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Want to end racism? Embrace racelessness

Mainstream conversations on racism define the concept as the belief that one’s so-called race is superior to one or more “races.” This is, in fact, how the late feminist writer Audre Lorde defines racism in her influential essay “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”

“Racism,” Lorde writes. “The belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance, manifest, and implied.”

Though I’ve long admired Lorde’s prose, her definition fails to acknowledge that since “race” created racism, “race” perpetuates racism. Because racism is a belief in “race.” Race(ism.)

I’ve long noticed how anything that reifies “race” is the opposite of anti-racism — how “race” has created and continues to preserve racism — but had been bullied out of my beliefs by people of perhaps all skin colors and ethnicities who accused me of internalized racism.

Some called me an “Oreo” while others accused me of “colorblindness” or said I hated “black” people and wanted to be “white.” Some have accused me of performing for, or accommodating, the “white” gaze.

So I spent chunks of my life calling myself “black” or “African American,” despite my brown skin, despite never having been to Africa or having any friends or relatives who lived there.

Always, I wondered how people felt so comfortable separating Americans into different subspecies, based on appearances, creating imaginary categories and hierarchies, as if we aren’t all equally human.

The only connection I’ve ever had to Africa was the connection all humans share: human life began there.

But, just as people who are labeled “black” Americans are simply Americans, all humans are inherently raceless. Racialization is an action, a choice. Society racializes us but that doesn’t mean we must perpetuate the cycle of racism by racializing ourselves or anyone else.

If we all stopped this practice of assigning so-called “races” to each other, racism can vanish and we’ll have more energy and resources to fix systems that harm historically excluded humans — as well as the nonhumans who share our hot planet.


While I’ve silently identified on and off as aracial most of my life, I didn’t formally explore my racelessness until three or so years ago, during my final year of graduate school, when I noticed my raceless thoughts reflected in the satirical novel Erasure by Percival Everett.

I don’t believe in race. I believe there are people who will shoot me or hang me or cheat me and try to stop me because they do believe in race, because of my brown skin, curly hair, wide nose and slave ancestors. But that’s just the way it is.

A few months later, I approached my dissertation committee with racelessness by writing araciality into my dissertation essay, a long, exploratory introduction to my actual dissertation that included commentary on Erasure.

The essay was new and clunky, unlike my more-polished dissertation (a book of interlinked short stories) but was written clearly enough for them to read and understand in preparation for my defense.

During the defense I was shocked to learn that the three of these professors were made anxious by the conversation.[1] Shocked because these are humanists: writers and scholars. One of them tried to silence me. Two of them appeared to believe that “race” existed in nature.

None of them seemed to understand what I meant when I said that “race” did not exist in nature or as a construct — that people are always talking about something else when they think they’re talking about “race”: class, skin color, culture, ethnicity, racism. Usually racism. Race(ism).


A year later, I typed in “araciality” into Google’s search engine, where I discovered Dr. Sheena Mason’s work.

Assistant Professor of African American literature, Mason has authored two books, Theory of Racelessness: A Case for Antirace(ism) and The Raceless Antiracist: Why Ending Race Is the Future of Antiracism.

She, along with the other raceless people I’ve read, listened and spoken to, validated everything I’d been thinking most of my life, often afraid to share these thoughts.[2] They gave me the language to speak about araciality in more concrete, confident terms.

For example, in her essay “Theory of Racelessness: A Case for Antirace(ism)” Mason illustrates the inseparability of race and racism with her coined terms: “race(ism),” “race(ist),” “raci(al/st),” and “antirace(ism).”

She coined these terms to highlight the “deep reciprocal causal connections between things typically thought to be distinct,” and notes that most Americans believe that “race” exists independently of racist attitudes, while the opposite is true.

Most people, she writes, assume that people are inherently separated by “racial” features and that racist behaviors and beliefs are biased against certain “so-called racial features.” The point of her coinings is to show that seeing fellow humans as “raced” creates “race.”

That is, understanding human differences (which are in reality attributable to culture, ethnicity, class and other factors) in either benignly “racial” or malignantly “racist” ways creates and maintains “race.” Hence “race(ism)” and my other novel terms keep before our eyes the fact that racism creates race. Eliminating racism means eliminating race, and vice versa.

Further, I noticed that while I define(d) racism as a belief in “race”, Mason’s intellect goes even further, saying that race(ism) involves the belief that humans are naturally born into separate and distinct categories, “races,” a belief that tends to include a belief in hierarchy based on so-called races.

