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Letalestrange

It's set in the Wizarding '20s, but they could've made her more than a plot device. No? Oh, okay then.

Mulatto, n. A child of two races, ashamed of both.
~The Devil's Dictionary~ (1911)

A multiethnic character not accepted by either side. The Trope Namer is a 1908 article, The Tragedy of the Mulatto, but the trope is Older Than Radio at least. For more information, see the entry on The Other Wiki.

This is largely a Discredited Trope these days, due to the unsettling frequency with which authors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used it to talk about racial prejudice without having an 'excessively black' protagonist. The assumption that having mixed-raced blood dooms you to misfortune is also a rich source of Unfortunate Implications, much in the same way as Bury Your Gays. Nevertheless, examples do still crop up in media, usually seeking (with varying degrees of success) to avoid the trope's more obviously problematic aspects by using fantastic races like elves or demons instead of the real-world sort.

See also Pass Fail. Compare Halfbreed.

Examples of Tragic Mulatto include:


Anime & Manga

  • Cute Witch Yukari Sendou of Rosario to Vampire is played at this on introduction. As a "border being", her race is neither pure human nor pure youkai. Because of this, neither race trusts or likes her people.
    • Ruby suffered a somewhat worse case.
  • Conrad Weller from Kyou Kara Maou appears to have had fine individual relationships with each of his parents, but be unable to really connect with humans or fit in with Mazoku. His favorite brother rejected him completely as a child after learning he was half-human, and his entire racial sub-group of 'half-Mazoku' are systematically persecuted throughout the world.
    • In the last war, the strongest and most loyal of the crossbreeds of Shin Makoku (the main character's adopted country and where they get the best treatment) formed a patriotic unit which was intentionally sent by his uncle on the suicide mission of defending Rutenburg Pass, out of which only Conrad and Yozak emerged alive. They won. They just all died. This trope is at least seventy percent of why Conrad is so weird.
      • Note that said uncle was serving as regent for his mother, the actual ruler at the time, who loves him very much but didn't do anything.
  • Fanon will usually make this an interpretation of Karen Kozuki / Kallen Stadtfeld's character. It would definitely have been true by Britannian standards (at least under Emperor Charles), but the Japanese seemed more-or-less accepting of her and considered her Japanese, and her loyalty to Japan's rebellion was never called into question. Given that the core members were old friends of her brother from when the two of them raised in Japan, they may be personally affected, but no suggestion is made that former members of the Japanese army had issue, either. Considering that the leader of "Japan's Rebellion" was secretly a Britannian Prince, and openly recruiting people of skill, even if they were Britannian, being merely half-Japanese was clearly not as pressing a problem. She was able to pass as Britannian at will, however, and one of the Knights of the Round, Gino Weinberg, suggested that if she were to switch sides, her skill as a Knightmare pilot would more than make up for the stigma associated with half-breeds.
    • What the racial markers for Britannian-ness are is deeply mysterious. The most Asian-looking guy in the show is a high-ranking Britannian nobleman, Guilford, and one Britannian Purist is a particularly dark-skinned woman.
  • Kotaro from Mahou Sensei Negima mentions briefly that this is his background as a half-Human half-Youkai. Being forced to do dangerous works since a child to be able to survive, since no one would take him.
  • Skip Beat has recently officially broken into this with chapter 184, which opens with a flashback to young Hizuri Kuon, later known as Tsuruga Ren being told even God must find his existence problematic, being a Japanese, Russian, and 'American' cross, and then ramps it up to 'damned unfamiliar' and then 'not even human'. Which, given he spent almost his entire childhood in America probably says more about the issues the Japanese have with the concept of minzoku than anything else.[1]
    • Repeat, this is in California, given his Dad's a Hollywood legend. Absurdly beautiful and improbably Asian features combined with a beautiful head of blond hair on a sharp, multi-talented kid with a lot of energy, and where in America outside of maybe Stormfront are you going to find anyone responding with anything by envy? But apparently this race-mixing was an actual problem for him. In California. In the nineties.
      • The guy then called him an 'ugly mutant' and it seems to have been calculated to offend, but given it was addressed to a teen who ought to know better and still left such a deep impression we're bothering with two pages of flashbacks, I'm thinking we can add this trope to Ren's pile of issues.
    • In the next chapter we find out that this flashback was caused by a Japanese guy going on a similar tear, with "you can't completely be British and you can't completely be a Japanese, so what exactly were you planning on becoming?" (His current identity is supposedly British.) From a Japanese guy, this speech makes sense. The response was to attempt to strangle him to death.
  • The titular Inuyasha, a human/demon half-breed accepted by neither race.

