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LETTERS about MULATTO AND MALIGNITY

Jan. 28, 2003

Your piece Mulatto and Malignity was certainly the most thoughtful and enlightening work I've seen on the CBC Web site to date. Congratulations. I've mailed it to several friends and colleagues and the response has been uniformly and strongly positive.

I myself am a "half-caste" (Punjabi/Irish), constantly amused by social struggles over monikers for people who don't easily fit into standard-issue racial categories. You did well to note the unique contribution Tiger Woods' refusal to be labelled has made to this debate.

As for "mulatto," I would consider it to be inoffensive, but archaic. It works in a historical piece about Dumas, but would be slightly awkward in reference to a contemporary subject. In this sense one might compare it to terms like "peasant" and "serf."

"Half-breed" and "half-caste" are charmingly archaic as well, in my view. I say charmingly because the starched-collar condescension oozing from these terms is so hopelessly outmoded that people like me can now effortlessly reclaim these terms and use them for purposes of self-description, content in the knowledge that in doing so we – i.e., those most affected by the appellations – are showing that we don't take these silly issues nearly as seriously as legions of hand-wringing well-wishers in universities, boards and committees throughout the land so obviously do. At the same time, we are illustrating how archaic the whole concept of racial classification in a multicultural society truly is.

The most important element in racial terminology is its exclusivity: "black" means black, "white" means white. This inevitably breaks down when attempting to describe persons of first- or second-degree mixed race. The mould of exclusivity is broken, rendering the terminology obsolete. If the child is "mixed," why should the parents be assumed to have been "pure"?

I read an article a while back on the Maclean's Web site written by a white woman whose son was born to a black father. In a vehement essay, this woman detailed the horror and rage she experienced whenever anyone had the temerity to label her little boy as "mixed." (Wherever possible, she would helpfully lecture them that the only acceptable terms to use are "black," "African-Canadian," "African-American," "African," etc.) She even moved from Barrie to Toronto so that her son could grow up among more "racially-literate" people. As a "half-breed," I found this response disturbing and tragically misguided.

Why should this boy be raised ashamed of the fact that he is half European? As he gets older, with his white mother tirelessly inculcating him with the idea that he is "black," did she ever consider that he might take her insistence on this point as a form of rejection and denial of their kinship – that actually being "mixed" or "half-white" does not qualify him for being able to even partially identify himself as his mother identifies herself? I can only hope the impact of Tiger Woods and people like him will have brought our society past all this silly labelling by the time that boy has to struggle with these issues. I wish you well, and look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

D. Dylan Gray
Budapest


Jan. 17, 2003

Thanks for your thoughtful article on the use of the word "mulatto."

Being mulatto myself, I have mixed feelings about the word. On the one hand, it still bears echoes of the violent history of slavery. The word can be painful to hear. On the other hand, thinking of myself as "mulatto" means thinking about my personal experiences of the world – which can at times seem isolated and unique – as having a long history that I share with other mixed-race folks, both past and present.

Karina Vernon
Victoria, B.C.


Jan. 7, 2003

"Mulatto" belongs inside inverted commas. The idea that few people know the term, or its history, or that some use it without insult intended, is to my mind no reason at all to continue using it. In other words, ignorance + ignorance = ignorance.

"Mulatto" originated in the term mule. The racist classification system that produced it went on to designate some human beings quadroons, octoroons, etc. up to, I believe, people calculated to be of 132nd African origin.

In quotations, of course, all kinds of offensive terms must be retained – they give the disagreeable flavour of the times in which they were written. I am a past-professor of "race" relations at Queen's University. Subsequently I was a professor of Caribbean history at the University of Toronto. At both universities my approach was to explain to students – quite a number of whom could be classified as "mulattos," but would probably be uncomfortable with the term – just what it meant. All remained free, if they wished to offer offence, to continue using the term without inverted commas.

Since the only race is the human race, let's get rid of racism!

