The Fruits of Ageism

This guest post is by Barbara Lynn Kail, Associate Professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. She has taught social welfare policy for over 20 years there.  She also currently collaborates with Perre Tarres Faculty of Social Education and Social Work in Barcelona. This permits her to follow another passion, the antiageism movement and current developments in Spain.  Please send any questions or comments to her at kail@fordham.edu.

Generation Z’ers, could I please have a few minutes of your time. 

I’ve only recently become aware of the term “OK Boomer,” after reading an article in the Style section of the New York Times.

Both our generations seem to be engaging in the worst aspects of ageism. In fact, “ok boomer” seems to have polarized us even further.  One radio host compared it to the n-word, while the New York Post asks why Gen Z hates Boomers.  Is this, as the New York Times says, a declaration of war?

You rightly protest that members of my generation are :

  • Destroying the world as we know it with our environmental policies.
  • Using money and power to maintain the status quo and a privileged position.
  • Hurting future generations through selfishness and short-sightedness.
  • Not to be trusted.

In short, we Boomers just don’t “get it.” 

Well, these accusations sound really familiar.  As a Boomer, I vividly recall charging my parents’ generation with :

  • Destroying the world with nuclear bombs and our foreign policy in Viet Nam.  We are on the eve of destruction!
  • Using blatant racism and sexism  to ensure those who had money and  power held on to it…
  • at the expense of our generation and future generations – the Greatest Generation was not so great.
  • Breaking our trust… anyone over thirty!

I too engaged in gross generalizations, and Mom and Dad were never going to “get it.” 

Boomers, at least some of us, may honestly “get” where you Gen Z’ers are coming from.  In many respects your concerns are my concerns and have been since I was a teenager.  Engaging in wholesale characterizations of each generation causes us to miss an opportunity to join forces.  Just for starters – we can offer experience in grass roots organizing and building a social movement;  you have honed the use of social media to a fine art.  Recognizing the destructiveness of ageism could go a long way. Together, we could focus our efforts far more effectively and fight those of any generation who are afraid of change and revel in a status quo that is truly not sustainable.

Please tell me, ok boomer!

6 thoughts on “The Fruits of Ageism

  1. Well said! Can I suggest though, that perhaps it’s each generation’s birthright to criticize the elder, until we all get it! We were right in criticizing our parents about Viet Nam etc, Gen Z is right in criticizing us boomers for the destruction we have wrought. And yes, unfortunately, generalizations and stereotypes follow where criticism leads. And we are on the cusp of irreversible damage, worldwide, hence, the voices are getting louder.

  2. I agree, Anita, every generation criticizes the one that comes before. I was incredibly lucky to be born in the wealthiest country in the world at the beginning of 60 years of prosperity. Kids have every reason to envy and resent me for that — but not to frame me as the enemy. We need all hands and all ages on deck to address the climate crisis and the inequality gap; politicians are already exploiting divisions of class, race, and gender; and we cannot afford to add age to the mix.

  3. I can remember well the time of not trusting anyone over thirty. Now that I am forty years over thirty I see it differently. It isn’t older people who are the problem, but rather the 1% or maybe the .01% that make the decisions and really run the world while the rest of us, young and old, struggle to get by in a world and culture we were simply born in. Everyone needs to work to make this world a better place. I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Because of them I greatly care about the future. A future for them and for all children! Fighting among ourselves, generation against generation will only give the 1% more opportunity to continue with business as usual. We must all be in this together!

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