The New Apartheid
July 20, 2010
Ageism is the new racism, and the evidence is the de-facto apartheid we have come to accept as the new normal.
No, there are no “Young Only” restaurants. Yet owners know all they have to do to keep people over 50 out is keep the lighting dim and the menu print small. Shelley and I go to a restaurant here in the city and we usually feel like we’re integrating the place!
But the greatest evidence of apartheid is in the realm of relationships.
All barriers to love in our culture have either been broken down, or are breaking down, and all in the past 25 years. Race? Here in New York City, interracial couples barely raise an eyebrow anymore. Sexuality? Young women here can be seen making out with each other in cafés; young men walk down the street hand in hand. Inter-religious coupling is a big ho-hum. And class? Every day another suburban daughter of privilege moves to Williamsburg and shacks up with a local starving artist. Shelley and I even know a couple that started out gay and are now (due to Holly choosing to become Aaron) a straight couple.
All barriers to love are crashing down. Except one.
If you still want to turn heads in New York City, try strolling down the street holding hands with someone 25 years your junior or senior. Or 20 years. Or 15. These days such a couple is as rare as a teenager with a book.
We worship at a temple here in Brooklyn led by a lesbian rabbi married to an Irish catholic woman. She single-handedly built a congregation of straight, gay, transgendered, inter-racial and inter-religious couples. Last Rosh Hashanah, I looked around at the many hundreds of faces, and there was not a pairing with a 10 year difference between them!
The shame people had of being black, or of being white and dating one, has been replaced with the shame of being old, or of being younger and dating one of them.
So the old and the young are being ripped apart from each other, and it would be hard to say which of us is getting more ripped off.
Certainly the old get deprived of the vitality of the young; of the feeling of usefulness that comes with being around youthfulness. Many of us are deprived of a feeling of belonging in the world as we are set adrift, like so many polar bears from the glacier. Many feel increasingly isolated, lonely, bereft.
But it is the young who are truly ripped off. In our older-phobic, youth-centric society, both young and old are taught to worship youth. Imagine a 7 year old child asking for answers to a question, and being told by his mom or teacher, “I was gonna ask you that question!” That would be pretty crazy, but the truth is, the young look up to us, and we respond by looking up to them. The culture teaches us to try our damndest to look like and emulate them. This deprives the young of our maturity, our experience, our wisdom. And of what I will call our Elder Values: Patience; wisely chosen traditions; and a deeper exploration into feeling, thought, friendship, romance and spirituality.
We are all hurt by this unnatural separation of the ages. It’s about time we started noticing, and calling it by its true name.