The Third Man, a chapter from Brown: The Last Discovery of America, written by Richard Rodriguez, presents a clear argument for the use of “white freedom.” “White freedom” is the ability of every individual to express freedom by choosing what background they identify with. In his argument Rodriguez uses a man named Darrell. He claims that Darrell only identifies as “black” because that is the way the local police department sees him. The author argues that “white freedom” will grant Darrell the freedom of self-definition, and that the use of “white freedom” will deliver the United States from race. Although the idea of “white freedom” seems positive and beneficial, there is a complexity that renders it useless. Rodriguez argues that “white freedom” gives people the choice of identity, but he fails to acknowledge the difficulty of obtaining authenticity of that identity.
I have experienced the world as a black man for seventeen years, but I’d be lying if I said I never thought about being white. At the age of fourteen, I was the victim of racial prejudice. My white constituents were selected to join an elite honors club at my high school, but my opportunity was forfeited because of my blackness. Because this was my first interaction with any form of racism, bewilderment and rage overtook me. My father had always told me to be weary of racism, but I did not understand his words until it actually happened to me.
I expressed my “white freedom” as a way to gain opportunity. I wanted to participate in activities, and I wanted a fair chance at everything that I became a part of. In what I describe as my transformation, I became white. I shopped at American Eagle and Abercombie, and I began to eat at restaurants that were mostly associated with the white population. As if those weren’t enough, I made it my mission to join every white club or activity that was functioning in my hometown. Life was positive, but that feeling was snatched away when my parents questioned my change. When they asked questions, my only response was “I’m white.” Shock immediately overtook them. Their faces held all the information I needed to know: no approval. I tried to explain, but the only thing they captured was that I hated being black and that I was embarrassed by them and the black race as a whole. As a result of “white freedom” I lost connections not only with my parents, but my siblings and friends as well. I was able to tell people that I was white, but no one could look past my dark complexion.
Rodriguez does not acknowledge the difficulty of obtaining acceptance with the use of “white freedom.” While I used “white freedom” to self-define, I was rejected and alienated by family and friends (the people that loved me most). Rodriguez also argues that the use of “white freedom” will deliver the United States from race, but that was not the case in my particular instance. The minute I told people about my chosen identity, they paid more attention to my race. They attested my chosen identity to an identity crisis, and they could and would not get past the complexion of my skin. Rodriguez claims that race is identity, but an identity is much more than race alone. Claiming a race means claiming a lifestyle and a complex history, and for me it was impossible.
The same can be said for a classmate of mine, Jackson. Jackson is white, but he uses
“white freedom” to participate in black culture. Although he is whiter than a dandelion, he is black at heart, and it’s no secret to his family and friends. When I see Jackson, his hair is tied up into something
that mimics dreads, his pants are sagging, and he is always wearing Polo or Timberlands. He speaks with a deep voice, and he knows more lyrics to rap and hip-hop songs than I. When Jackson practices “white freedom”, he experiences that same thing that I did in the past, rejection. The only difference is that his rejection comes directly from me and not his family. I accept Jackson to the fullest extent when he’s white, but the minute he shows me his black culture, I reject him. Anytime Jackson and I attend a party together, I ask him to wear his “whitest” outfit. I prefer him to be white because I don’t feel comfortable approaching my black friends with him, and his white friends don’t feel comfortable with him being black. Jackson claims black culture, but he’s not authentic in that culture if he leaves his choice at my request.
Acknowledging why a particular identity is another concept that Rodriguez fails to talk about in his claim. Individuals using materialistic things to define themselves with a particular culture do not understand or actually identify with that culture. Jackson and I both used “white freedom” as a way to claim something that we wanted, not because we actually identified with the culture or race. I didn’t care about the history, culture or customs of the white race; I wanted opportunity, and I thought the only way to obtain that was by using “white freedom to become white. But the differences between Jackson and I’s reasoning say a lot about the racial hierarchy that exists in the United States. The differences prove how the power is still associated with the white race. Because Jackson is white, he doesn’t have to use “white freedom” to get ahead; he can use it to be cool because he won’t ever have to experience racism because of the fact that he’s white, while I had to use “white freedom” to gain a better opportunity because of the blackness of my skin. The rejection that I show Jackson says a lot about “white freedom.” If someone that is white can’t use white freedom to its fullest extent, how can someone of another race?
Coming from both sides of the spectrum—being rejected and the rejecter, I can speak honestly to the difficulty of accepted while expressing “white freedom.” I was rejected because I was not white, and Jackson is rejected because he is not black. The use of “white freedom” gives the freedom of self-definition, but it allows people to create identities that are nothing close to actual culture. When I identified as white, I didn’t understand the white culture. I was only white because I thought there was more opportunity associated with the white race. Jackson doesn’t understand black culture. His “black culture” is used as a way to define himself as cool. Rodriguez’s claim to “white freedom” is beneficial only on the surface. Regardless of the freedom to self-define, it is progressively difficult for the actual identity to resonate. When “white freedom” is actually used to claim identities and cultures, the issues of rejection and alienation discredit the positive that is associated with the this particular freedom.