Sheena Mason’s New and Needed Approach to Dismantling Race(ism)
It’s hard to think of a touchier subject right now than race. Americans are divided on methods of dealing with the United States’s history of racism and discrimination. Progressives want to cast the U.S. as a historically racist country from the beginning by advocating ideas in the 1619 Project, while others identify America as one of the lone countries in world history that fought to eliminate race-based slavery and extend America’s promises of liberty to all. People are fighting ad infinitum on social media, in the university, and in policymaking over “the race problem.”
But what if our collective understanding of “race” is totally wrong? What if we’ve all bought into a way of thinking about race that simply isn’t true, or necessary? Sheena Mason, PhD, asks this question in her new research. She’s the founder and advocate of what she calls the “theory of racelessness,” which holds that race isn’t merely a social construction – it’s not even real, at least not in the way we currently conceive of it. Human beings, she claims, are “raceless.”
Mason earned her PhD in English Literature from Howard University in 2021 and was granted a tenure track teaching position at SUNY-Oneonta in New York shortly thereafter. She’s written on issues of race in the past, but her major tour de force, Theory of Racelessness, is scheduled for release this fall.
Mason is ardently trying to reframe our country’s discussions and cultural conceptions on race. According to the Theory of Racelessness website:
With the rise of anti-racist discourse and initiatives, many people are unintentionally promoting racist ideas and missing opportunities to identify and celebrate actual diversity of thought over perceived diversity based largely on phenotype and social constructions.
Mason believes that racism continues to plague us precisely because we accept “race” as a substantial descriptor of human beings. The idea leads us to view people as subsets of contrived categories, and this tends to lead to a harmful and hierarchal view of human life. To dismantle racism, we must dismantle the modern concept of race itself, or continue in a repeating cycle of division and hatred.
More Alike than Unalike
Christian thinkers have picked up on Mason’s theory and are finding it consistent with the biblical worldview. In commending Mason’s work, Dr. Anthony Bradley of the King’s College in New York City wrote this for a recent blog for the Acton Institute:
Judeo-Christian anthropology [recognizes] the fact that all human persons are morally flawed and have the potential for great evil, but also the capacity for outstanding virtue. Race does not predetermine whose lives will be characterized by vice or virtue. This reality calls for a new paradigm, a new way of thinking. Perhaps it’s time to decentralize race as a descriptive term for how we explore relationships between human persons. Perhaps our problem is that we’re in cultural captivity to our conceptions of race.
Bradley goes on to quote Mason, saying how race exists only insofar as we “imagine that it exists.” The current antiracist efforts, on the other hand, depend on dealing people into racial categories, tempting us to define people not according to their intrinsic worth and dignity but by the color of their skin. Ironically, modern antiracism activism depends on racism to succeed.
In addition to Mason’s website, The Raceless Gospel Initiative, directed by Starlette Thomas, was launched to redeploy a sound, biblical vision of the church—as one “raceless” body. The initiative overview states:
[Race] has no biblical origin. Despite the claims of a Hamitic curse on persons of African descent, which relegated them an inferior status and perpetual servitude, African American religious scholars like Frank M. Snowden have debunked claims of the existence of race in ancient text.
The Initiative also cites Galatians 3:27-28, which reads, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).
Mason, Bradley, and Thomas are not denying that people have physical differences. Different people groups have varying phenotypes and genetic characteristics. They are saying, however, that we are all part of the same human race, and it is time to stop categorizing people into various “races.” The differences we do have are insignificant, and it is time to celebrate our common humanity instead of needlessly inflating our differences. As Maya Angelou wrote, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
These healthy and promising new conversations can be an encouragement to those seeking a more redemptive, Christ-centered approach to reconciliation efforts. Hopefully, those embroiled in the “cultural captivity” of race(ism) will encounter Dr. Mason’s work and be challenged and edified. Her theory of racelessness just might free us to treat each other as human beings made in God’s image, instead of members of contrived categories.
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Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/the-theory-of-racelessness