Perception of the World of Culture and Traditions

The United States is renowned for freedom and for being a melting pot for different ethnicities. Many minorities and groups reside in the United States because of our cultural acceptance; however, studying the extent and nature of culture shows a changing dynamic when viewed through the eyes of different individuals. This can be based on identifying characteristics such as race, class, and gender. Richard Rodriguez analyzes this changing perspective in his book, The Third Man, which focuses on how Americans perceive the world as the binary classification of black and white.

Rodriguez offers a solution to this classification by introducing the concept of “brown”. By also examining Kwame Appiah argument in The Case for Contamination, there is a correlation between his views on cultural preservation boxes in a global perspective and Rodriguez’s conception of brown. Rodriguez does not directly imply about globalization, but his conceptualization of brown can be put into a global perspective by Appiah’s assertion of “browning” in terms of contamination in global interactions.

Rodriguez argues in the The Third Man that the complex issue of race in America is disregarded because “Americans dislike gray,” a reference to the area in between different races. With America’s view on race as black and white, people in the United States are limited to these two sides. Rodriguez provides a solution to this race problem by identifying the term “brown.” The problem that Rodriguez addresses is that brown has white freedom, without the effect of doing an “acid bath” (140).

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This “acid bath” may be a way to grant the freedoms and rights so easily given to those with a lighter pigment, but the acid bath also strips a person of his or her identity, causing them to “disappear from a crowded tenement.” The use of an acid bath implies a way to purify people by letting them give up parts of themselves and letting go of one’s individualism.

Appiah does not want to get rid of one’s individualism. Appiah postulates that globalization allows people to be part of a collection of cultures. Appiah proposes a vision of a shared humanity respectful of differences that generate peaceful relationships toward other human beings. He explains that globalization can have different meanings by who perceives it because globalization can be viewed from different ‘boxes’. An example of this is traditional farmers suffering as their traditional life from centuries of heritage is wasted away as wealthy people take over their lands. Because of this, many traditional families that have been affected in this way have restricted their children to any outside practice. This limits younger generations into diversifying themselves.

Although globalization may have negative aspects, Appiah adds that globalization has made it possible to benefit different societies such as delivering effective means of transportation and medicine in third world countries by using technology (Appiah). This parallels to Rodriguez’s solution of brown because globalization removes the classification of these boxes and allows individuals to be on their own will. In The Third Man, Rodriguez mentions what he gathered from his friend Darrell. Darrell explains that blacks believe the race issue is not up to individuals but more so up to society because they already have a misconception of different races of immigrants (African Americans, Asians, Latinos…). Rodriguez evokes a sense of questioning about whether a person identifies with a certain race based on what they are culturally or ancestrally, or if they identify with that race because of the way society groups people (138).

By using brown as a solution to the race problem, Appiah seeks to build a better society by incorporating cosmopolitanism. Appiah defines a cosmopolitan as a centralized system with ideas bounded by the United States and parts of Europe. He challenges this idea of cultural imperialism by suggesting that major cultures dominate inferior ones such as the Zulu tribes in Southern Africa in means of political, economic, and social aspects (Appiah). Kwame Appiah uses an example of a Zulu man interacting with western culture to suggest that traditional cultures are bound to classifying boxes, therefore limiting traditional people’s interaction with other cultures.

Appiah’s view on cosmopolitan is congruous to Rodriguez wanting people to be proud of their own differences because Rodriguez wants to get rid of the boxes classifying white and black, and have a middleground of brown where individuals can be free to be themselves. Appiah believes that there are values worth living for and that people should be able to seek new knowledge in order to revise their views when confronted with new things. To Appiah, culture is not immune to globalization and that protecting culture will only be counterproductive. Like Rodriguez’s solution, brown is the unifying factor that Rodriguez hopes will heal the nation from the cultural problem of race (137). American minds are engrossed in the one-drop theory that people in the United States are not colorblind, but color-conscious. This can be applied to traditional cultures being pessimistic on being immersed into the outside world.

Appiah makes further comments on cultural interactions that have brought good in society such as women participation in professions that a few decades ago were only a preserve for the men (Appiah). From having a duty to serve in the household and care for children to having a career in professions shows the changing dynamics of individualism and having basic rights. This change in society would not have happened if society protected old, traditional cultural practices. Rodriguez ties in to this because he wants individuals in America to not just fit in with the social standards to promote national unity, but to be able to “feel complete freedom of movement” to express one’s individualism. (140).

To be able to accomplish self-love and happiness in one’s life, Appiah wants individuals to embrace globalization in order to develop cosmopolitans that can foster free will. By extending Rodriguez’s argument, there is a correlation between brown, and the term globalization because they both want to get rid of classifying people into the stereotypical boxes. Without these boxes, people can practice individualism.

I agree with Appiah’s argument that protecting local culture and traditions will only foster people’s reliance in it. Being immersed into other cultures allows individuals to learn from different perspectives and helps individuals to be humble in themselves. Protecting traditional culture will only create boundaries between communities and regions; however, I believe that people should still hold on to parts of traditional culture. This can be seen the region of Asia where countries such as Japan still holds onto the traditional wear and language of kimonos and kanji (kana/hiragana katakana). In regard to the race problem, there should not be a binary classification of black and white. Individuals must change their views on each other first, before they address society’s views on race. This problem is complex and will take a while to address, but with constant pressure on the race issue, worldviews can change on this stereotypical issue of black and white which will address people’s narrow minded cynicism on people who are different than them.

To add to Richard Rodriguez and Kwame Appiah’s solution, I believe that recently, the United States expects only other migrant cultures such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Europeans, etc… to assimilate into American culture. In the United States there has been a decline in traditional customs such as family relationships and relationships within one’s community. I know it’s not legitimate for old customs to still be practiced, but people should still hold true to traditional values. People should incorporate and merge the old with the new.

To conclude, people in the United States have subconsciously become a collective in the pursuit of individuality. By combining Richard Rodriguez and Kwame Appiah’s arguments, it can be seen that no boxes should classify individuals. Without these boxes, people are free to be who they are without interference without outside sources. Individuals are made up of all colors, and they belong anywhere they want in the color spectrum. People should take pride in their differences, whether those differences are in the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, the the religion they practice, the languages they speak, or the nationality of their family.

Variations such as these are what makes individuals unique and is what, not just America, but what the world should be known for. Appiah’s use of globalization lets people enforce their own principles and notions. Rodriguez’s argument can be extended into a larger concept by incorporating globalization. Globalization supplements Rodriguez’s argument because it allows individuals to have individualism, associating contrasting old tradition and culture such as language, food, clothing, etc. Appiah espouses that people can interact with other cultures without being assimilated. Appiah wants individuals more cosmopolitanism enables individuals to adopt foreign culture based on how they see fit within their cultural context, and without “structuring the consciousness” and detaching people from traditional beliefs.

Works Cited

  1. Appiah, Kwame Anthony. “The Case for Contamination.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Jan. 2006, contamination.html.
  2. Rodriguez, Richard. Brown: The Last Discovery of America. New York: Viking, 2022. 125-143.

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Perception of the World of Culture and Traditions. (2021, Dec 23). Retrieved from

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