For the past several months, I’ve been noticing comments online and in the media about voting-out old white men who are standing in the way of progressive legislation.
Their negative attitudes towards women, towards people of color, towards the LGBT community, and towards immigrants is positively retrograde. I, like so many older adults who embrace change and have watched my own opinions evolve as I grow older, find myself joining the chorus of “Vote Those %$#@& Old White Men Out!” I had to ask myself, “Do they take these positions because they’re old?”
These men did not acquire such attitudes because they aged. They harbor these positions in spite of aging. I say this because everything that ages, changes. Changing and aging are a natural pair. Unlike those of us who embrace change and the opportunity for higher evolution, these are people who have stayed in the same place where they keep their feet stuck in cement while carving their opinions in stone. They are frightened to death to take even a small step outside of their comfort zone. Let me say, before I go on, that this essay is written with a broad brush. Of course, I know there are women and young people who harbor the same rigid regressive attitudes. One can only hope that the stones they carve conceal some cracks that will, someday, let the light in.
Before founding TheRadicalAgeMovement, I worked for the NYS Senate. The first time I went up to Albany to observe a senate session I was given a seat facing the entire Senate, R’s and D’s. Nobody had to tell me who were the D’s and who were the R’s. My eyesight was just fine. There were the D’s, diverse in gender, age, culture, and ethnicity. On the other side of the room were the R’s, who were almost entirely made up of white-haired white men. The starkness of the contrast just floored me. Not only do the R’s look alike, they think alike and they vote alike. They all strive to hold on to the white privilege they hold so dear. They are the ‘Stepford’ men of this country’s legislatures and board rooms. They bare very little similarity to what the rest of America looks like. In their efforts to cling to their power (either real or perceived), they have disassociated from the reality lived by the people they are supposed to be helping and protecting. In their world, there are no old people, no LGBTQ people, no disabled people, no sick people, and no poor people. One has to wonder sometimes if there are any women at all in that world. They imagine that the white male privilege they possess places them above rest of us; when that same white privilege makes them an anomaly among their fellow Americans. Threatened with extinction, they compromise even their own morality rather than take the step that would set them free. They are their own oppressors.
A great part of ageism is denial, and these men don’t seem to recognize their place among the ‘old’ in our society. I wonder if this denial fuels the goal of many of our older male legislators to compromise Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. After all, if they faced up to the concept that they themselves are members of the older cohort, how could they attempt such egregious acts against the tribe that they themselves belong to? Somebody needs to tell them that their money and power cannot exempt them from aging. In this arena they are just like the rest of us.
Age is not the most Important criteria when choosing political leaders. It is their world outlook, their willingness and ability to change and to grow. These are traits that can be found in a 30 year old and an 80 year old. They are not the proprietorship of any one age group. No, people are not close-minded because of their age; people are open-minded in spite of their age.