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Monday, June 19, 2006

Moo or Mulatto?

Posted by on June 19 at 18:06 PM

I met a woman this weekend who looks a little like Cynda Williams (in the picture below, Williams is about to kiss Billy Bob Thornton in Carl Franklin’s movie One False Move):


The woman I met expressed her unhappiness at the fact that Dairy Queen is selling an ice-cream flavor called MooLatte. Now, the woman—who, like Cynda Williams, is mixed (black/white)—believes, for the purpose of making a color connection, MooLatte references mulatto. But MooLatte could also be a reference to the sound cows make in the English language. So which is it? Or is it both? And if MooLatte intentionally references mulatto, is that offensive? Who uses mulatto these days? The woman I met is into film theory.

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There is a funny Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Larry David wants to buy a mixed race doll and refers to it in the store as mulatto. I have nothing to add besides that observation.

The product that really pisses me off is Mr. Frosty's QuadroonMoonPop. The QuadroonMoonPop package features a crescent moon against a black sky. It could be, as Mr. Frosty asserts, merely a harmless astonomical reference; or it could be, as I believe, an offensive racial slur. Or perhaps, with its crescent moon, even a scatological reference to outhouses. So which is it?

Just be glad that Starbucks saw the light before they brought their Octaroon Macaroon to the market. That would have been hard to explain away, believe you me.

You know, if you have to ask...

I'm surprised she's not angry at burger joints, because, you know, burgers are brown. People from Africa are brown. So that means that anyone who eats burgers hates Africans & wants to eat them.

The real answer, of course, is that some people just aren't happy unless they feel that they're being oppressed.

It's pretty clear that the folks at Dairy Queen were using a play on words to try and be cute with their ad campaign. And I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they weren't trying to be insensitive. However, just because they didn't know, does that make it not offensive? Does it mean that the woman you met doesnt have a right to criticize or be upset about it? Of course not. Historical context matters and the onus is on the Dairy Queen folks to market test and make sure that what they're promoting doesn't resemble an insensitive term (as mulatto historically was a very derogatory term). Who uses mulatto these days? People who don't know better or people who are trying to be insensitive. It's an archaic term just liking calling an Asian person "Oriental." You don't call an American Indian an "Injun" right? Remember, just because you don't think or know its offensive doesn't mean it isn't. Is it an honest mistake if you do say something insensitive and someone corrects you? Of course. But don't chalk it up to them being "too PC." Learning to respect a wide variey of people is important.

Some people just love to be offended, it gives them claim to the moral high ground where they can sit and wear their victim badge. I would have laughed in her face. There is plenty of real racism (and other prejudices)in this world and this is the equivilant of crying wolf. Life is hard, and if she can't handle the MOOOOOOlatte, she ain't gonna make it.

Moolatte has nothin' on the DQ incestuous cannibal shrimp...

I never would have made the connection between mulatto and moolatte. What about "ornamental" and "oriental"?

Where are Octaroon and Quadroon on the insensitivity meter these days?

Wait, when did "oriental" become a racist term?

I am really surprised by some of the posts here that are so scornful toward the woman Charles talked with. My question is simple:
Is there any other plausible explanation of why this thing is called the Moolatte? Honestly?
And if the answer to that question is No - and nobody thus far has offered anything else substantive - then what else is there to be said?
The fact that plenty of other examples of racism are more important doesn't make this any less an example of racism. And it's not like recognizing these smaller examples of racism somehow runs contrary to fighting racism more generally.
Why does it matter that "life is hard?" How does that undermine the point?

"Hey! You stole my wallet!"
- "Shut up, life is hard, people are starving out there, quit whining about your stolen wallet..."

What Longball said.

Charles, is she single?:)


Evidentally, you've never heard of local chanteuse Miss Mamie Lavona, The Exotic Mulatta, And Her All-White Boy Band:

Oops, sorry that link should be:

I suspect it was an honest mistake. I'm middle aged, white, college degree, and have visited about half the states and about 20 other countries. But I grew up in the mid-west, and up until 6 years ago I'd never heard of "mulatto", "octoroon", and "quadroon" (I learned about the terms when reading a book about 1800s New Orleans). So despite my education and travels, I was just never exposed to those terms. I can easily see that some marketing dweeb might not have heard of them either.

