that she looked like a woman who committed the crime. After they released her from these charges, she came out with a controversial track. She used her voice as an artist to express anger towards the police officers who profiled her.
This year, she worked with fellow rapper Gucci Mane to produce a collaboration called Muwop. For those who may be unfamiliar with the Atlanta Hip-Hop scene, Gucci Mane often refers to himself as Guwop. Thus, the track signified a high profile collaboration with a rapper treating her as a talented young woman instead of just eye-candy.
However, like most modern female rappers, she enjoys expressing sexual preferences and independence through music. You can tell that she does not mind becoming eye-candy when the mood suits her. You may have seen her shaking her derrière in Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallions’ summer song, WAP. This year, Mulatto received a nomination for the best Hip Hop Artist of 2020.
Still, her pursuits did not remain within the world of music. She also owns a clothing store called Pittstop Clothing in Jonesboro, Georgia. Through her hard work, she is slowly but surely becoming a household name. However, her actions this summer call into question her ability to be a voice for positivity for Black women.
As I spoke about in Hip-Hop and Black Women — Unrequited Love, Black women have a complicated relationship with the genre. Many of the high profile male artists talk about women as sexual commodities rather than living, breathing humans. Still, Black men are not the only culprits in perpetuating white supremacist ideology in the music industry. Mulatto’s decision to call her friend an orangutan is something many Black women won’t soon forget.
The incident unfolded on social media as Mulatto’s friend styled her hair. She appeared to be doing a great job of it, as the rap artist smiled for the camera. As the video began, you could see her sitting in the stylist’s chair. Many women can recall some joyful experiences while getting their hair done.
It started as a harmless video-blurb. Mulatto initially praised her best friend, a dark-skinned woman. Then, like a bolt of lightning, the insult landed. She called the woman her orangutang. She paused before saying it as if she considered not going there.
She compared her to a monkey and the women in the room laughed, including her best friend. It seemed like an awkward moment as the video abruptly finished. While some people think that racist jokes are funny, many Black Twitter users felt outraged by her complete disrespect for her dark-skinned friend. Both women looked beautiful, and their hair and makeup had an air of elegance. Still, Mulatto’s actions brought us right back to a plantation state of mind.
When a woman does your hair, nails or gives you a massage, she provides a service. Still, when someone serves you, they also put themselves beneath you on the social hierarchy during the experience. Their goal is to provide their best for their clients. It was heartbreaking to watch Mulatto treat her friend that way while she was providing a service.
Consider that while this Black woman attempted to enhance Mulatto’s beauty by fixing her hair, she diminished her beauty by comparing her to a monkey. While some considered this type of action a joke, I thought of this as a clear example of colorism. She called her an orangutan because she could get away with it. The stylist’s business would only grow with the press from doing a celebrity’s hair.
Someone else simply commented on the video which was re-uploaded on YouTube, “CANCELLED.” Another reasoned why Mulatto’s joke was inappropriate, “I’m light-skinned. And I have never jokingly called anyone a monkey. I just don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s a slur against our people (Lamb, 2020).
When someone can impact your career, you cannot always let them know if they genuinely offend you. I know I put up with a boss or two who had Confederate flags in their offices. While I consider this behavior a micro-aggression, I endured it at the time because I needed the money. I needed to appear like a harmless meek Black woman to avoid offending white men’s feelings.
Time and time again, Black women have to grin and bear it while people disrespect us. I think it is time for us to acknowledge that these jokes are not comical. They play upon an old racist handbook that places a white or light-skinned person’s feelings above our own. We cannot make the same type of jokes back.
In the video, Mulatto’s friend did not play tit for tat. Like so many other Black women, she endured blatant racism out of financial and social need.
Consider that while this Black woman attempted to enhance Mulatto’s beauty by fixing her hair, she diminished her beauty by comparing her to a monkey.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As of late, Mulatto has considered changing her name to something new. If she decided to make this change, it could lead to meaningful conversations bout colorism. In America, Black people face so much adversity and thus rely on unity to improve living conditions. We should address colorism instead of sweeping it under the rug. Mulatto said the intent of her name stemmed from her pride and desire to reclaim a racial epitaph. However, there is a thin line between being proud of your biracial heritage and trying to place distance between yourself and your Blackness.
Throughout history, white people often portrayed Black women as grotesque, unattractive, and unfeminine. When a light-skinned or mixed woman calls a Black woman an orangoutang, she reflects a deep sense of superiority, deriving from proximity to whiteness. In a country that denigrates Black women, Mulatto broke hearts by taunting her friend for her skin color.
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Donnella, L. (2016, August 25). All Mixed Up: What Do We Call People Of Multiple Backgrounds? Retrieved December 02, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/08/25/455470334/all-mixed-up-what-do-we-call-people-of-multiple-backgrounds
Lamb, B. (2020, September 16). Mulatto Canceled After Calling Her Darker-Skinned Friend ‘Orangutan’. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://upnewsinfo.com/2020/09/15/mulatto-canceled-after-calling-her-darker-skinned-friend-orangutan/
Simpkin, J. (2020, January). Mulattoes. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://spartacus-educational.com/USAmulatto.htm