COMMENTARY

Is Lee’s Summit a racist community? – Part II

Lee's Summit JournalMarch 7, 2014 

Last summer, the Lee’s Summit Journal started the second of its three-part series of articles titled Shifting Culture, by stating, “Lee’s Summit major employers, the city and school district, are hiring mostly white people – a percentage notably high when compared to the ethnic mix of the overall city.”

The article continued, “The 2010 census put the white population for Lee’s Summit at 86.1 percent while the percentage of full-time white employees for the city is 94.3 percent.

“In the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, 95 percent of employees are white while the student population is only 78 percent white. The number of teachers who are members of the minority group is 32 of 1,239, only .02 percent,” reported the Journal on June 26, 2013. These numbers may have changed since then. Other major city employers include private businesses and healthcare organizations.

Recently, it was verified that one of Lee’s Summit’s major employers, with only a handful of minority staff, passed over a highly qualified minority candidate regardless of documented high qualifications in the candidate’s portfolio. Of course, a Caucasian candidate was hired instead. The candidate wanted to know the reasons for the rejection. The recruiter clearly acknowledged the minority candidate’s high qualifications, but rather promised to “make phone calls and write letters of recommendation” in support of the same candidate’s applications at other organizations. The main reason – or excuse – the recruiter gave was the minority candidate’s failure, during the interview, to answer a question that the panel never asked, “You did not tell us why you want to work here and why now.” In other words, “You are highly qualified, but not for here.”

In total anonymity of the organization’s identity, I have used this incident as one of the case studies in recent diversity training sessions here in the city and elsewhere. So far, it has brought heated discussions every time it was introduced. A few participants seemed not to condemn the reaction of this recruiter. They rather insisted on the recruiter’s “horrible mistake to talk to a candidate that you did not hire. Send them a thank you note for their interest, and that’s it,” one person concluded.

Nevertheless, the majority of people in numerous training sessions here in town found that attitude unacceptable in Lee’s Summit. Their comments ranged from, “I can’t believe a recruiter acted like that,” to “that person does not belong to Lee’s Summit,” to “that recruiter must be fired,” ending with this question, “did the candidate sue that employer?”

These comments from many citizens of this great city made my point; while there may be a few (culturally) bad apples in this community, in general Lee’s Summit does not approve discriminatory actions that may continue to tarnish its image and brand in or outside of its borders.

The answer to the lawsuit question was negative; no lawsuit was filed, regardless of obvious evidence showing discrimination. We recently celebrated the lives of two great civil rights leaders, Nelson Mandela who recently passed away, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Both believed that violence – and lawsuits – were not the solution to discrimination. Lawsuits may force people to act appropriately contrary to their deep beliefs for a short time, but the roots of their prejudiced behaviors will continue to nourish their tree of discrimination. We need to nourish the roots with education on cultural sensitivity. Lee’s Summit deserves to continue to be “Yours Truly!”

 

Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D.is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at info@universalhighways.

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