Susan Campbell


Jan. 5, 2003

I very much enjoyed the article Mulatto and Malignity and the ensuing discussion. My only quibble is with the people who think that this discussion is unnecessary. Some used even less polite adjectives.

There is a significant difference in my mind between political correctness and thoughtfulness. Political correctness often consists of rigid formulae and proscriptions: shalls and shalt nots. Whereas any discussion that encourages people to think before they speak is worthwhile.

Alexandre Dumas fils would have been described as "mulatto" is his day. Certainly no offence was intended in CBC's original news story. I would however posit that the term is now outdated and no longer useful.

I am particularly impressed by the sober-second-thought letter from A. McInnis, the complainant who started this discussion. It was both courageous and well-considered.

Mixed seems the only workable and neutral word for describing people when ethnicity, racial, and/or religious combination is relevant to the story. In most cases, such information is not relevant and should be omitted.

Richard Birney-Smith
Dundas, Ont.


Jan. 5, 2003

Canadians are lucky to be having this argument over a word such as mulatto. Here in the United States, we have ruder arguments about nastier words.

I also feel using the word mulatto is somewhat in context with the discussion of Alexandre Dumas.

Tony Sterrett
San Diego, Calif.


Jan. 4, 2003

As you have stated, mulatto was derived from Spanish and Portuguese descriptive references to young mule; the implication being understood that the person's bloodline was mixed, rather than any deliberate intention to a reference that the person being descended from some branch of equine stock.

Of course given the treatment the Negroid race has received at the hands of the Caucasoid races throughout history – primarily as slaves regarded as little more than human livestock – you have to be completely insensitive not to understand the contempt and disdain that using it holds, given social attitudes never mind language evolution.

The matter isn't actually that far removed from someone referring to someone whose parentage is/was of Canadian native and non-French Caucasoid blood as a half-breed, a term that a hundred years ago was socially acceptable, but today isn't.

Of course, for some strange reason, the term Metis, which was actually the distinguishing descriptor for mixed native and French bloodlines seems to have found popular favour for describing both mixed blood groups, something I'm sure Louis Riel, among others of his time would have found very annoying.

I say strange because many people in the U.S. object to the term mestizo, which is essentially the same thing, being Spanish and native blood. Oddly enough, locally at least it seems to be the in thing these days to claim some tie to a Metis bloodline, but if you refer to that same person as having Indian blood, they'll get very indignant. Of course even First Nations people object to the term Indian.

At any rate, social geography aside, the old saw "call me anything you want, but don't call me late for dinner" would be a more than adequate response to people who insist on being defined, and usually who are very guilty of categorizing others themselves, by what someone's historical bloodline is, rather than being more concerned with who they are and what they have contributed to today's Canadian society.

Mulatto a racist word? Not really, and it's a stretch to even try and claim its use is bigotry. But it does come from a vocabulary of days gone by, and its use is more of a reflection of a background in a specific culture and social atmosphere, with learning that is somewhat lacking in growth.

Ed Harris Jr.


Jan. 4, 2003

As I recall, the term mulatto also means that the offspring of "white" and "black" parents, like mules, would not be capable of reproducing. Mules usually cannot reproduce.

In that sense, I think the original term was meant to be derogatory.

Considering the roots of the word "mulatto," I would never use it. It comes from an era of pseudo-scientific racism.

Bill Carroll


Jan. 4, 2003

A word is insignificant on its own, and equally worthless when used against us in a discriminating context. It is none of your business if someone uses a word that you find offensive.

In the world, there is always someone who will discriminate for reasons that are out of our control. So what should we do, ban all words, strange looks and jokes that could make us feel bad? Perhaps we should create a committee sponsored by the bureaucratic, spend-happy government to make sure that all words are listener-friendly?

