I have an out-of-town colleague who briefly lived in the Kansas City area who still makes disparaging comments about certain parts of the city.
Whenever he hears of something regarding discrimination, bigotry, elitism or some combination of the above, he almost always reaches out to me and asks whether it occurred in or involved anyone from “those” parts of town.
It’s a form of stereotyping that can put down a neighborhood, a state or a whole region. But it all boils down to the same thing — people who think they can make decisions about others based on the address their utility bills go to. In some cases, the comments based on address also can be code for something else.
In my last column, I mentioned the positives of sports as they relate to workplace diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, the sports team mentality also can have negatives — from “us versus them” to regional stereotyping — that get written off as harmless fun.
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Generally speaking, people are just getting into the spirit of things when cheering against another team in sports. It’s not necessarily a bad thing or a habit taken to extremes.
But when it comes to how we talk about people from different parts of our own city, many of our comments, assumptions and even employment decisions can openly be based on what part of town someone lives in.
I know of recruiters who have told applicants to use a P.O. Box on their resume rather than listing an “undesirable” address. Which means the flip of that happens too — prospective employers boosting their opinions of candidates who live in a “good” neighborhood.
Taking resumes and job applications out of the equation, how often do we make assumptions about people based simply on where they say they live or grew up, or even what state and county we see on a person’s license plate?
We engage in regionalism so much — from the harmless (such as hating on the Denver Broncos) to the downright damaging (assuming job applicants are less trustworthy because they live in a certain part of town) — we don’t stop to even examine our biases. Worse, we don’t think of them as biases.
But they are. Any time we have a negative assumption about someone based on knowing an irrelevant fact, we’re courting a stereotype. If we act on the stereotype, the law may not consider it illegal discrimination, but it’s still not fair or necessarily accurate.
So in general: Go Royals! (Even though the city of San Francisco is probably perfectly nice.) But specifically: Let’s see each other as individuals, whoever our team is, and wherever we live.
Send questions to Michelle T. Johbnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.