Just when I thought the tough times with the coronavirus pandemic couldn’t get any worse, we witness the death of George Floyd, the harassment of bird-watcher Christian Cooper, the death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery, and the death of Breonna Taylor. Like others, I’m outraged.
There’s no question that racism is embedded in our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, health care, and criminal justice systems. Ageism also is an entrenched habit of discrimination in which older adults are stigmatized. The brutal scale and intensity of racism are far different than the history of ageism, but just like a rising tide lifts all boats, working to end racism and ageism benefit everyone.
It’s been well reported that the black community is disproportionately affected by COVID-19. We need to pay attention. Older adults also have faced startlingly discrimination in response to this pandemic. Some have been slow to respond because “only old people are at risk.” And, sadly, protocols have been put in place prioritizing lifesaving medical care strictly on the basis of age. We need to pay attention.
The problem is that we all – both young and old – tend to have a negative attitude toward growing old. We assign characteristics like unattractiveness, unhappiness, and illness to being old. But as demographics change, it’s in all our best interests to create a new understanding of old age, one that gives us meaning and fulfillment throughout the life course. This is the mission of Shepherd’s Center programs, and it has been our focus for 45 years.
Just like we all need to step up to address ageism, we all need to step up to fix the egregious problem of racism. We can use our voice to speak out. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
We will be a better society when we challenge the beliefs that race and age have less value as human beings. Let’s speak up. We stand in solidarity with those who face discrimination and are made to feel “less than.” Together, we can create a better and inclusive world.