I have been in the Cayman Islands for five or more years. I travelled between British Columbia and Grand Cayman often. You could not find a more diverse place, with roots of such mixed race and origin, spanning across its 500 year old history. I do not walk down the street without smiling at my fellow man, or woman (for those sensitive to gender bias references to human beings). We should all say "good morning" to the people when we get on the bus and it doesn't matter what colour you are. I hear terms used here that would shock many people in Canada. Do you think this country with an enslaved history cares about the origin of these spoken words? What is important is how we treat each other.

When something is said, about the color of my skin, or an assumption is made about how I was brought up because of what I look like, I can then educate. But I would rather it was said out loud, than kept from me. I will not bias an opinion because of poor use of language.

Would you think that someone using a "forbidden" word, in a mistaken context, is less sensitive than the man who called that person ignorant? Where are we going with this line of thinking?

Free yourself from your own enslavement, and please don't forget to smile.

Carmen Webster
Grand Cayman
British West Indies

Editor's Note: Writers must adhere to certain guidelines when producing material for many media outlets, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. We do not, for instance, say "policeMAN" but choose to say "police officer," because senior editorial staff consider the former sexist.

CBC employees follow a code of conduct set out in the corporation's Journalistic Standards and Practices handbook. Our Online Language Advisory Board is debating whether "mulatto" should be added to a list of words that we would normally avoid putting in news stories, not whether citizens of this country or any other should have the right to say what they want.


Jan. 2, 2003

Your Web piece on mulatto and other arguably offensive words (Mulatto and Malignity) was very well done. Aside from being informative, it had an illuminating rather than a judgmental tone, and stands as an excellent example for the writer of the e-mail that triggered it in the first place.

I look forward to your follow up. I know from where I sit there are a great many terms I will continue to avoid using long before I even begin to worry about mulatto. (My ex-boss was mulatto and the word didn't bother him a bit.)

However, I can understand why the CBC might choose to be more cautious.

Keep up the good work!

Bruce Holman
Calgary


Jan. 2, 2003

Fantastic story. I enjoyed it immensely.

It was very interesting to read some of the historical reasons behind some of the terms used in present day text.

My wife is Filipino and I am Caucasian. My two kids are just beautiful, taking features from both of us. What term would be used for my two angels?

Thanks,

Bill Blair
Ottawa


Dec. 31, 2002

Bravo! I commend you and the CBC for tackling this issue (Mulatto and Malignity). As I am the individual who wrote the original letter to the CBC, I am very happy with the response and discussion that this has sparked. I do admit that I wrote a very "forceful" letter, as I was a little "peeved" at the time I wrote it. I apologize for letting my emotions get the better of me. As well, I made the assumption (as you noted) that a dictionary was never consulted. This was a error on my part that I admit to and apologize.

The dictionary I used was Encarta Online, which is a part of Microsoft. I found that you made an interesting point that another entry in the same dictionary says that it is a term that is acceptable in the Caribbean. I would argue that point as one half of my family originates from the Caribbean. Regardless, we do not live in the Caribbean, so this is irrelevant to a Canadian discussion. The Caribbean is still very much colonial in its ambiance and atmosphere. Many terms and practices that have long fallen away in Canada are still practiced there. This does not make it anymore acceptable in my eyes. I still have close family friends from the Caribbean that use the word 'mulatto' in my presence, and it means nothing to them, but it does mean something to me.

I found it ironic that I stumbled across the Words: Woe & Wonder response to my letter on the same day (Dec. 30th) that the CBC evening news proclaimed that "Christmas Pandas bearing the Nazi symbol" and "Nazi Pandas" had surfaced in Canada. Talk about something that is acceptable in one part of the world causing an uproar in Canada. I have an interest in many of the world's philosophies and religions, and find that the swastika is not offensive in many parts of the world. It is highly regarded as a spiritual symbol, but in the occident it is highly offensive.

