Crabby's Quotes on Aging
Medicare Surcharge

Pointing Fingers at Ageism

UPDATE - 16 September 2006: Matt Stoller has left a note (below in comments) stating that he did not write the statement about elders that I quoted and that it is a reader’s email. I apologize for the mis-attribution. However, the statement is not cited as reader’s email, so I could only assume it was Matt writing. Additionally, it was presented without lead-in or comment on its offensiveness.

category_bug_ageism.gif No one knows about most of the bigotry that goes on because it is silent. There is enough legislation in place and public pressure as a result of it that few dare to openly express prejudice toward others.

Instead, they discriminate by exclusion and victims may suspect but can't be certain they have been passed over due to their race, gender, age or sexual orientation. It happens every day: a person, although qualified, is not hired or promoted; when a buyer who is deemed undesirable makes a formal offer, a house is suddenly withdrawn from the market; a reservation at a restaurant has been lost - oh, so sorry for the mistake, but there are no tables.

Some bigots, however, have no shame, publicly declaring their personal prejudice, often couching it as though they are bravely flouting convention or political correctness. Because we can't see the secret, silent bigotry, it is important to point fingers when the open kind appears.

Yesterday, Susan of Takoma Gardener left a comment here on TGB relating the conversation of a writer on The Charlie Rose Show who accused 83-year-old Viacom chairman, Sumner Redstone, of being impatient and impetuous for firing his Viacom CEO and, a week earlier, actor Tom Cruise. Susan continued:

“.. again and again he claimed it's related to [Redstone’s] advanced age, saying. ‘Pardon the ageism, but he's a cranky old man.’"

Hurray for Susan for also noting: “Using Ronni's test, imagine ‘Pardon the racism, but...’"

Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen blog alerted me to another shameless piece of open bigotry. She first found it at from where it seems to have disappeared, but is still at its original blog,

The blogger, Matt Stoller, related the difficulties he had voting on Tuesday in the Maryland state primary. There were snags in using a computer poll book resulting in his uncertainty about whether his vote would be counted. Mr. Stoller concluded his piece with this:

“…the poll workers are volunteers who are retired or otherwise don't have regular jobs - lots of elderly people with bad eyesight, arthritic hands, and no computer experience, who have no difficulty at all with index cards but can't manage these touch screens.”

Mr. Stoller, as long as you have put stereotypes on the table, let's discuss the scores of retail clerks over the years - teens and 20-somethings with an attitude of bored superiority - who have not been capable of correctly operating the cash register and when, on occasion, it has broken, don't know how to figure the change when the computer doesn’t tell them how much money to return to me.

Shall I tell you too about how they hand over change with the paper money in my palm first and the coins on top so that it all falls on the counter and the floor? I'll take age-related debility any day over slacker incompetence.

But I digress...

Electronic voting is in its infancy. Even you acknowledge that the machines don’t work well to begin with, have rarely been adequately tested prior to voting day and may have been fiddled by partisans with ulterior motives. And yet you expect them to operate properly.

As to your characterization of old people: when you were a little boy, you drooled, pooped your pants at inopportune moments, ran screaming up and down aisles of stores and otherwise made a nuisance of yourself that disrupted the lives of everyone in your vicinity.

We – your parents, other relatives, parents’ friends and strangers too - overlooked your bad behavior because you were too young to know better. It is not unlikely a stranger saved your life when you ran, unheeding of your or anyone else’s safety, in front of a car.

Society and the community make allowances for and go out of their way to protect children who haven't learned yet what is dangerous or even just annoying to others.

Now that you are of voting age, you might consider returning the favor to elders. You are correct that in old age, eyesight dims, movement slows and arthritis hinders manipulation of paper, pens and computer touch screens in some elders. For many of those people, it is painful to stand or even sit all day on hard folding chairs to man the polling station where you vote. Yet they volunteer to do so.

As adults tolerated you in boyhood, it wouldn’t hurt you to spare a little time for the old person who believes in democracy enough to overcome those hindrances for a day so you can vote.

In fact, if you are so passionately concerned with democracy, as the title of your blog suggests you may be, you might use the time gained, while waiting for a slow-moving elder, to savor your participation in direct democracy instead of treating it like foul-tasting medicine to be swallowed as quickly as possible.

You might even give up a day’s pay in November to volunteer at a polling station. That way, you could participate even further in the direct democracy you claim to love and along the way, you could even pass on some of your smartypants computer knowledge to an old person so that in 2008, you won’t be delayed on your way to all that important stuff in your life that requires you to rush through voting.