Comics

  • Namor the Sub-Mariner's cousin Namorita, of The New Warriors. She had major angst over being half Atlantean and half Human. She's also has the Cloning Blues on top of that.
  • Some versions of Aquaman have also had this problem; i.e. when he's half-human. Man doesn't even have a consistent first name, and he's been retconned so many times he's hit Mutliple Choice Past territory.
  • The Cloning Blues version of Superboy, Conner, turned out to have this problem. Although since the human genetic donor was retconned into being Lex Luthor, there were much better things to worry about than mere race.


Film

  • Many half-breed Indians in the old Westerns. Especially the post-Tonto Westerns where tragic mulattos were common.
  • Imitation Of Life, both versions, but emphasized heavily in the Douglas Sirk version.
  • The classic British film Sapphire concerns the murder of a mixed-race girl who had been passing for white and hoping to marry a white guy.
  • Senator John Ambrose Fauntroy in CSA: Confederate States of America is finally Driven to Suicide when it is suspected he has black blood. But he was a Complete Monster in life, and it's revealed after his death that he was 100% Caucasian. His black slave made up that rumor to get revenge on his master. It's An Aesop that racism harms the perpetrators as well as the victims.
  • Dutch movie Sonny Boy (2011) is an example of this set in WW 2.
  • The film Australia explores the plight of half-Aboriginal children.


Literature

  • Subverted in Alex Haley's Queen, who looks to turn out like this but makes her own way in the world, accepting her heritage.
  • Discussed in To Kill a Mockingbird. Jem explains this to his sister. "They don't belong anywhere. Colored folks won't have 'em because they're half white; white folks won't have 'em 'cause they're colored, so they're just in-betweens, don't belong anywhere."
  • Joe Christmas in A Light in August .
  • Tharkay in the Temeraire series. Justified by the time period: since it's set in the early 19th century, he really wouldn't be accepted by English society, despite being the son of a gentleman.
  • Tanis Half-Elven in Dragonlance, whose Elven mother was raped by a human soldier. To hide his Elven side he grows a Badass Beard, which elves can't in this setting, but his eyes and ears still give him away at times.
  • Catherine Cookson's Colourblind is this. It's protagonist Rose Angela encounters a lot of discrimination, mostly from her (white) uncle Matt. It has a happy ending for her when she finds acceptance with a man who "Only hates Arabs".
  • In The Full Matilda by David Haynes, Jacob is like this, though it's arguably more of a modern take on the subject, with both sides finding him "exotic", "not too black" or "not black enough".
  • In Ellery Queen's novel The Roman Hat Mystery, this is the murderer's motive. He was passing for white, and the victim threatened to expose him. The detective, instead of criticizing racism at the end, says something along the lines of "Well, we all know they're more violent anyway." Yuck.
  • This turns out to hide in the backstory of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! Well, more like Tragic Octoroon, actually. One drop is still too much.
  • The setting of Robin McKinley's novel Sunshine includes the fantasy version of these, with emphasis on passing for all part-demons. Miscegenation is illegal, so if passing fails you just blame it on a dead ancestor no one told you about till now, register as partblood, and cope with severe prejudice the rest of your life. Mentioned are:
    • Middle-aged bank manager suddenly grew horns; was fired. Appealed and won, because that's illegal, but they still fired him.
    • Decent sort of jock suddenly got tusks. They kicked him off the team and took away all his awards because he must have had an unfair advantage. And his whole family was guaranteed off the fast track to anything.
    • A lot of the SOF, the anti-supernatural government commandoes, turn out to be hidden partbloods in a conspiracy to save the world from vampires so a) it won't be conquered by evil and b) humans will hate demons less once vampires aren't around to freak them out by preying on them.
    • And the crowner: Strong human magic and strong demon magic inherited by the same person gives a 90% chance of superpowered psychotic killer. These persons are known as 'bad magic crosses.' Sunshine spends a lot of the middle of the book worried she's this, since she has weird magic, has an alliance with a vampire against other vampires, and her father was suspected of being a sorcerer.
  • The Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson (actually a novel) tells the story of a man (he remains unnamed) who is 1/4 or 1/8 black and can thus pass for white fairly easily. Raised in the North sometime after the Civil War among upper-class blacks and mostly-benevolent whites, he learns and excels at classical piano. He eventually ends up living in Atlanta and then Harlem, where he acclimates easily enough to both upper- and working-class black life, at first teaching and then performing piano. He picks up Ragtime, combines it with his Classical chops, and gets quite a reputation--even touring turn-of-the-century Europe as a black man as part of the entourage of a businessman. And then he has a Eureka Moment regarding music, goes to the Deep South to connect to his black roots...and then sees a lynching. He quickly returns to New York, takes a job at an office, and marries and has children with a white woman, never telling wife or children about his heritage, and feeling awful about it. Hence the title.