So should Canadians be able to hang swastikas in their windows if it is part of their religion? Ideally yes, but realistically no. There are too many people that do not know the 'root' of the symbol, its eastern meaning, and associate it with its western meaning (as I did at one time). This is related to the term 'mulatto' in that it may be acceptable in some parts of the world, but there are those that associate it with oppression and atrocities of the past. I am sure that there are many others of mixed origin that disagree with me, but I can only speak for myself and not them. I apologize for claiming to speak for my fellow Canadians in my original letter, but I felt that as Canada is a mosaic of cultures, many would agree that words used to label, identify and stereotype (especially outdated slave terms) are no longer needed in our modern society.

Back to dictionaries. Perhaps a debate on a "theory of definitions or dictionaries" would be in order. Do dictionaries define a language, or do they mirror a language? Are the pro-active, or reactive. I would argue that a dictionary is reactive, definitions change with changes in time and attitudes. As such, an entry that is acceptable to the editors of a dictionary is not necessarily acceptable to the people who use the language every day. There is a certain amount of elitism surrounding language, where academia and 'professionals' tend to set the standards for others, but in reality it is the masses that rule, hence the thought "Rome is the mob."

Perhaps I will prepare a more coherent and researched response to your article. But I wrote this letter in the past few minutes to to say "Bravo" once again. I am very pleased at the response from the CBC on this matter, and as you say "One for all and all for one." Perhaps this is the motto for the modern Canadian.

Best Regards,

A. McInnis


Dec. 31, 2002

In the same spirit of Dumas's musketeers, if the word "mulatto" is not acceptable to one Canadian, it should be considered unacceptable to all of us. I sincerely hope that your ruling will reflect that spirit.

Ion Damian
Waterloo


Dec. 31, 2002

Thank you for the article on mulatto. Very informative. Since there appears to be no redeeming aspect to this word, it should be avoided.

I recently had a person of Chinese ancestry point out that, to them, the word 'oriental' is offensive. They perceive it as a European applied pigeonhole classification; derived from Europe calling the Far East 'The Orient.' The Chinese never referred to themselves in this way. Their preference is to be called 'Asian.'

Thank you.

Dan Coll
Tecumseh, Ont.


Dec. 31, 2002

Read your piece entitled "Mulatto and Malignity", and must say I enjoyed it greatly. Saying the right thing at the right time in cross-cultural and mixed racial situations is truly awkward and I know exactly since I have been in the situation many times.

I guess you could call me White (or is that 'white' ?) since my parents are both Dutch immigrants (plus I have a smattering of German, Belgian and French in my ethnic background). My wife is from the British West Indies and as you well know that could mean almost anything (in her case African, English, Scottish, Spanish, Carib Indian and at least one or two more countries of which we are uncertain). This of course causes a dilemma for our two daughters who have gone through a number of identity crises but now at the ages of 15 and 11 know pretty well who they are. Unfortunately many people still try to label them.

Between my wife and myself we affectionately like to refer to our offspring as 'blended' but this is a term that may never be in common usage. To call our children 'black', 'white', 'Dutch-Caribbean Canadian', mulatto or whatever does not capture the essence of who they are.

I truly feel sorry for the media who on occasion are forced to add some sort of labelling adjective to a person since more often than not you will offend somebody. All I can say is do your best but please do not go out of your way to be overly politically correct because then news reporting will be so watered-down and lacklustre as to be irrelevant and devoid of meaningful content.

Best of luck,

Kelvin Desplanque
Ottawa

P.S. Maybe you can clear this one up for me. I have heard people being termed as 'racist' for making comments against Francophone Quebecers, but can that be termed racism since I do not consider Francophone Quebecers to be a race? There must be some better '...ist' term to use in the situation where one is be prejudiced against the speakers of a particular language group. The logical choice would have been 'linguist' but unfortunately that term has been usurped for more academic usages. What are your thoughts on this point? What term does the CBC officially recognize for use in this situation?

