Why Didn't They Tell You?

Dr. FRANK MARTINS COMMENTARY ON HISTORICAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC ISSUES OF OUR TIME

… that the word mulatto is a very racist word?

… that the word mulatto is a very racist word?

The word racist is thrown around a lot nowadays, so much so that sometimes it is a stretch to accept some things that are called racist as actually racist. However, in the case of this word mulatto, there is no doubt that the label arose from a full-blown racist mind.

We have to thank the Spaniards for this word! The origin and etymology of the word mulatto, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the Spanish word mulato which comes from the Spanish word mulo which in turn came from the Latin mulus. Both mulo and mulus mean mule. English speakers anglicized the Spanish word by adding an extra t.

Now what is a mule? A mule1 is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse (the offspring of a female donkey and a male horse is not a mule, but a hinny1). The mule inherits the size and strength of his mother (the horse) but other traits from of his father (the donkey), such as intelligence, perceptiveness and sensitivity2. He is a work animal, a beast of burden. The featured image above is a photo of two mules. However, this offspring is not fertile; you cannot get another mule from a female mule and a male mule. This infertility is due to the fact that a horse and a donkey are not the same species but close enough to produce an infertile offspring; a horse has 64 chromosomes but a donkey only has 62. The implication of the word is quite clear: the offspring of a black and white union is like a mule, not quite human because, one party is human but the other party is not quite human. This brings to mind the comments of the ignorant slave owner Hammond in the Falconhurst novels (Mandingo is the first one) in which he refers to the mixed slaves who looked white as “mostly human”.  Clearly in the mind of the white racist, the black party is the not quite human one. Besides being racist, it is a lie. The offspring of a black and white union is completely fertile, even if one is a black Pygmy from the African rain forest and the other a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Nordic from Scandinavia because as the Bible attests, and science confirms, that all people are of one blood (Acts 17:26).  . 

The above discussion brings to mind a discussion that is going on right now, the discussion about Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals. During pre-historic times, Homo Sapiens out of Africa, in the view of some scholars, bred with Neanderthals from Europe and Asia and produced an offspring which was fertile, as evidenced by the fact that humans today who have their origin in Asia or Europe may have up to 4% Neanderthal DNA. Unmixed Sub-Sharan Africans have no Neanderthal DNA. I have a hint of Neanderthal DNA because I am 13% European. The passing on of Neanderthal DNA in the face of the extinction of the Neanderthal suggests that the mixed offspring was fertile. If so, were Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals of the same species? Needless to say, this is not a settled issue; not all scholars believe that Homo Sapiens bred with Neanderthals, which begs the question as to how Neanderthal DNA got into the human gene pool. But isn’t it ironic that in the early pre-historic encounter between the African and the European and Asian, the African is the true human?  

My final observation is this: given the undisputable fact that mulatto is a very racist word, I suggest that you not categorize or describe anybody as a mulatto. If a person is half white (half black), then say that. The person is biracial but not a mule!

References and Notes

1. Mule and Hinny compared. A mule is bigger than a hinny. From the picture, you can see that they inherit a different set of traits from their parents.

Mule
Hinny

2. See Maura Wolff, “How to tell the difference between a mule and hinny”.  Accessed at   https://animals.mom.me/tell-difference-between-mule-hinny-9758.html

                         

                                      

3. Featured image is taken from https://www.google.com/search?q=mule&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS894US894&sxsrf=APq-WBvikGGJjML7tYYY-QXtPwxBg5F97Q:1647052631459&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=2ahUKEwi635iYxb_2AhVFRBoKHfyvD_EQ_AUoAXoECAEQAw&biw=1920&bih=969&dpr=1#imgrc=TSxAdJaenjAE9M

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that President John Quincy Adams believed that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were also for People of African descent?

that President John Quincy Adams believed that the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were also for People of African descent?

Implicit in the often heard, and erroneous statement, that the U. S. Constitution made a Black Person three-fifths of a person is the idea that the high sounding ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were not meant for Black People, understanding that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution go hand-in-hand. It follows that if a Black Person is considered to be only three-fifths of a person, surely he cannot be deemed to be created equal to a White Person. By appealing to the actual words of the Constitution, my last blog demonstrated, I believe, that the U. S. Constitution did not define a black person as three-fifths of a person. Since it is written in 2 Corinthians 13:1b, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established”, I shall now bring forth the 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, as my second witness, along with several other witnesses.

Since John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the United States, was there when the Constitution was ratified, his testimony should carry a lot of weight. Born almost ten years before the issuance of the Declaration of Independence, he was the eldest son of the second President of the United States, John Adams. He was twenty years old when the U. S. Constitution was drafted in 1787 and twenty-two when it was ratified in 1789 and a law student at the time.  He was involved in the battle to ratify the Constitution, having initially opposed its ratification but later came around to supporting it. In short, John Quincy Adams surely has the standing, so to speak, to speak to the issue at hand.