That's a right old talking-to! Quite valid to remind us of the relative dependencies of infancy and old age. I thought irresistibly of Will S: Seven Ages of Man - though we don't accept sans everything nowadays. The poem could do, too, with a companion version for women.


You are so on the money here. Thanks. There are so many compensations we can make for others based on age, gender, culture if we would only take the time and be more understanding and then in return we would also learn something.

We certainly make compensation for the fact that he is callow! After all, he is either going to get older himself, or die. No third choice. It never hurts to make sure things are OK at the end of the road you're on.

re "making change," I am reminded of the time I went through the drive-through at Jack-in-the-Box. My bill was $2.99 and I handed the person three one-dollar bills and he actually looked at me helplessly and asked if I had 99 cents. He didn't know how much change to give me!!

Those and the other things you have mentioned here do work to plant in people's minds that old age is something to be ashamed of or hidden if possible.

I got a small example of it last week-end at a renaissance faire where a woman taking exact change came down the line. I asked what age senior rate kicked in as it was $5 and I would then have exact change.

She seemed to think that was very funny and asked when I thought it should. I said it varies from 50 to 65. She said well if you would call yourself a senior, you can have the senior rate. I said, what else could I call myself at almost 63.

I got in for the lower rate but I would imagine she thought I'd be embarrassed to say I am a senior. I didn't bother explaining elder would be a better word (or crone which is my personal favorite). She was having enough trouble with the idea that old is okay and nothing of which to be ashamed.

Kudos to you, Ronni. You go girl!

I think Tom Cruise is getting a taste of ageism from Viacom. Regardless of what Redstone may have said, I think he knows that the peak drawing power of Cruise is past. Both will make money by separating, but Viacom is better off.

Whenever I think ageism is pointed in my direction, I have to honestly assess how I thought of older people when I was 20 or 30. I was probably no different. But it seems there were more senior people in positions of authority wherever I was working. I see fewer people over 50 on the way to work in the AM.

Except that I didn't write what you said I wrote. That was just a reader email.

"...most of the bigotry that goes on ... is silent ... they demonstrate by exclusion ..."

"... personal predjudice is often couched ... as though they are bravely flouting convention, or political correctness..."

" is important to point fingers when the open kind of (bigotry) appears."

I couldn't possibly say it better than your words above that I've quoted, Ronni.

I'm so glad you pointed out the problem with how change is returned to customers. That business of putting the coins on top of the currency drives me mad -- defies common sense, unless you're in a really windy area and that's a way of keeping the bills from getting blown away. Haven't encountered too many strong winds in my supermarket lately!!

Yeah, my fun after having to wait too long in line anywhere, is to give the checkout person change in such a way as to prevent receiving more pennies, thus getting a nickle, dime, or quarter in return. I love to see the expression of confusion on their faces. Once in a long while, I'll encounter someone who knows exactly how to make change. The rest flee to letting the automatic machine figure it all out. But...when they punch in the wrong numbers, I've got 'em" :-)

One night some years ago in a prominent chain dinner restaurant, the power went out. Boy, was it fun and games at the checkout as they tried to make change with the cash that patrons were submitting.

Unless I'm in a time squeeze rush, rather than becoming perturbed with all this, I generally find it quite amusing. I think it's better for my health than getting into a state of high frustration, since it falls into the category of things I cannot change despite however much grousing I might do.

Ronni, thanks for mentioning the coins-perched-on-bills problem I suddenly started noticing (and being irritated by) a few years ago. But there's a new one looming. I was distressed to notice the teenage cashier taking my money at a local CVS was chatting on his cell during our entire transaction. I happen to know his parents and mentioned it to them (without comment) and they said oh, he does that all the time, it passes the time, etc. And I say if retailers start putting up with that behavior, they might as well just install machines.

You're a pistol! Good marksmanship.


Like most 'isms', bias against older folks has more to do with blindness and ignorance than bad intention or conscious cruelty. Unfortunately, when someone (or a lot of someones) are on the receiving end of discrimination and thoughtlessness, it is important to not slip into "victimhood" and resisance. Most importantly, remember that anything we resist, persists. When we are against something we give our power to it. If we want to change this culture of decline we need to focus on what we are FOR, not what we are against. Martn Luther King was not so much against racism as he was FOR EQUALITY. If we don't buy-into the conversations about the limitations of aging and begin a bigger conversation about the possibities, we will transform the paradigm and embrace the future we all share.

An emphatic yes, to what Jim Selman says here:

"If we want to change this culture of decline we need to focus on what we are FOR, not what we are against."

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