Editor's Note: Although there is disagreement over the meaning of the term "race," the terms racist and racism are generally not in dispute, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. These refer to "the doctrine that some races are innately superior or inferior to others." The encyclopedia goes on to state: "Because racism indiscriminately includes groupings such as religious sects, linguistic groups and cultural groups under its concept of race, it can be regarded as a virulent form of ethnocentrism – the belief that one's own ethnic group is superior to others."

If one accepts the broad definition above, a cutting remark about somebody's francophone or anglophone background could be described as "racist." But this use of the term is discouraged by some groups, such as the Editors' Association of Canada. Racism, according to many writers and editors, should be limited to prejudice based on visible physical characteristics, which often means skin colour. Instead, specific descriptions are sometimes used to label other types of intolerance, such as "anti-French."


Dec. 31, 2002

I very much enjoyed your article on the CBC website about the word "mulatto." I just forwarded it to all my, well, mulatto friends.

Personally, I committed myself to using the word a while ago simply because it's the most economical way of describing my background: it's fast, it's precise, and it's clear. Some of my mixed-race friends agree with my priority, which is, admittedly, expedience, but others don't.

I wish there was a way to vote on this issue, or even merely to participate in an online poll.

Yours Truly,

Wayde Compton
Editor of Bluesprint:
Black British Columbian Literature & Orature

Vancouver


Dec. 31, 2002

Whilst I might not be as erudite as the person who wrote the letter, I must say that I agree with their sentiment. I come from the Caribbean and I know we do not use that term down there. Mind you there are other terms that we use. However, I found the reply article a little trite and more than a little defensive, just apologize for offending and leave it there.

My mother always used to tell me "the devil can quote scripture." You can always find some justification for anything you do, even if it's only in your own mind. I don't believe the "word" was used maliciously, I think the author did not recognize there would be anyone offended by it. Thus said, all that was needed was a simple apology. Don't call us hysterical, or infer that we are ignorant.

When words are used against you, you know what is a slur and what hurts. That is a term that hurts.

I hope your author never finds himself on our side of the fence. It's a painful and confidence breaking experience, no matter what anyone says.

Marjorie Knight
Cambridge, Ont.


Dec. 30, 2002

Oh, give it a break!!! You get all twisted up with this one letter. Some of these people should start their own perfect world on Mars!

Like the word 'bugger,' so many people use it but how many people know the real meaning. And frankly who gives a diddle.

Personally, I think mulatto people are quite attractive. I have heard the word also applied to darker Spanish and Italian peoples who have married whites.

Dennis Agombar
Hanover, Ont.


Dec. 30, 2002

I am a mulatto, and find it a proper term to use. Why pretend that the black people of the Western Hemisphere were here for vacation and fun? Ignoring why we came here, what attitudes used to prevail, and how North American civilization came to be what it is, is much more insulting than a word's old origins in another language.

I shall also be keeping my last name for the rest of my life – it's the name of the people who owned my family when they were emancipated from slavery. Changing my name to "X" or some adopted African moniker would disservice all those who lived under the McCaskill's purview. So get over it. It happened. Accept that!

Claudia McCaskill
Calgary


Dec. 30, 2002

Thanks for the thoughtful response to the use of the term mulatto.

As a Canadian Jew who grew up in a very intolerant Quebec during the 1950s, "racism" and "racist terms" are never far from my conscience.

My first response to the Yellowknife letter was surprise at the labelling. We seem to latch onto the facile term "racist" too easily. It traces its origins (according to Merriam-Webster) back to Nazi Germany, and refers directly to the hate motivated bigotry towards the Nazis' favourite scapegoats.

However, racial discrimination comes in many shapes, colours and flavours. Many are bred of ignorance, and are no more bigoted as ignorance about mathematical formulae. I doubt, therefore, that the author of this news item was "racist" in this sense. Perhaps, the journalist was slightly insensitive, and could have researched how the term is currently perceived among "mixed-race" people as part and parcel of this story. This could have then been part of the informative character of the story.