Adams, having returned to Washington as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives after his stint as President, agreed to represent the African captives in the Amistad case before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1841. At one point in his argument before the Court, Adams asserted that, ““The Constitution nowhere recognizes them [slaves] as property. The words slave and slavery are studiously excluded from the Constitution. Circumlocutions are the fig-leaves under which these parts of the body politic are decently concealed. Slaves, therefore, in the Constitution of the United States are recognized only as persons, enjoying rights and held to the performance of their duties (italics added)”1. Eureka! On reading this passage, I understood why the words slave, slavery, or Negro were not mentioned in the original Constitution, something I had pondered on for years. Pivotal to Adams’ argument on behalf of the captured Africans was the conviction that these captured Black Africans were due the same consideration as whites in enjoying the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and, therefore, had the right, given to them by their Creator, to overthrow their captors on the slave ship Amistad, which they did.

Some contemporary views of the issue are expressed by several commentators in the documentary Liberty and Slavery. Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain, opined that Jefferson meant to include black men when he said “all men are created equal” and many other scholars think so too. Author K. Carl Smith believes that what the Founding Fathers said has to be taken at face value. In this documentary, Travis Hickens expressed the belief that Jefferson intended all races to be included. He notes that it is significant that Adams (father of John Quincy Adams) and Jefferson changed the phrase from “life, liberty, and property” to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”. Furthermore, “They were not enshrining slavery [mention of the word was studiously avoided]; so it could be changed”. In actuality, “They were planting a time bomb in the Declaration”. Martin Luther King used that time bomb when he appealed to the Declaration of Independence in his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Why did they resort to these circumlocutions – the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive2? I believe it was because they wanted to set up a new government and, therefore, they did not want to antagonize the slave-holding interest, who could have sabotaged the whole undertaking. As another commentator in the Liberty and Slavery documentary pointed out, this was a fragile time and it was not a “foregone conclusion that it [this new Republic] would work.” Eighty-four years after the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address, referred to America as an “experiment” that was being tested by a bloody and horrible Civil War. Meanwhile the lofty ideals of equality and liberty for all races is there in the founding document but is not stated directly in the Constitution; it is covered up by the fig leaves of language, waiting to explode.

When the Supreme Court rendered a 7 to1 (the 9th justice, Justice Philip Barbour died in his sleep during the trial) decision to uphold the rulings of two lower courts, the majority opinion was written and read by Associate Justice Joseph Story. The Chief Justice, Roger Taney, voted with the majority of 7 to free the captured Africans. The Africans were freed and returned to Sierra Leone, West Africa.

I believe that the Amistad decision was one of the most important decisions of American jurisprudence. It shouted out loud that the lofty ideals of the Declaration of Independence also applied to people of African descent who are part of the human race, something that apologists for slavery tried to deny. One of their supports had been knocked from under them. Twenty years later (1861), the Civil War would start with the secession of eleven slave states and the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. This was the beginning of the end to slavery.

My next blog will discuss the Dred Scott ruling for which Chief Justice Taney wrote the majority opinion and the incisively brilliant dissenting opinion written by Associate Justice Benjamin R. Curtis

References and Notes

1. John Quincy Adams’ argument in the Amistad case can be found at https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/amistad_002.asp. This particular quotation is found on page 38.

2. Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary. Accessed at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slave

… that the Constitution of the United States did not define a Black person as three-fifths of a person?

This is the first post of this blog that was launched a little more than a year ago. Since I have been in hiatus for a while and have heard repetition of the assertion that the U. S. Constitution counted Black People as two-thirds of a person, I thought it good to place my first blog at the top. For those who have followed me from the beginning, there is nothing new here but new posts are coming.

There is an assertion that one hears over and over again, namely, that the U. S. Constitution made Black people three-fifths of a person. It is, indeed, an assertion that has no factual basis. In fact, the paragraph in the Constitution where this idea comes from does not use the term Black, Negro, or African. The passage lists all those included in determining a state’s representation and taxation and ends with the phrase “three fifths of all other Persons” (read the wording of Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 below). We know that the phrase refers to slaves since everybody else had been listed, including exclusions, in determining representation, and we know that 99+ percent of all slaves were black (there may have been a few enslaved Native Americans). You might as well say 100%.

So the reasoning goes like this. One hundred percent of all slaves were Blacks; a slave was counted as three-fifths of a person in determining the state’s representation in Congress. Therefore, a black person was made to be three-fifths of a person. It should be clear that this is faulty reasoning. Why? Well, though 100% of slaves might have been black people, not a 100% of Blacks were slaves. Though a small minority (about 60,000 or 8% of the United States’ population when the Constitution was written), there were some free black people in the United States who had exercised their right to vote before and after the Revolutionary War.(I refer you to John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom for confirmation.) They were counted in the “whole Number of free Persons” referred to in the passage and, therefore, counted as whole persons.

Was this failure to mention color or race an oversight on the part of the framers of the Constitution? I think not. The founders of our country were well educated, thoughtful people. Indeed, I submit that not mentioning color or race was quite intentional. Is this important? I say yes. It is very important in demonstrating that the U. S. Constitution was not just written for white people! They said exactly what they meant to say and meant what they said.

This three-fifths rule worked to the disadvantage of the slave owning ruling class of the South since it had the effect of diluting the political power of the slave states, such as South Carolina and Mississippi which had majority black populations well into the 20th century. Nonetheless this is little consolation given the enormity of the evil of chattel slavery.

Next time I will give you President John Quincy Adams’ take on this issue.

References and Notes

Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Click on the above paragraph to go to America’s founding documents (Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other resources)