But now that they know that they are offending people, it seems stupid to continue to do so. That's not being PC. It's just being polite.

I'll be the first out of 17 posts to acknowledge racism in 2006 America....but I don't see it concerning the Dairy Queen Moolatte....

In case anyone is interested, Timothy Noah posted a series of articles on on this very topic two years ago.

"The Tragic MooLatte"

"Tragic MooLatte Revisited"

"MooLatte Revisited Again"

What's racist about "Mulatto"?

And what's the politically correct alternative for referring to those sexy half-breeds?

ok people, moolatte sounds like mulatto.
The moolatte is the color of a mulatto.
If that's not a good reason to yell a lot and drunkenly slap people in the face... I don't know what is.

Hello, I am that victimized, offended mulatto that Charles met on Saturday. I'd like to clarify a few things here, if that's alright.

First of all, it's a mistake to say that I'm "offended" by the term "MooLatte" or even "mulatto," for that matter. My friends and I have been having a laugh at Dairy Queen's ignorance in naming a drink that is so similar in sound to that lovely word "mulatto." Mostly we think it's funny that it managed to squeak through DQ's marketing department without so much as a raised eyebrow or a second question. But this is the mark of a successful ideology, at least according to Stuart Hall. Ideologies continue to pervade only if we never question their basis or motive. To anyone who has actually been asked, "Hey, are you a mulatto?" by a fellow human being, this drink name seems at the very least cringe-worthy and the very most insensitive and even offensive. We've read every internet blog that references this misstep on the part of DQ (including Timothy Noah's series on Slate, which is great), and regardless of where you stand, it is really funny when you think about it.

Second of all, I'm rarely if ever offended. It isn't something I enjoy and I don't make a hobby out of it. It's presumptuous of you internet strangers to say so, but I suppose that's the entire point of the SLOG.

Thirdly, as Charles mentioned, I studied film and film theory fairly extensively and many of the essays I read dealt in multicultural representation, and specifically, the "tragic mulatto" character. This character is almost always portrayed as a light-skinned black woman, who is desperate to fit into white culture, only to eventually be shunned for her perversion of race, lost between two worlds, and, tragically, alone. Perhaps it's too difficult for me to hear the word "MooLatte" and not instantly associate it with "mulatto." But hey, it's just a fucking milkshake. It's pretty good, too.

Most importantly, I am single. But I'm not as pretty as Cynda Williams. Sorry.

Number Two, what are we doing this weekend? My slapping hand is a-quiverin'.

OJ, I don't know what to make of your post, but the answer to your question, "what's racist about mulatto?" is that the term literally means "Mongrel, Mutt," or if you prefer, "Mix-breed."


I think we need to sit down and discuss this misplaced anger towards the BIG DQ. I personally have known many of the fine workers there and I can only assume that not only do they not know what mulatto means, they also don't know a "S" about a marketing campaign. Have you seen the cannibal shrimp commercial? As a half white-half shrimp, a Crustatto if you will, I am very offended. I can't believe this slipped past the marketing gurus at the DQ.

As mentioned above I did study marketing and management and I know that the race card sells. Play it, and play it wisely and the dominoes with fall like a house of cards, bulls-eye.

As for the slapping hand, I've got a cheek right here for ya!

I thought that Halle Berry already ended racism?

Actually, mulatto literally means "a person of mixed race". How is this offensive? Does a more sensitive term for mixed race exist, or is any word that refers to this concept inherently offensive?

Mulatto actually comes from the Spanish for "little mule," mules being a mixed breed of horse and donkey.

Etymologically, then, mulatto would seem inherently more offensive than, say, the n-word, which derives from the Spanish for "black".

