A Salute to Alyssa Stephens, the (non-tragic) Latto!

*This blog was published under the same title on O’Writes on February 10, 2022.


Photograph by Eric Hart Jr. for Rolling Stone. Styling by Todd White. Makeup by Melissa Ocasio. Nails by Johnethea Johnson.

Who knew that when Alyssa Stephens won fame in 2016 on Season 1 of The Rap Game as Miss Mulatto that she would garner success not only for her bars, but also for elevating the image of the centuries-old trope – the tragic mulatto?

Owing primarily to our history of slavery and miscegenation, the tragic mulatto emerged as a popular trope in African American literature. From Harriett Ann Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) to Caucasia (1998), by Danzy Senna, African American female authors have explored the concept of the tragic mulatto – the fair-skinned Black person born most often to a Black mother and a white man. Movies give us examples such as Kerry Washington as Broomhilda Von Shaft in Django (2012), Halle Berry as Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005), and Halle Berry as Queen in 1993 mini-series of the same name. Considering the fact that mixed-race marriages were illegal in America until 1967, the fruit of such unions was often rejected as inauthentic, hence the term tragic; not to mention the fact that the term mulatto comes from the Spanish word mule, an animal born from the union of a donkey stallion and a female horse and unable to reproduce, making the metaphor all the more tragic. Like the mule itself, the tragic mulatto is a beast of burden, bearing the weight of having the authenticity of your identity questioned daily. Even in the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), author Zora Neale Hurston asserts that the Black woman is “de mule uh de world” (14); and the burden is likely multiplied when having to choose one aspect of your identity and deny another, a concept known as passing in African American culture. In her 1861 novel Passing, author Nella Larsen describes this phenomenon as “stepping always on the edge of danger” the danger of being exposed as inauthentic, fraudulent, untrue.

Fast forward to 2016, and Miss Latto steps boldly into this space and transforms the once tragic mulatto into anything but! Her conscious donning of the title “Miss Mulatto” demands respect for the often pitied caricature. Stepping boldly into the black, male-dominated rap game, the 23-year-old Atlanta resident effectively dropped the “Miss” and embraced her identity as Mulatto. Currently, we know the young diva simply as “Latto.” Far from tragic, in her single titled “Big Energy,” the glamorous rapper describes herself as a

Bad bitch, I could be your fantasy

I can tell you got big dick energy

It ain’t too many niggas that can handle me

But I might let you try it off the Hennessy

Make ‘em sing to this pussy like a melody

And if your bitch ain’t right, I got the remedy

It ain’t too many niggas that can handle me

Bad bitch, I could be your fantasy. (Latto)


Whoa! Who’s tragic, now? Like it or not, Big Latto, as she’s also known, does give big energy; and through her bold lyrics, authentic voice, and glamorous lifestyle, Latto becomes the beast of burden as who produces a new perspective on a centuries-old image, the tragic mulatto.


Credits:

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper & Row, 1937.

Larsen, Nella. Passing. New York: Rutgers UP, 1986.

Latto. “Big Energy.” Musixmatch. 2021.





Dr. Ondra Dismukes the Editor-in-Chief of Pretty Smart Chics Ezine and The Linguistique Mystique: An Ezine for Writers, Contributing Writer for NOIRE ONLINE, a Freelance Editor for Enago Crimson Interactive, an Associate Professor of English at a local community college, and the owner of O'Writes Editing and Writing Coaching Services.


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