How Can We Free Ourselves from the Confines of the Race Box?

Because “E Pluribus Unum” only works on a level playing field.

Jacqueline Jannotta
The Bigger Picture
Published in
6 min readOct 31, 2021


Photo by ©geralt from pixabay via

Overheard at the doctor’s office recently: “Do you identify as Caucasian or non-Caucasian?” A secretary was screening a patient over the phone with what’s become a common question — one I hadn’t heard distilled down to such binary terms. In my experience, the “race identification” question usually goes something like this:

What is your race? (check all that apply):

  • White or Caucasian
  • Black or African American
  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Latino or Hispanic
  • Asian
  • Pacific Islander
  • Other
  • Prefer not to answer

Sometimes the list is a little longer, when a more specific ethnicity, such as a particular Hispanic group or a regional native tribe, is thrown in for good measure. And on occasion, I see blank spaces offered for filling in your own ethnic identity. In all cases, I find myself fighting the urge to launch into a rant of questions:

  • “Am I supposed to check how I think others see me — or how I want to be seen?”
  • “Are we referring to my race as it has been categorized since… when? The last 100 years? 500 years? (Because that might affect my answer.)”
  • “Can I use the results I’ve gotten from a recent DNA test? If so, which one (because that changes too, depending on the company and their associated database)?”
  • “Regarding Latino — can that refer to any ethnicities with Latin-based roots or are you only referring to communities that have been marginalized in the US?”
  • “Why does White have only a color classification, but all the others include a geographic classification?”

Sure, there are times when I’ll check the box with little deliberation, but it’s always a source of irritation. And my occasional selection of “Prefer not to answer” hardly mollifies.

As a long-time genealogist, I’ve been ensconced in family history, social identity, ever-changing geographic borders, and the deep realization…



Jacqueline Jannotta
The Bigger Picture

Author (“Let’s Leave the Country!”), ex-Hollywood. I write to help us shift from Me to We, toward a better future.

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