The Mulatto's Tragedy
Kathleen Collins' use of the tragic mulatto trope subverts its racist origins and exposes the true tragedy of being other in America.
The Red Record
The tragic mulatto, like Sambo, Uncle Tom, Mammie, was created to erase the contextual history of slavery’s violent physical, emotional, economical, and mental affect on African descendants, thus absolving the white masters, and their beneficiaries, of any personal guilt or responsibility.
Uncle Tom’s CabinPinkyImitation of Life“the mulatto’s unhappiness" as "the anguished victim of divided inheritance,” as noted by Negro Character as Seen by White Authors Under the pen of the white writer, the algebraic equations of race, created by Thomas Jefferson, was applied with 1/2 of the mulatto being bound to the "savagery" of their black blood and 1/2 being the “intellectual prowess” of their white blood. The battle of these two “divided inheritance[s]” are always cancelled out, as in the one-drop rule, by their blackness, thus forever barring them from entering the purity of whiteness and access to humanity.
As the white writer used the tragic mulatto to perpetuate white-supremacist ideology, black writers like Williams Wells Brown, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson used the trope as a means to subvert it. No one did this more adeptly than Harlem Renaissance novelist, Nella Larsen.
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“She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see” - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God