Avoid judging people based solely on the stereotypes associated with their hometown

In a recent interview with Howard Stern, Bay City-born celebrity Madonna expressed her dislike of my hometown, Rochester, where she was raised.

Madonna said she felt like Rochester residents “were members of country clubs and…[she] felt like a country bumpkin.” When Stern asked why she didn’t return home after facing burglaries and rape in New York, Madonna replied, “Have you ever been to Rochester, Michigan?” and said she “can’t be around basic, provincial-thinking people.”

In another recent interview with Us Weekly, Madonna said she missed “absolutely nothing” about her early years in Michigan.

Several of my friends have expressed that they agree with Madonna’s sentiments and have felt similarly out of place in the metro Detroit suburb, but others are offended by her claims. Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett even went so far as to write an open letter to Madonna, defending the town and praising its recent achievements.

Though I think Mayor Barnett should spend his time continuing to improve Rochester Hills rather than writing open letters to celebrities, I believe Madonna’s declarations are offensive to everyone who considers Michigan their home.

Rochester is a far cry from perfect, but I’m upset by the generalization of its entire population as rich and snobby – particularly since Madonna didn’t separate her experience nearly 40 years ago from what Rochester has become today.

Like many suburbs, Rochester is comprised of mostly white, middle-class families. Still, I believe the town has become much more racially, religiously, sexually and economically diverse since Madonna left. It still has a long way to go, but it’s less “provincial-thinking” today than Madonna seems to believe.

The thought of the truly rich and snobby Rochester residents hearing someone as famous as Madonna call their flaws to attention is somewhat satisfactory, but the fact remains that Madonna didn’t just insult a select few residents. She insulted the entire town.

That said, the generalization of all Rochester residents as rich and snobby hurts those who don’t fit the label.

While I consider myself middle class and recognize that I am blessed to be able to afford what I can, I am not, as Madonna put it, “country club” rich.

In fact, many of my high school classmates live in more affordable homes and depend on financial aid for their studies.

As for my high school classmates who are wealthier, not all of them are snobby. There are a handful of wealthy individuals who hold themselves above everyone else and struggle to relate to anyone who isn’t them, of course, but there are also wealthy individuals who have a humble demeanor and dedicate themselves to helping others. Actually, I didn’t even know several of my friends were wealthy until they invited me to their homes.

Rochester already has a stereotype as a rich, stuck-up town, and Madonna calling that stereotype into the spotlight makes it even stronger.

When I introduce myself and my hometown, I feel like I’m automatically filed into the “rich and stuck-up” title. I imagine the stereotyping is worse for those who are even further from the label.

And Rochester isn’t the only place with a negative stereotype.

My roommate, who is from Grosse Ile, said her town is also stereotyped as wealthy and snobby, but her experience in Grosse Ile is similar to my experience in Rochester. Admittedly, even with my similar background, when I first learned my roommate was from Grosse Ile, I began to compare her with the stereotype I knew of the town.

Madonna’s use of stereotypes isn’t limited to Rochester, either; in the interview, she attributes her friendliness and naïve trust to her Michigan upbringing. While friendliness isn’t a negative stereotype, a generalization of any sort forces an entire population into a category not everyone fits.

I want to be known through my actions and words, not the labels associated with my hometown. When people generalize as Madonna did, they give weight to stereotypes, subjecting individuals to judgment based on the place they call home.

Many of us are guilty of typecasting people based on their homes, though we may not realize it. To prevent ourselves from projecting our expectations on others, we must first recognize that we have those expectations, and then work to see the person, not the stereotype.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 23rd, 2015 and is filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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