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How Old Is Our Community?

Our fascination with and disregard for age identity greatly puzzles me. We say that “age ain’t nothing but a number” yet treat people differently because of their age, which is an important part of our identity, and represents more than just a numerical label.

Age and generational identity represents years of experiences that result in a unique set of acquired knowledge. As a millennial, there have been specific world events and cultural shifts that have influenced the way I experience the world. For example, the September 11th attacks and subsequent Iraq War were a part of my upbringing, and the daily media narratives I saw as a young child regarding religion, terrorism and the war itself influenced the way I experienced the world. I’ve also witnessed rapid technological advancement in my lifetime, greater pushes for diversity and inclusion, as well as an increasingly globalized world, something that is unique to my generation and my childhood. Therefore, the way I relate to my local and global community contrasts to older generations.

Unfortunately, our ability to understand age and generational identity has been compromised by the normalization of discrimination, prejudice and marginalizing individuals due to their age. The first thing that comes to mind is ageism, described as the discrimination and marginalization of individuals based on their age. Ageism is frequently used to describe discrimination and prejudice towards older people, but exists as an umbrella term. Underneath the umbrella of ageism is adultism, which describes the privileging of adulthood over youth. This results in the discrimination and marginalization of young people.

Both adultism and ageism, like other forms of oppression, manifest in overt and covert ways: young adults being unable to make decisions regarding health care, inadequate public transportation systems that inhibit an older person’s travel, or television commercials that stigmatize the aging process. When considering other social identities to the adultism and ageism equation, this becomes even more marginalizing. For example, stop-and-frisk policies in the United States disproportionately impact young African American and Latino men, and generational gaps in immigrant families make navigating linguistic and economic barriers even more difficult, especially if one lives in a community with fewer resources for immigrant families.

In the end, adultism and ageism diminishes the capacity for true inclusion and understanding. Moreover, the exclusion of younger generations in policy making and community development risks the stagnation of progressive economic and social growth. Meanwhile, the exclusion of older generations in policy development results in issues concerning their abilities to care for themselves, and increasingly, their grandchildren.

The value in age identity and the experiences of those young and old shouldn’t be overlooked, nor should it be tokenized. Those working for social change today should look at my grandmother’s generation of Baby Boomers who fought and started battles in social movements such as those for Civil Rights. In them, I see a tenacity and grit that history has looked favorably upon and inspired my generation to carry their torch. However, it should be acknowledged that the world has changed so much since then--and so has our engagement with and understanding of it. Therefore, we must see Millennials, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and older generations as windows into the past, present and future, as opposed to sources of blame and contempt for today’s problems.

©Jahi Mackey

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