Live Action TV

  • Spock of Star Trek.
    • It is treated in several different ways, but particularly fascinating is when in "Day of the Dove" Spock and McCoy have started hitting well below the belt in their normal racial sniping, it's Kirk bursting in with "stop it, Spock, you're half human!" that is the Unforgivable Thing that clues them in to the rage-inducing entity messing with them.
      • Also used deliberately by Kirk in an earlier episode, "What Are Little Girls Made Of", as a Something He Would Never Say clue to raise Spock's suspicions.
    • In the 2009 movie, he gets in a particularly note-worthy barb after some racist comments by a Vulcan on his maternal heritage, throwing it back in their faces by (unprecedentedly) rejecting their acceptance of his application for a coveted position. He points out their perfect Vulcan acceptance record stands intact, as by their own definition, he is not a Vulcan, but a half-Human.
    • Played very straight in Star Trek: Voyager with B'lanna Torres, who denies her Klingon heritage because she believes her father left their family because of it. The children of the human colony she lived on tormented her, and Klingons meeting her would refer to her as a 'mongrel'. When she became pregnant, she attempted to genetically alter her child to remove all traces of Klingon DNA because she believed the child would suffer for it as she did.
    • Also played straight with Tora Ziyal, the half-Bajoran daughter of Dukat, shunned on Cardassia and Bajor; the only place she ever truly found a home (other than at her father's side briefly) was the titular station.
    • But averted with Deanna Troi, who was embraced by both her parent cultures. It helps when neither comes from a Rubber Forehead Aliens species.
  • Sherman Alexie's character Zits in Flight.
  • Doyle in Angel, who manages to really screw his life up this way. Given he's introduced as a shady, alcoholic failure of a gambler and conman, it is fascinating to discover that five years ago he was a stable, successful kindergarten teacher called by his first name, Francis, who'd met his fiancee while they were volunteering at a soup kitchen. Then the demon blood showed... He did it to himself, though. He could have kept everything, even the hot fiancee, he just freaked out and bolted.


Music

  • The Jeff Bates song "Rainbow Man" is about a man suffering from this trope who comes to embrace his nature. "I never really fit in any place/'Cause there's always a part of me to hate."
  • Cher's song "Halfbreed"


Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons and Dragons: Depending on the campaign and the individual in question, half-races in D&D are either shunned by both sides of their heritage or they end up becoming liasons between the two.
    • The two most common half-races--Half-Elves and Half-Orcs--respectively play up the positive and negative aspects of being mixed. In general, Half-Elves are seen as beautiful and socially accepted by both sides (if a little condescended by full elves), while Half-Orcs are considered brutes by humans and weaklings by full orcs...and are often products of war atrocities.


