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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.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. dan permalink
    July 20, 2010 7:47 am

    awesome post charley!! For so many years I have been really confused by how much youth, capital Y, is held up as the only thing worth emulating. i am not sure if the rest of the world is this backward or just america,


    • July 23, 2010 5:46 am

      It is mostly the US that has been “backwards”. But the rest of the world is catching up…

  2. roy alexander permalink
    July 20, 2010 11:50 am

    My grandchildren, who vary in age from one to eighteen all look up to me with at the least, respect, and at most, with awe. Of course this forces me to be, or at least act like, the role model I ought to be. Roy

    • July 23, 2010 5:48 am

      They may look up to you partially because your family belongs to a religious culture that teaches respect for elders.

  3. July 20, 2010 12:09 pm

    Charley, if you want to be with a 22 year old woman, just make a ton of money, that’s how it works. Problem solved.

  4. July 20, 2010 12:13 pm

    A friend’s 23 year oid daughter recently fell in love with a 40 year old man. Other than my friend, the entire family shunned the loving couple. A prominent psychologist told them that this shunning was necessary as it is very wrong and harmful to support their “pathology”. I told my friend about the historical example of George Seldes, the great jounalist. At about 40 he married a woman 15 years his junior. They had a spectacular marriage that ended with her death from cancer at age 75. He lived on for 14 more years and died a widow at 104. He kept his substantial marbles to the end, continuing to write and contribute to society after her death. The only pathology here was in those who judged them so.


    • July 23, 2010 5:51 am

      A “prominent psychologist” indeed. As a therapist this embarrasses me. I don’t of course know the particular circumstances that may have prompted this person’s condemnation, but it looks like this may be yet another example of a member of my profession imposing his/her value system on a client.

  5. Mark Levy permalink
    July 20, 2010 3:09 pm

    While I think the equating transageist relationships to apartheid and racism is sensationalist and extreme, I think you have a good point. I once saw a couple, the man may have been in his 70’s, the girl in her 20’s, and they were clearly a romantic couple and I could see how defensive they were and how horrified others were. There was a post on a sex advice column (either Dan Savage or Jamie Buffalino’s from a transgenerational gay couple expressing their anger at waiters who assumed that they were father and son.

    My particular beef with ageism is with technology and my fury at tiny text fonts and hardware. My Mac’s on -off light is tiny. pinhole sized and I could imagine Mac engineers saying. “Can’t we make it smaller to make sure that nobody over 30 can see it?”

  6. July 20, 2010 4:36 pm

    I share my apartment in Brooklyn with a lovely woman, 30 years younger than myself. We get along great, sharing similar interests in healthy foods and living, the arts, yoga, mind expansion, cosmic exploration, healing and intuitive arts, etc. Although we are different races and ages, we see no gaps as friends. naturally, Young folk ROCK, when gently encouraged to continue on healthy life journeys….

  7. murray permalink
    July 21, 2010 1:37 am

    Now come on. We know restaurants dim the lights to not only create an atmosphere but also the food always looks better when you can’t see it. Small print menu:, maybe, just maybe, we need magnifying glasses. All kidding aside, youth sells except when drug companies find US a new ailment. See, we do count.

  8. July 21, 2010 1:39 pm

    “business” (capitalism) kow-towed to us baby boomers in the fifties and sixties because we were a huge market. “b” probably also seduced baby boomers into pushing for more independence so that they could sell more products to this much bigger new market.
    it’s up to us to shake the tree and get our rights respected. congress is tailaoring laws to take us into account, at least marginally.
    i want to see more protest from boomers about this crap of decreasing soc. sec. and medicare in order to “balance” the budget.

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