“This assumption of hierarchy is bound to perpetuate race(ism). For it precludes all people racialized as not ‘white’ from being ‘racist’ in the context of the United States,” she writes. Race(ism) persists in this way as well, according to Dr. Mason, because people who are racialized as non-white can mistreat and “cancel” people without being considered racist:

In turn, if you look like me, you can cancel me and mistreat me because I do not conform to the box you create for yourself based on race(ism) and you cannot be racist. Our prevailing ideas about the naturalness of race and about the one-sidedness of racism are incoherent. Make it make sense!

Mainstream conversations around “race” do not make sense. My mind is naturally logical, so I’ve abandoned these frameworks in search of something that did make sense. Of the six philosophies of race(ism), Mason’s work taught me the two philosophies I’d unknowingly followed: skepticism and eliminativism. Where racial skeptics believe humans are raceless, eliminativists argue for the abolition of race(ism).

So racelessness is not pretending that racism doesn’t exist; nor is racelessness accommodating the “white” gaze. Racelessness is natural. Pursuing racelessness is anti-race anti-racism: objecting racism by objecting the lie of racial difference.


Amir Zaki, full professor at the University of California, Riverside, writes that the concept of race(ism) is around 400 years old (about 0.1% of human history), where the belief in witches lasted about 300 years “and seems utterly absurd to almost everyone now.”

Zaki’s witch remark shows that America has been stuck in this trauma cycle for too long while also evoking the book Racecraft: The History of Inequity in American Life by historians Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields. [3] By coining the word “racecraft,” the authors draw a clear link between racialization and witchcraft, sorcery, illustrating the absurdity — and dangers — of believing in the made-up, imaginary category of “race.”

Similar to the antiquated idea of sorcery or witchcraft that once villainized women, racecraft involves the manipulation of human perception and beliefs to drive behaviors that reinforce inequalities based on a person’s perceived “racial” identity. Their appearance, mostly.

The authors say that racecraft originates from human behavior and imagination, rather than nature. Their term racecraft invokes witchcraft but they see neither witchcraft nor racecraft as “‘just mischievous superstition, nothing more’”

Witchcraft and racecraft, the authors say, are “imagined, acted upon and re-imagined, the action and imagining inextricably intertwined. The outcome is a belief that ‘persists itself to the mind and imagination as a vivid truth.’”

The truth is that race(ism) is a poisonous fallacy. Society racializes me, for example, as “black,” yet brown is my skin color. Which makes “black” a metaphor, rather than a fact. Humans depend on light and cannot see in the dark. Thus, many people fear darkness.

Black as metaphor will always mean something disgusting and “other”, something repulsive or frightening. Consider the term “dark soul,” the phrase “from darkness to light,” and the Black Death pandemic. Many people who believe in “race” will racialize me as a “black” person, and if they are afraid of so-called “black people,” they may fear or destroy me, making me unsafe in certain spaces, especially in America.

But, you may be thinking, constructs can be reconstructed. You’d be correct. “Race,” however, isn’t a construct; racism is. “Race” is an illusion that sustains racism, like deceived cult followers promoting a self-deluded, black-hearted leader.

If, as a progressive society, we can accept that we don’t know someone’s gender identity (or ideology) simply by looking at them — that we should ask someone their pronouns before making assumptions about them based on antiquated social norms and appearances — we can at least accept that not everyone identifies with the fiction of race(ism).


In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Audre Lorde asks and accurately answers her own insightful question: “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.”

Those truthful words of Audre Lorde highlight the problem of using “race” to defeat racism. “Race” is a colonizer’s tool that insidiously perpetuates a cycle of generational trauma. We can’t be anticolonial if we’re using the colonizer’s concepts.

We can’t be antiracist if we reify “race.”

Any logical mind can see that only anti-race anti-racism will solve the problem of race(ism).

You can’t know a person’s identity by looking at them. You only know someone after you’ve spent time with them. For, though we are all human, we are all unique, made up of various genetics, experiences and neurological profiles. Humans are more than what we look like.

[1] (Maybe their behavior shouldn’t have surprised me; nonautistic people have always behaved strangely around me.)

[2] Confidence comes, at times, from meeting people who resemble you, especially if something about you does not align with the maintstream. The raceless people I’ve met are kind, open-minded people who think critically about society and culture. Some come from countries where no one racializes each other. Some, like me, have cognitive styles that won’t allow them to accept fallacies such as race(ism). These advocates have given me the confidence to say what I’d been silenced into not speaking about, as if talking about reality is taboo.

[3] The Fields defines race as a term that “stands for the conception or the doctrine that nature produced humankind in distinct groups, each defined by inborn traits that its members share and that differentiate them from the members of other distinct groups of the same kind but of unequal rank.”

Edited by: James Sutton

Featured image: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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