After all, as you say in your response, many hurtful terms were once commonly accepted, and include SOME words which are still used quite insensitively by major social/cultural groups. (The terms "Eskimo", "Squaw", "Brave", "Jewess", "Darkie" are a few that come to mind. I am sure the CBC has a long list!)

However to conclude that the author and the CBC are "racist" is quite a leap.

It is good to consider terms on an ongoing basis, and perhaps the CBC can do an article/series on discriminatory/prejudicial/bigoted/racist language use and its evolution. Perhaps in this article/series, the CBC could "discriminate" among the mere ignorant usage versus the hate and hurt-motivated racist usage.

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute.

Art Goldsmith
Fitzroy Harbour, Ont.


Dec. 30, 2002

I am of mixed background from a Black-Canadian father and French Canadian mother (You could add Native-Canadian in each). Growing up in Canada I've been exposed to racism from all fronts; been called Nigger, Jungle Bunny, Nig Nog, Zebra and "Too White" just to name a few things. I need not get into some of the other less than worthy exposures I've had to the more seedier side of the so call nice Canadians. Point is that over the 42-plus years of my existence anytime I heard the word half-breed or mulatto used, the tone and expression of the speaker usually conveyed a message of "less than thou." That same tone is often reflected when Canadians asked me: "Where are you from?"

In a perfect world one as I should be able to embrace all of our heritage without labels. When people ask me what I am, I say "I'm Canadian." That is 15 generations of Black, 23 generations of French and countless generations of Native. You'd be hard pressed to find someone more Canadian than that.

Jacques Talbot
Columbia, Maryland


Dec. 30, 2002

It now appears you have an onerous job. What an unnecessary chore to salve a "politically correct" conscience!! I would suggest the complainer truly reads little and narrow, as the literature of the world, both past and present, offers so much when the reader is rather open-minded (not to say one must agree with all that one reads; but to understand the author and time-frame within the context of the works). Moreover I suggest this person must feel somewhat insecure in his/her own skin.

Vic Bailey
Whitby, Ontario


Dec. 29, 2002

Wow, what an excellent response to such an aggressive and poorly informed criticism.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. It was so well written and seemed to me to be presented with every thought to any others who may be too sensitive to see the bigger picture all of us should be aware of.

In future, I will certainly visit the CBC Web site more frequently in search of similar articles.

Thank you,
Colleen Miles


Dec. 29, 2002

Is it possible to have e-mail icons on articles such as this one "Mulatto and Malignity" to enable readers to e-mail them to friends or colleagues? I find the article excellent and, above all, necessary for educating a lot of people.

I wanted to send this excellent article to friends but realized that it did not have a function for doing so. Your response on this suggestion would be very much appreciated.

Continue with the good work.

Season's Greetings and Happy New Year.

Cheers,

John Coffey
Hull, Quebec


Dec. 29, 2002

Congratulations on reprinting the well-written objection to the use of the word, and such a well-thought out discussion on the use and evolution of such words. A most edifying combination of pieces!

Terry Kerwin
Quebec City


Dec. 29, 2002

In regards to the use of the word mulatto, if Alexandre Dumas had been the grandson of an Asian, as opposed to the grandson of a Haitian slave, would you have struggled to find a word to describe that particular racial status? What if he were part East Indian? Inuit?

Why in this day do you need a word for his specific combination of heritage when there are no co-responding words for other combinations? I agree that it was important to the article to describe his background in order to explain his status as a social outcast but there was another way to do this: simply state he was the grandson of a French nobleman and a Haitian slave.

Drop the use of the term mulatto. It's unnecessary. While you may feel that the existence of some who are not offended by the term is an argument for its use, I would propose that there are enough of us who cringe at its sound to warrant a simple rephrasing and an avoidance of referring to people like me as "little mules."

Bruce Meikle


Dec. 28, 2002

Good stuff. Informative, educational, neutral, well-written, and, above all else, INTERESTING. Held my attention up to the end of the article.

