To the editor:
As two women of color who frequently reflect on race at Harvard, we were excited to see the recent Fifteen Minutes magazine scrutiny “Raceless Like Me,” by Zoe A.Y. Weinberg ’13. However, while we appreciate Weinberg’s opening up of a dialogue on race, we are concerned by the implications of presenting race transcendence as a viable theory for reconfiguring identity. We question whether one can think “beyond the boundaries” of race as the article’s subtitle suggests. To us, race transcendence seems like yet another means of talking around race, rather than dealing with race on an individual and social level. We resist scholars such as Rainier Spencer’s push to replace work that has been done on race (a great deal of it at this institution) with a new concept that seems to hurry past the issue of racism in its aim of deconstructing race.
We credit Weinberg with presenting multiple perspectives on racial identity, but worry that there are major questions unanswered by her article. Does racelessness actively challenge racism? How does a person who is perceived as non-white but who identifies as raceless deal with racism in their personal life? Finally, how can one be embedded within a system and simultaneously above it? Leaving these questions unanswered allows Spencer’s theory to stand without much reproach, and we wish that more of his challengers in the academy had been given room to voice their opposition in this article.
Race is not a question of personal identification, even for people whose physical appearance makes checking a box difficult. This article emphasized the “box-checking” discourse; while filling out college applications or census forms presents an interesting moment for reflection, it is only a minor way in which our racial identities are constituted. Race is primarily about how others identify us. We wish that Weinberg had examined the multiple—and mostly involuntary—ways that we are racialized by larger structures intersecting with and informing our personal lives.
We do not think that society can move beyond race without a direct confrontation with it. While race transcendence starts a new conversation for understanding identity, we fear that it silences necessary discussions of race by marking them as antiquated. Despite our criticism, we are grateful for those who contributed to this article; it has opened a space for discussion that isn’t always easy to find here. We hope that we have contributed in our own way.
Camille S. Owens ’13
Carolyn W. Chou ’13