States Ranked for Healthy Aging

How to End Sexism, Racism (and Ageism Too)

Slightly altered, I stole that header from Kavan Peterson at In fact, I've stolen the entire post.

Ageism in all its forms drives me nuts. Nevertheless, it is as commonly perpetrated throughout the American cultural spectrum as the N word once was. It's a knee-jerk response everywhere you look.

As much as I love both of them, Jon Stewart and his Comedy Central cohort, Stephen Colbert, regularly make derogatory references to old people. In Stewart's case, it has surfaced more frequently (and often in reference to himself) since he turned 50 earlier this year.

But every single day on television, in magazines, newspapers, all over the internet, there are dozens of instances of “getting old is a bummer” and that is only the most polite version.

My point today is to show you a video I found at changingaging so I don't want to carry on at great length but it must said that some of the biggest perpetrators of ageism – which is the direct cause of age discrimination in the workplace - are elders themselves. As Marketwatch recently reported:

“'I don’t think baby boomers are any less likely to discriminate against their peers than other generations of older employees,' Ballman said.

'Boomers were the decision makers in many of the layoffs over the past few years, and older employees were targeted in those layoffs more than any other workers.

“Others agreed. 'When I talked to people, I found that some of the most age-discriminatory people out there are older people,' said Joanna Lahey, an associate professor at Texas A&M University who studies age discrimination.”

I'll save the rest of my ageism rant for another day. Right now, I want to introduce the TEDtalk from Jackson Katz who is addressing sexism and violence against women, homophobia and racism which doesn't necessarily sound apropos of ageism, so let's hear from Kavan about why it is:

”I have no complaints whatsoever about Jackson Katz’ message and delivery here. Physical and other forms of violence perpetrated by men against women and others is a serious, rampant problem.

“I will simply add that he could have easily included ageism in his message and everything he recommended to reframe sexism, racism, homophobia and violence would apply.”

Katz is a compelling speaker. I agree with everything he is saying and I heartily agree with Kavan that all of it can be applied to ageism too. Please watch with that in mind.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: How President Kennedy's Council on Physical Fitness Almost Scarred Me for Life


Thank you for sharing that TED talk. I learned things from listening to this man. What he said was so true.

While of course it can apply to ageism also, it resonated with me so strongly about sexual violence, which is tragic and rampant everywhere.

I think a lot of ageism is actually a case of "whistling past the graveyard." People joke about it because they know they have no choice; they will be old too someday. And I don't fault them for it. It's an unknown until you get there, it can sometimes be very scary, and there's not a damned thing you can do about it.

I think the first step to fighting agism is to reject the term "BABY BOOMER". It is a marketing term and nothing else, there is no such thing unless someone choses to cling to it. Joe Biden uses the term "OLD ANGERY WHITE MEN" all the time that is a grand slam for bigotry. ( I don't mean this as political indictment. I am A political) but think about it. What a bigoted idiot. Maybe we should all work at losing the labels and strive for equality.

When Dr. Katz said that it is difficult to speak up I thought back to a recent experience I had on being the object of an ageist remark.

I wear a cochlear implant and it needs to be 'mapped' (adjusted) once a year. I had mine done at the University Hearing and Speech Department. There were two trainee students present as well as the audiologist who was being monitored by the department head (also a PhD.)

The girl gave me very detailed instructions that I clearly did not need, having had this procedure done many times in the past. I felt I was being patronized, but kept still. I finally said, "I know the drill." Then the doctor and I discussed the adjustments I thought I needed. At one point he said, "I can't believe you are 87 years old." That is the time I should have stopped him and asked him why he said that. I think he was referring to the discussion we had and the fact that I grasped what he was saying. I was silent and let it pass. I was intimidated by his status.

After hearing Dr. Katz lecture I regret letting that ageist remark pass. Yes, we must speak up at every opportunity.

To set the record straight, I am now 88 as of Wednesday.

Wow.Congratulations, Darlene!

Language and environment are, of course, the greatest influences on our cultural beliefs. Ageist, racist, and sexist remarks are not harmless.

I worked in school administration in a district that was nearly completely white, but rapidly growing and changing, during the 1980s and '90s. We worked hard at combating stereotypes and hate, introducing as much diversity into the curriculum as we could. One day at a meeting at the district offices a consultant who was donating her time to this effort made a comment that when she looked around, she didn't see anyone who looked like her - not in the artwork and photos on the walls, nor in the employees. How would students learn to integrate all people into their experience?

Well, duh but we hadn't given that a thought. The artwork and photos were immediately changed, we recruited more widely, the staff changed, the administrators became more diverse, and as the community changed we could finally "walk the talk."

It is the same with agism. Do not allow the language to pass as harmless or discount the speaker.

(And yes, Fred, I do think angry old men are in charge of too much - but not all old white men are like that. We need more diverse participants.)

It seems most people know what racism and sexism are about and yet have no comprehension of the idea of ageism. Perhaps that's cause being prejudice toward older people comes so naturally in U.S. culture.

Rubye Jack is onto something.

To make the sort of prescription Katz does, first the victimized segment of society needs to boldly and emphatically define the harm we wish everyone else to recognize and STOP. That is, we have to set the terms.

This is hard and excruciatingly painful. Old people have done this, over and over. I wrote about Barbara MacDonald's writings about lesbian agisim at TGB a few years back.

Once a critical mass of us assert what we want people to stop doing, we have a chance of making younger others take up the struggle for the sake of everyone, even the young.

Woman victimize and abuse men even though people do not think this happens it does. There is control, verbal, emotional, abuse and even sometimes physical just because they are a man does not mean this happens.

I just want to wish Darlene a happy birthday and say I can't believe you're only 88, you seem much wiser than that. Your restraint in the face of ageism is admirable :)

I've been thinking a lot about this video since I posted it. It is so difficult to speak out -- even the boldest amongst us would hesitate before publicly accusing someone of bigotry. But speaking out is so necessary. I don't have a solution to make it easier, but I think forgiveness and compassion are necessary. Ageist bigotry is so deeply entrenched that most people do not realize they're exhibiting it. I have such a strong reputation among my friends and family that it's easy to use humor when I go after them about ageism (or if they catch me slipping up!). But I still find it difficult bringing it up with strangers. I can't wait until I'm old enough to speak with real authority on the subject.

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