Of course my idea of interesting might be biased because I'm mulatto, but still, please make more Web articles like that one. Not necessarily on race but just plain informative, educational, neutral, well-written, and, above all else, INTERESTING.

Ina Stilicho


Dec. 28, 2002

I have read your description of the word 'mulatto' and it prompted me to point out that it is not the only word with racial meaning that is being misused in the media.

The word Semite does not pertain solely to the Jewish people at all. Using that word to describe Israelis or just those of the Jewish fate is the equivalent of using the word European to describe just the French or any other peoples of just one nation in that vast continent.

Webster's describes Semite as: 1 (a) a member of any of a number of peoples of ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs; (b) a descendant of these peoples; 2 a member of a modern people speaking a Semitic language.

From this definition, I am a Semite. I speak and write the only known Semitic language that can be written in the Roman alphabet, thus Maltese. I am highly offended when this word is misused in the media. It deprives me and my fellow people of Semitic origin a bit of their history every time it is misused.

Thank you.

Darren Buttigieg
Toronto

Editor's Note: The term Semitic often implies Jewish. In fact, the same dictionary cited in the e-mail above lists the following as the only definition of anti-Semitism: "Hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group."

But the warning that Semite has a broader definition is correct. Informed and responsible journalists avoid using the term when referring to, say, anti-Israeli sentiments expressed by Arab people. Here, for instance, are two excerpts from the Globe and Mail's 1998 Style Book that drive home the point:

"The word (Semitic) applies to language – Arabic, Hebrew, Maltese – rather than to race. The term 'anti-Semitic,' meaning hostile toward Jews, is acceptable in most instances, but we would have to refer to an Arab as being anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli, not anti-Semitic."

"Anti-Zionist means opposed to the movement to resettle Jews in Palestine, and anti-Israel means either opposed to the existence of the state of Israel or opposed to particular conduct or policies of Israel. Someone could have anti-Semitic motives in expressing views that are anti-Zionist or anti-Israel, but this must never be assumed. In fact, some Jews oppose the Zionist movement, and someone might be against Israel on an issue without being against Jews."


Dec. 28, 2002

I read your article "Mulatto and Malignity" and found it both informative and disturbing. Informative in that I was unfamiliar with the etymology of the word "Mulatto" and disturbing that you were forced to respond to such self-righteous prate.

I say to you and the editorial staff there at the CBC: this person's views are incompatible with the views of this "fellow" Canadian. It would behoove this person to consult his "fellow Canadians" before stating their tolerances. What rubbish. Waste not a moment on that nonsense.

Can I suggest that you send this person the definition of the word "effective"? You might also forward them a link to Orwell's essay on politics and the English language.

Yours truly,

Justin Muir


Dec. 27, 2002

I enjoyed your well-researched article on the term "mulatto" and various others. Thank you for your intelligent piece.

Personally, I was introduced to the term "mulatto" while serving as a missionary in Haiti. As you stated in reference to the islands of the Caribbean, "mulatto" does not have an intrinsically negative connotation among the blacks of Haiti, so it does not with me either.

Thank you.

Michael K. Paquette
Morinville, Alberta


Dec. 27, 2002

Great Article!

Eskimo is another one to add to the heap. It means "eater of raw meat" in the language of the Indians who had contact with the Inuit, and was meant as a pejorative term.

Now of course everyone uses it, and it is completely neutral, although Inuit has become more common of late.

Lars Wilke,
Vancouver


Dec. 27, 2002

As long as a significant size group finds a term offensive, barring the possibility that they are simply mistaken, as you have shown in some of your examples, that is enough reason not to use the term. I used "gypped" as a child because of my childish ignorance, but would never dream of using it now. Now, I shall treat "Mulatto" the same way because you have enlightened me. If people find it offensive and hurtful, why would anyone want to use it?

