This article is primarily concerned with the theoretical debates and practical dilemmas of doing research on race and race thinking in South Africa, and beyond. In a society where many micro and macro interactions are mediated through a racial lens, the article questions the role of the state and of research more broadly, in creating a political project that opens new possibilities for livelihoods that move across and outside of race. More specifically it asks researchers to examine critically their own practices in the way we ask questions, how we select respondents and think about researchers’ identities. Researchers should take seriously the responsibility of social science in constructing future possibilities for thinking about race, and consider the value of beginning the process of moving away from essentialised racial categories – in research and policy. Drawing on ethnographic data from a case study in Albert Park, Durban, the article examines how these rich theoretical reflections are played out and reshaped in the process of data collection and analysis. More specifically it attempts to offer some tools for shifting into more reflexive and alternative methodologies for researching race, a shift that is paramount if researchers are to contribute towards building inclusive and open spaces and dialogues.