The pandemic isn’t making ageism worse. It’s exposing it—and that’s a good thing.

Image courtesy of NPR

Media coverage of anything aging-related has long been characterized by alarmist hand-wringing, the most egregious example being the gray tsunami metaphor. Coverage of the pandemic is no exception, given that some three quarters of COVID19-related deaths are of people over age 65, many occurring in nursing homes where the virus has run largely unchecked. Typical headlines read, “Ageism on the rise” and “Pandemic making ageism worse!” Don’t make the same mistake.

The pandemic isn’t generating more prejudice, it’s glaringly exposing the ageism and ableism that have been all around us all along. Because ageism is so unexamined, the pandemic is bringing it to many people’s attention for the first time. It’s not ageist and ableist attitudes and behaviors that are on the rise, it’s public awareness and outrage about this type of stigma and discrimination. That’s what’s new and here’s what makes it so exciting: we have a historic opportunity to build on that awareness.

Yes, there’s been awfulness, but there’s also been swift, fierce pushback: against the Telegraph journalist who suggested the virus could benefit the economy by “culling” older Britons; against the Boomer Remover nickname, the handiwork of clueless trolls; against the Texas Lieutenant Governor’s grotesque proposal that grandparents sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy. Supporting this kind of grassroots activism means framing the pandemic, in all its terror and uncertainty, as an unprecedented opportunity to join forces across age, race, and class and create a more equitable post-pandemic society.

4 thoughts on “The pandemic isn’t making ageism worse. It’s exposing it—and that’s a good thing.

  1. You are so right!!
    The pandemic is exposing the ageism that’s already there!
    People didn’t suddenly abandon old/er individuals in understaffed nursing homes because of the pandemic, the people were already living in these horrible conditions and now its much harder for the ageist North American society to look the other way!!

  2. I wrote an article recently for my hometown newspaper called—Don’t use Just and Senior in the Same Sentence! Ie. COVID just affects Seniors!!!!! Precisely your point. This is blatant ageism and I’m so glad we’re talking about it!!!

  3. The pandemic is not only exposing ageism, but what a self-absorbed, science denying, and frankly responsibility devoid nation we now live in, and it filters down from the irresponsible asshole in the White House, who is such a narcissist that he can’t even wear a mask. Fighting every “ism” means voting Blue in November and wiping out this corrupt Administration and its enablers, who would sacrifice the safety and health of our citizens for the sake of the almighty dollar. We must wake up the delusional slaves who will ignore public safety to die on the altar of the 1%’s stock portfolios.

  4. I wrote an article on something similar – and didn’t see this. Age doesn’t make people vulnerable to Covid; it’s the comorbidities that some “older” people have. By associating age with covid susceptibility, the medical world and the media perpetuate the stereotype of “old” and

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