Ironically, in your one reference to "Aboriginal," you have failed to capitalize it, although CBC reporters, writers and editors seem collectively schizophrenic about the capitalization of the term. Yet, in the same commentary, you have explained why "Negro" is capitalized in all instances now. Are there some clues there? Aboriginal people and organizations have repeatedly stated that they want this term capitalized. What more do you need?

As a contributing editor to the Canadian Native Law Reporter, the prestigious and official reporter of Aboriginal case law for Canada, I can also advise you that our policy is to capitalize "Native," "Aboriginal" and "Indigenous" in all instances. It is simply a matter of respect. The federal government, for whatever value its position is worth, takes the same approach. Aside from some unknown technical problem that it might cause CBC's computers, why would you not comply? Is there a danger in offending a group by capitalizing it?

Kind regards,
Tom Jewiss

Editor's Note: Different organizations use different conventions when capitalizing words. CBC News Online generally follows Canadian Press style, which recommends lowercase "aboriginal" and "native." Although the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 refers to "aboriginal peoples," CP prefers Aboriginal Peoples with a capital "A." The term refers to members of Canada's Indian, Inuit, and Métis communities – words that are all capitalized. First Nations, which has replaced the term Indian in many circles, is also capitalized.

Since 1994, the Government of Canada's Terminology and Language Standardization Board (run by the Public Works Department) has suggested "aboriginal" and "native" be capitalized. It also recommends they be used as adjectives only, never as nouns (for example, "Canada's Native people" instead of "Natives across Canada"). But in its 2000 book Editing Canadian English, the Editors' Association of Canada points out that there is still an ongoing debate within media outlets, publishing houses and other places over some of these terms, including which ones should be capitalized. Usage guides are constantly reviewed and updated, and it's possible the approach already embraced by the Canadian Native Law Reporter will eventually spread.

Language is tricky in many ways. It's worth noting, for instance, that the e-mail makes casual reference to the CBC's "schizophrenic" policy of capitalization. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness, and to use it as a synonym for inconsistency or indecision can offend some people. Our reporters and editors are strongly discouraged from using this word unless they're referring to a medical condition.


Dec. 27, 2002

Thanks for an interesting and informed response concerning the use of racist or potentially racist words. It was also refreshing to see that the irate reader who caused this article to be written had done some research on the subject him/herself. Few things gall me more than someone who fires off without knowing as much of the facts as they can gather first.

I'd like to add a small anecdote I viewed on television this past holiday. Unfortunately, I do not the name of the program I was watch or the name of the woman making the comment. It was a brief segment about "Hilarious Housewives" and this black woman was talking about her recent marriage to a white man. Her skit concerned people who were upset by the notion that their children would be "half-black and half-white." Her response, "Yeah, but not like the cookie!" Nice to see some sense of humour around a sensitive topic too.

Thanks again! Have an excellent New Year!

Michael Garstin


Dec. 26, 2002

I read with great interest your piece 'Mulatto and Malignity' and quite enjoyed it.

You see, my adopted sister is of mixed racial ancestry and I myself have used the word 'mulatto' to describe her racial background. Admittedly I haven't always been aware of the word's etymological background and have rarely used it, but I am the last person to demand that others change their linguistic heritage simply to be politically correct. My sister, of course, is very dear to me and so I would never use a word to describe anything about her that would in any way be insulting.

I definitely do not appreciate the racist superiority that some read into the word, but simply using it in its common usage to refer to mixed (black and white) ancestry implies nothing insulting for most Canadians. Indeed, I have never even heard it used in anything but a descriptive and non-judgmental sense.

So, since the word 'mulatto' now means simply one of mixed race and has no commonly associated insulting quality to it, I would be the last to demand that others change their linguistic heritage and cease to use it. Especially since many black friends of mine use the word themselves.

I have developed an interest in etymology recently and also have a dislike for political correctness, so I found the piece to be thoroughly appropriate and interesting.

Christopher Mahon


Read our Online Language Advisory Board's ruling


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