Undoing Racism Means Undoing Race | Opinion

On November 24, William Bryan and Travis and Gregory McMichael were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Outside of the courthouse, Marcus Arbery—Ahmaud Arbery's father—responded emotionally to the verdict. "We conquered that lynch mob," he said. "We got that lynch mob. This [is] history today, letting you know that black kids' lives don't matter." And then he took his message one step further: "For real, all life matters, not just black children. We don't want to see nobody go through this. I wouldn't want to see no daddy watch their kid lynched and shot down like that."

Marcus Arbery's words were revolutionary, for the simple reason that people have long maintained that the call "All Lives Matter" as the ultimate response to and undoing of the assertion that "Black Lives Matter." And buried in Marcus Arbery's remarks was the ultimate rebuttal of the idea that we should be measuring the value of a life based on the idea of race.

After all, what does "Black Lives Matter" mean? It means that all lives matter, but we must insist on "Black" life because those are the ones with a history of being threatened. And in his moment of passion, Marcus Arbery did the unthinkable, the unimaginable: He acknowledged both the history and current problem of racism while rejecting the rhetoric that upholds and inflames racism.

Race ideology precludes many of us from recognizing the universal, the shared humanity that people have tried and died to write into the meaning of "Blackness" or "race" in the U.S. over centuries. Blackness was constructed to apply to nonhumans, chattel, the enslaved. That same term and ideas of "race" continue to plague our nation. To embrace our shared humanity and, perhaps, our shared Americanness, to undo racism, we must undo the idea of "race."

Of course, racism matters. But color is not the same as "race," even though it has become a proxy. Yet, practices associated with anti-racism and critical race theory (CRT) that double down on "race" to undo racism are misguided. They make us see racism everywhere because we've come to learn to see "race" everywhere.

If we see "race" everywhere, after all, we are far more inclined to imagine racism everywhere. And that's what we're seeing now, an imposition of racism into conversations or events that just aren't about race. Just look at the responses to the Kyle Rittenhouse case or Winsome Sears's victory. Look at the reactions to people not racialized as "white" when they speak or behave outside of the box the anti-racism discourse mandates.

To undo racism, we must undo "race" and the first step is to acknowledge the nonexistence of "race." It doesn't exist as a social construction or in nature. Where it gives the appearance of existing is actually a category error, people mistaking racism, culture, or ethnicity for "race." The distinction matters if any of us are sincere in our effort to dismantle racism.

That's why adopting practices inspired by Black Lives Matter, Ibram X. Kendi or Robin DiAngelo, for example, ensure the continuation and proliferation of racism. All seem to accept and encourage race thinking. There's an intentional upholding of the idea of "race," which maintains racism, and conflation of "race" with culture and ethnicity.

NYPD officers stand in front of protestors during a "Black Lives Matter" demonstration on May 28, 2020 in New York City, in outrage over the death of a black man in Minnesota who died after a white policeman kneeled on his neck for several minutes. - Concern and anger over George Floyd's death spread around the country. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the video footage showed there was no excuse for his death."We saw a murder take place before our very eyes. And so the fact that the officers were fired, that's one thing, but there has to be some justice in all of this," she said. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images) Johannes Eisele/Getty

Most people working to end racism recognize that all lives matter, but some lives don't seem to matter as much. Yet, to say that "All Lives Matter" is to agree that "Black" lives matter, too. How we, as a nation, get to all lives mattering necessitates the recognition that because racism operates as and through the idea of "race," saying anything "race" specific, like "Black Lives Matter," has the exact opposite intended effect, both upholding and creating racism.

As a person who has experienced explicit racism, I know that I am not alone in my effort to help Americans heal, unify, and solve problems. One way I do that is by demanding the right to say that I am raceless, and by helping others recognize and embrace their racelessness.

And, indeed, who are you to tell me I am not?

Sheena Mason is an assistant professor of African American, American, and Caribbean literature at SUNY Oneonta. She is also a co-founder and the president of Theory of Racelessness, an educational consulting firm that helps people free themselves from race(ism). Her forthcoming book Decolonizing the Raci(al/st) Imagination in Literary Studies: An Interrogation and Critique of Antiracist Discourse is expected to hit the press early 2022.

The views in this article are the writer's own.