Raceless Like Me
Students at Harvard Navigate their Way Beyond the Boundaries of Race
One day last fall, Paula M. Maouyo ’14 sat in front of her laptop in Matthews trying to think of a topic for her Expos paper about racial identity.
When Maouyo was a child, she identified as biracial. Her father is black, originally from Chad and her mother is white and American. But by the time she was nine, she began to move away from a biracial identity.
“For a long time I just didn’t identify,” Maouyo said, though she acknowledges that when most people look at her, they immediately categorize her as black.
She had never articulated her non-identification in concrete terms. That is, until she began brainstorming for her Expos paper.
After floating around ideas and fiddling with labels and words, Maouyo suddenly conceived of a term she felt most accurately captured her own identity: araciality.
“People use apolitical and asexual,” Maouyo observed. “Why not aracial?”
As soon as she stumbled upon the term, she began to search for evidence that her neologism existed.
“I googled a billion terms: araciality, aracial identity,” Maouyo said. “I was JSTOR-ing and googling out the wazoo.”
But Maouyo had landed upon a term that had rarely been used before. A google search of “araciality” turns up only seven results—most of which link back to a single reference. Instead, Google asks “did you mean: asexuality, raciality, asociality?”
While Maouyo may have just coined a new term, she is not the only person who has conceptualized of an aracial existence—it is more commonly known as “racial transcendence” or “racelessness,” terms that will be used interchangeably in this article.
Maouyo prefers “aracial.” “Racelessness,” to her, implies a denial of sorts. And “racial transcendence”—“it feels lofty. Like I am above this silly construction of race. Which is sort of what I am saying, but I think “aracial” sounds better.”
Terminology aside, Maouyo had hit upon a theory of abandoning race that is just beginning to be acknowledged and explored by scholars and researchers.
It is well-known that race is a social construct and has no biological basis whatsoever. The fabricated categories we use now—i.e., “black,” “white,” “Asian”—are historically contingent and have been subject to numerous changes over the years. Grouping disparate populations by skin pigmentation is as arbitrary as grouping people by height. Nevertheless, because race is a social reality, it is often treated as “real” in scholarly work. While a fair amount has been written about how to dismantle racial discrimination, far less has been written about dismantling the concept of race itself.
At some point, every Harvard applicant is asked to check a box, choosing between five racial identification options; but what if one of the options was “none”?
THE RACIAL SKEPTIC