Theatre

  • In Show Boat, Julie La Verne has been passing for white, which makes Queenie puzzled when she starts singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Her jealous admirer Pete succeeds in exposing to the local authorities that she was born Julie Dozier to a white father and black mother. Just before the sheriff arrives, her husband, Steve Baker, slits her finger and puts his lips to the wound, in order to save himself from criminal charges of miscegenation since "one drop of n***er blood makes you a n***er in these parts."
  • Halfway through the second act of Edward Sheldon's play The N***er, Phil Morrow, governor of a Deep South state, learns that his grandmother was colored.
  • The character Robert in Langston Hughes 1927 play The Mulatto.
  • The character Zoey in the Dion Boucicault 1859 play The Octoroon.
  • In Miss Saigon, one of many reasons Kim is so determine to reunite with Chris and forge a better life for her son is to prevent her son from becoming this--she knows he will be shunned as the half-Vietnamese, half-white, illegitimate son of an American GI--indeed, her cousin tries to KILL HIM to avoid the shame that will be brought upon the family because of this.
    • Even the Engineer could be an example of this. One wonders if he might have become more than a pimp were it not for the fact he himself is the illegitimate son of a prostitute and her European customer.


Video Games


Western Animation

  • Family Guy Parodied in "The Griffin Family History" which contains a Roots spoof.

  Stewie: "You know the best part of being half white and half black. When I grow up I'll be accepted by everyone."

  • Uncle Ruckus (no relation) on Boondocks. Sorta. He thinks he's white and has re-vitiligo. He's also claimed to be Indian and numerous white ethnicities.


Real Life

  • The very famous Brazilian writer Machado de Assis was a victim of this. It fueled his angst and feelings of displacement, and is probably one of the reasons why he even decided to write in the first place.
  • Bob Marley was allegedly this in his childhood, having a black mother and a white father. That changed quite a bit when he became Jamaica's most famous (and one of the richest) citizens ever though.
  • Many first-generation mixed children even in America today can suffer a lot over it one way and another, not so much in public contexts as in questions of identity, extended families that object to one another strenuously, and things like people refusing to believe they're actually related to their white parent when they're *clearly* black.
  • This started from as far back as slavery days. While being light-skinned often meant a more coveted position as a house slave (and the ability to pass for white if necessary), it was also obvious that you were the result of your mother's rape by a white man, and thus, your complexion was viewed as something to be ashamed of.
  • For various reasons[2] it can be very difficult for urban Natives and Natives of mixed descent to claim indigenous identity in the United States. The legal status of tribal enrollment has requirements that have been criticized for being rigid, arbitrary, and sometimes arcane - This Troper knows of one example in his tribe where one man got on the rolls but his brother was rejected - and if you can't produce your papers sometimes that means you can't fully participate in some aspects of your religion and culture, like being able to legally use controlled substances like peyote which belong to your tradition, be able to take classes in your language which are enrolled-only, or be allowed to attend some ceremonies (depending on tribe, etc.) Even culturally, socially some hardline Natives don't want anything to do with you if you aren't tribally enrolled and didn't grow up on the reservation. There's generally a pecking order depending on your blood quantum and where and how you grew up, and you can find racism, against especially people of mixed Native/Black descent who appear Black. There are arguments for and against all this, but it can be hard on you if you aren't a status Indian legally and are socially rejected by your tribe, especially since you still might not appear White and can't assimilate totally into the majority culture, and you might have grown up being taught traditions, values, and things about your history and identity that mean you don't necessarily think or behave like a culturally White person either. So where do you stand? Where are your children and grandchildren going to stand? Tricky question.

Notes

  1. Among other things, they are so attached to the idea of being a nation with only one race-group and therefore no racism problems that they didn't acknowledge the existence of the Ainu until they'd colonized them to the edge of extinction, Okinawans are never going to be recognized as ethnically distinct despite the stereotype of dark skin and the fact that the islands have their own traditional language, even if these days they mostly speak Japananese...the Korean minority also had their citizenship revoked back in '45, so they don't count.
  2. such as preserving a minority culture undiluted, keeping a community together, the number of White or Black identified Americans who have or believe they have some kind of Native ancestry, trying to figure out who has certain rights like voting in tribal elections or owning an eagle feather under US laws which make exceptions for tribally enrolled Natives, ad nauseum
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