The Blending of Brown America
America is often referred to as “the melting pot”, a place where a variety of races, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole. But is America simply living culturally cohesive or are the various colors of America melting together to create a “brown America”? Chicano essayist Richard Rodriguez discusses the topic of a brown America in his novel Brown in hopes of undermining the notion of race in America. By definition, race is each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics. Although this definition doesn’t define race as simply black or white, it divides people according to their “distinct” characteristics, which creates room for the “other”. The “other” refers to those who do not fall into one distinct category. In the novel, Brown, Richard Rodriguez argues that race cannot be simply defined; through historical examples and personal experiences Rodriguez undermines the notion of race by representing the middleman, the brown. The term “brown” holds more meaning than simply a color in our racially deterministic society. The goal of Rodriguez in Brown is to create an impure, indistinct and contradictory America. Identifying himself as brown, Rodriguez writes: Brown has allowed me to reconcile myself to myself, that is, to allow for the unevenness of my life, to allow for its contradictions, to not have to figure everything out in my life, to see it as whole rather than as partial. (Hansen)
Rodriguez hopes to undermine the notion of race in order to prove that America is more than the preconceived cookie-cut image of black or white. As a Hispanic homosexual in the disapproving Catholic religion, Rodriguez is a contradiction himself. He thrives off the idea of confusion stating, “Only further confusion can save us.” (Hansen)
Rodriguez attempts to write his novel “brownly” for the reason that, “brown confuses” (Rodriguez, pg. xi). He holds the idea that the term brown is a paradox, confusion, and a contradiction, which is the same manner in which he views himself. Rodriguez embraces the ability to be a contradiction by experiencing two or several things at once, for example a Catholic and a homosexual.
By failing to fall into neither the black nor white racial categories, Rodriguez identifies as an occupant of the “passing lane in American demographics”. In Chapter Six Rodriguez writes, “My role is the man in the middle, the third man; neither” (Rodriguez, pg. 125). He proposes the idea that since Hispanics are a mixture of European and African American decent, they should logically fall in between the two color lines. Hispanics should technically take on the role of being gray, however he states that he is visibly brown, “darkish, reddish, terra-cotta-ish, dirt-like, burnt Sierra in the manner of the middle Bellini” (Rodriguez, pg. 126).
The idea of a “middle race” was repeatedly rejected in American history. As Rodriguez describes in Chapter Six: A child of black-and-white eroticism remained “black” in the light of day, no matter how light her skin, straight his hair, gothic her nose; she was black as midnight, black as tar, black as the ace of spades, black as your hat. Under the one-drop theorem, it was possible for a white mother to give birth to a black child in America, but no black mother every gave birth to a white child. A New World paradox. (Rodriguez, pg. 135)
This paradox is also exemplified in the film Pinky (1949). In the film, the topic of biracial individuals is addressed. Pinky, a black-and-white mixed race woman is defined as black in her court case, despite her white skin color. She is treated with harsh disrespect after being discovered to be of a mixed race. Rodriquez can summarize the reasoning for her treatment in the quote, “one of the first lessons in America, the color-book lesson, instructs that color should stay within the lines” (Rodriguez, pg....
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