Service of Pigeonholing: It Divides Us

November 19th, 2020

Categories: Differences, Name, Pigeonhole


Here’s one reason the country is so divided. We reiterate immaterial distinctions about each other which amplifies differences and serves no other purpose. When a doctor approaches a sick patient the only relevant information is her/his experience and intelligence. Where the physician’s mother was born or whether the person is religious doesn’t matter.

Here are some recent headlines to further prove my point:

  • “Miami Marlins hire Kim Ng as general manager. She’s the first woman and first Asian American GM in MLB history” —
  • “Joe Biden to become the second Catholic president ever, following JFK” — 
  • “Kamala Harris Makes History as First Woman and Woman of Color as Vice President Ms. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, has risen higher in the country’s leadership than any woman ever before her.–The New York Times.

Kim Ng Photo:

Each of the people in the headlines above have distinguished careers and all are Americans. Why does it matter that they are men or women? What does their religion or heritage have to do with their accomplishments? Why not headline their achievements and performance?

We’re better than we once were. At the end of an interview with a woman from a Louisiana historical society decades ago she asked me “how did someone with a name like yours get the job you have?” I was managing editor of Art & Antiques and my last name, that of my then husband, was Polish. At about the same time he called the president of a corporation in Texas and the secretary didn’t put him on hold when she yelled to her boss, “There’s a Pollack on the phone for you.” The president may have winced when he learned that the caller was from Fortune.

I maintain that we’ll go a long way in closing the gaps that divide us if, when we talk or write about a person, we stop underscoring differences of no consequence and focus on relevant facts. What do you think? What do we have to lose?




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12 Responses to “Service of Pigeonholing: It Divides Us”

  1. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: The differences are of consequence as they are long overdue firsts and role models younger folks can now look to as viable, realistic options for themselves.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think we should take most firsts in our stride and sacrifice the easy headline, especially where women are concerned and which hopefully won’t be an issue for much longer. Put that info in the lead if necessary. I don’t think a person’s religion or heritage belong in an article much less in a headline or conversation. The fact that my father was French or that I am a woman has zero impact on whether I meet a deadline, write a coherent release or produce a smashing proposal for a client. The divisions must stop for our country to move forward. How we communicate is a crucial part of the healing.

  3. MarthaTakayama Said:

    I absolutely agree with you when you state “If, when we talk or write about a person, we stop underscoring differences of no consequence and focus on relevant facts.” Our news coverage and evaluations in just about every field are now suffocating from non-essential information that deters from the important story being told or from the important issue being covered. Not everything can or should be reduced to a checklist of ethnic, racial or gender affiliations. Relevant intellectual substance and academic and professional achievements should be in the forefront of the coverage. We have to somehow stop oversimplifying all decision making.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Interesting observation about oversimplifying. That is part of the reason reporters/headline writers look for quick reference points and people resort to them in conversation. Some may get wrapped up in a person’s religion or background that they dislike and miss the fact that they might admire them for umpteen other reasons.

  5. ASK Said:

    Does this mean we can stop being officially “woke,” and start being ourselves, with judgements based on merits, talents, performance and/or accomplishments. Tell that to the press, progressive or otherwise…

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A relief if we might eventually base decisions on merit. There must be edicts from on high at news organizations before this happens.

    My suggestion poses a chicken and egg dilemma. What happens first: a mostly healed country or an initiative to adjust communications to cover and talk about news that focuses on relevant distinctions between people?

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    Racism suffers a huge blow if no religious, race or related distinctions are given. Who cares if the President-Elect even worships in a church? Must we be told time and time again that he’s elderly, white, and a man? A picture tells the tale. It’s time to drop the “so & so is the first “white” “black” “Hispanic” “Asian” to do something or be someone. It’s also time terms such as “African/Asian/Native” American are dropped. If this is a nation, then everyone is American. Period. End of story, and possibly end of racism.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Precisely my thoughts! I’m surprised we don’t read and hear about this more often–or maybe I’ve missed the discussions.

    Would a spouse with children from various wives or husbands introduce children as “my kids Mary, Philip, Alexander and Jane” or ” my children Mary and Philip who are Catholic and African American; Alexander and Jane who are Jewish and Caucasian?”

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    I also sometimes worry if the emphasis placed on the origins, sex or ethnicity of persons in laudatory articles makes it sound as if their selections were not the best choice of the whole field of candidates. I remember about 35 years ago when the wife of an avant-garde South American artist studying and working at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies did not want him entering or exhibiting in contests or exhibitions that were specifically for Latin American artists because she felt it was restrictive or lessened his prestige.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    That is an excellent point that I overlooked. I don’t know the context of the saying attributed to Groucho Marx “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” It seemed fitting to remember. Trying to be clever or original people don’t think when choosing a topic for an art show or article. I have always wondered why some organizations exist because I question whether sharing a similar religion, for example, means that we have a single other thing in common any more than we might if we both had green or blue eyes or were the same age or lived in the same city.

  11. Penne Said:

    I’ve always hated when people ask what are you? My family jokes my mom is an original Dutch settler and my father was from Des Moines. I question when you just get to be “an American” without a prefix or it being a bad thing. Maybe if we all stopped checking boxes we could begin to level the playing field.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Well put and right on. This country doesn’t have a good reputation welcoming immigrants and in this regard far too many continue in that nasty tradition. We don’t seem to learn our lesson. If we’d stop asking “what are you?” and stop identifying celebrities and public figures by their ethnic roots it would be a start.

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