OTOH, it's not part of most people's vocabulary these days - except film students who've been sensitized by reading about this "tragic mulatto" character type in racist-era films - and never seems to have been much used as a slur in its own right, to my knowledge - I mainly recall it as a simple descriptive term, before "mixed race" was coined.

So yes, I doubt the DQ folks were thinking of anything other than the sound cows make.

And yes, film students are right to find it kinda funny - though the joke is of their own creation, a bizarre juxtaposition that only they are attuned to - like, e.g., the way they think that to represent the female anatomy on screen caries some inherent threat of castration and can't be allowed to happen in film (thank you Laura Mulvey...).

Finally, it sound to me like the tragedy of the "tragic mulatto" has nothing to do with being called a mulatto - and everything to do with how racist filmakers ideologically constructed their destiny, whatever they called them.

The Seattle Weekly prints Dairy Queen ads. Seattle Weekly is racist. Thank you Charles for continuing to fight racism.

Look, crazy people do exist.

And lots of people right now believe in conspiracy theories, because who in their right mind could actually believe we have a crew of insane people totally out of their gourds in the White House?

So, cut her some slack. We all get a pass if we're a little off our rockers nowadays.

It's a stupid name, anyway. Would they call a Friday fish-sandwich offering the Mackerel Snapper? I'll bet that wouldn't go over too well in South Boston. (For those of you unclear on the reference, that used to be a pejorative term for a Catholic.)

Why don't they just quit with the damn cutesy names that don't actually describe the contents of the product in question and call it a mocha milkshake, or a coffee milkshake, or whatever the hell is actually IN it. Marketing people make me tired - even when they're not being horribly insensitive, they're just DUMB - catalogs referring to colors as "Canary" or "Sunset" instead of yellow or orange - don't frigging make me GUESS which color is which! Ditto the "MooLatte" - why are you making me GUESS what's in the damned thing?

Hey douchebags, nobody thinks MooLatte is overtly racist -- obviously they're going for moo as in moocow. But DQ is ignorant bordering on retarded to keep marketing MooLatte. Mulatto means mule! They sound exactly the same! That Slate article is from 2004! MooLatte is still all over my television! I'd like it to stay there, because I like to have a chuckle, but that doesn't make it okay. Nobody here is off of any kind of rocker.

"the girl in question" has started working for DQ's slogan department in the past week or so and has coined this jem,"The Nigger Blizzard, It taste like LYNCHING!"

she is a pioneer.

hats off to you, M.
"hot eats, coon treats."

"Mulatto actually comes from the Spanish for "little mule," mules being a mixed breed of horse and donkey."

The original idea here is that the subhuman is mixing witht he human. In enslavement societies in the Americas, the lighter skinned mules were often given a higher status and the hierarchy created was used to maintain oppression of the mass of unmixed subhumans.

I don't beleive the term can be seperated from its history of use to clarify the eugenic status of the subject.

My mixed-race daughter in law got a scholarship to go to a rich girls school in her teens. A number of times she heard herself described in her precense as a "mulatto." The family thought it was a great opportunity at the time, but she says it really caused here lasting trauma.

I'm glad "The Girl in Question" is not offended, but many mixed race girls and boys have a very difficult time finding a comfortable identity in our society, which still often views them as either hot sex objects (mostly the girls) or aberrant mules. I find it offensive to Add to their difficulties by laughing at the history with moolattes.

Wow, this thread has produced some gems:
"Octoroon Macaroon" - brilliant
_Liostro's little outburst - just, wow.
And then there's this, from Timothy Noah's piece, where in discussing the tragic mulatto, he refers to "her pitiable taint."

Good stuff.

"OTOH, it's not part of most people's vocabulary these days - except film students who've been sensitized by reading about this 'tragic mulatto' character type in racist-era films - and never seems to have been much used as a slur in its own right, to my knowledge - I mainly recall it as a simple descriptive term, before 'mixed race' was coined."

Sir, are you some kind of fool? Mulatto was most certainly used as a derogatory term for mixed-race children who were commonly the product of a slaveowner's rape of his female slave. Clearly, there is more to this term than just a "descriptive phrase," and I have had firsthand experience dealing with white people who have used it against me in an attempt to offend. I'm happy to hear, however, that you don't recall it being used this way.

I'd hardly say that, as a former film student, I'm overly sensitive to the concept of the "tragic mulatto" character, simply overly aware of her existence in cinema. But filmmakers don't just create this archetypes for the sake of creating them. The tragic mulatto draws from many racist American ideologies (chief among them that a person has to "belong" to one race or another) that are still prevalent today. It's not a film technique, like CGI, you moron.

But none of this is even the point! The point is, Dairy Queen selected a name for a milkshake that is one vowel sound away from being a slur. This is equal parts hilarious and unbelievable! Really? No one at DQ caught that? Wow! America is so insane and racist, and they don't even know it! HAHAHA.

It's over!

I'm not just a film student, but, for my sins, also read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series from beginning to end to waste time in graduate school.

There was a Mule in that too - a mutant human who controlled the march of history by controlling his opponents minds.

Maybe that's DQ's ambition: to enslave our minds so we'll Moo for Latte.

BTW - "little mule" would seem, in Spanish, to have been a term of endearment.

In English, it was borrowed from Spanish because it was current there for mixed race - and English speakers had no idea it meant anything at all like a mule.

Wow - what a tirade got posted against me supposedly from the Girl in Question while I was writing my comment above - when she'd previously sounded like the voice of reason.

Assuming it's really her, and not someone assuming her name, I guess I must have hit a nerve.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, dear.

When you grow up and get some more cultural interpretation under your belt, maybe you'll learn to save your thunder for the real racists, and not cry wolf everytime you think the sky is falling.

Oh, and I truly am sorry if some people once used this term against you in an attempt to offend.

As I said, I'm not familiar with that usage.

I do seem to recall "chocolate milkshake" being so used, however.

What if DQ called a drink of theirs that?


I only know two things for sure. John From seems pretty annoying. But more importantly, when _liostro said "Hot Eats, Coon Treats," I got goosebumps.

Besides, everyone knows that "chocolate milkshake" is a derogatory term for fatties, and it's totally cool to make fun of fatties.

Thank GOD (and MLK - rest in peace) you were here, "John From," to explain which kinds of racism are "real" and which ones aren't.

And yes, as far as the MooLatte goes, even when racism is hilarious (and creamy delicious), it's still racist.

Girl in Question, won't you be my wife?

I think we're still all missing the REAL point here, which is that a large Dairy Queen MooLatte contains 376 grams of fat and 14,000 calories. I have creamy MooLatte leaking out of my bedsores.

Well, can't wait, somebody has to point out what's real and what isn't - when you all take the imaginary for the real so easily.

Oh, and by "you all" I mean all of you conspiracy theorists and "institutional racism" fanatics.

As for being annoying, sorry I couldn't stroke your ego, GIQ.

Dairy Queen = Hot Mess
chew on that for awhile if you will.

also, GIQ could slap the shit out of any man, woman, child, and demi-god!

John From, does it take longer to cook pizza all the way up there on your high horse?

whatever, girl

adios amiga

hope some day you get real

Now I don't have a graduate degree in Nerd Literature, but just because "institutional racism" doesn't exist on fictional planets in outer space in the future doesn't make it a "conspiracy theory" in big fat white 21st-century America.

Just like all conspiracy theorists - no sense of humor.

Or of perspective.

Have fun swatting at gnats - while you commit worse crimes than any you accuse others of.

oops - brain fried

"while you commit worse crimes than those you accuse are committing"

i boycott the moolatte simply because i refuse to consume anything that might have somehow derived from a mule. is that racist?

anybody eatin anything at diarrea queen prolly oughts be slapped

my family franchises a Dairy Queen. i have never heard of or even thought of the moolatte refering to a racist term. that is seriously ridiculous. dairy queen has been a long standing franchise system in the US for over 50 years. moolatte, mullato? hahah. lets call swirl ice cream, mullato. haha

very old wallpaper catalog

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