The Stigma of Looking Old

I used to be an advocate for people looking younger than they are. For that reason, I thought that products that took care of bald spots and gray hair were fantastic.

While readers (especially readers who personally know me) might chuckle at the image of a younger version of me seeing the virtues of products like Bosley and Just for Men, I think that this story is a microcosm of a form of injustice.

The injustice is that looking old is stigmatized.

Everything, from the fixation on products that make you look younger, to the compliments we give our friends and family members when they look younger than they are, has the stigma of looking old attached to it.

For example, many of us are fixated on anti-skin wrinkle products because those products make us look young. I know this because so many of the positive reviews on products such as Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream focus on how the product makes certain reviewers look younger. For that matter, even a couple of the negative reviews say that the product does not help the reviewers look younger. If we didn’t place so much value on looking young, and so much stigma on looking old, a product like Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream might not be so popular in the first place!

Another way we exalt youthful looks, and stigmatize elderly looks, is that many of us often compliment people who look younger than they say but seldom (Never?) give compliments when people look older than they say. When a 60-year-old looks like he or she is 50, some of us may say a compliment like: “You don’t look a day over 50!” But when a different 60-year-old looks like he or she is 80 or 90, we don’t say anything, or maybe even secretly think about how the person looks like a great grandma or great grandpa.

These examples demonstrate how many of us value youthful outside appearance, and look down upon looking old, whether we intend that or not. It is ageist of us to place so much value on looking young, and so little value on looking old, because we are judging people on the basis of the age they look.

I hope that this can change one day, and that we can all see the beauty of looking young, looking middle-aged, and looking old. There is value and beauty in all stages of life, and yes, that includes value and beauty in accumulating gray hairs and wrinkles. So the younger version of me was wrong—products which take care of bald spots and gray hair aren’t that fantastic, after all!

Author’s note: If you want to learn more about ageism, please refer to last week’s blog post.

What is Ageism?

Many of us are familiar with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name a few. All of these forms of injustice exist, but there is yet another form of injustice which is within and around so many of us, yet is seldom talked about. This form of injustice is so seldom talked about that even I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago.

The injustice is ageism.

Before making any posts on ageism, I want to establish what ageism is and give examples of this form of discrimination, in case any of my readers aren’t aware of or knowledgeable about it.

I define ageism as a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look.

This definition of ageism is more expansive than most definitions I see on the internet (including the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary), because many people define ageism as discrimination based on a person’s age. However, I’ve noticed how people who “look old” (even if their actual age isn’t that old) are discriminated against; as a result, I believe that age-based discrimination involves the age that people are and the age that people look.

Ageism can take on many forms, both blatant and subtle.

One example of blatant ageism was the forced retirement of a woman by the name of Maggie Kuhn from the Presbyterian Church in 1970. In Kuhn’s case, was required to retire after she turned 65. This is blatant ageism because she was judged on the sole basis of age. Namely, she (and anyone 65 and older) was judged to be less capable of doing her job than a younger person. Thankfully, she used her forced retirement as an opportunity to form an anti ageism organization: the Gray Panthers.

Ageism can take on many forms, ranging form comments about “entitled millennials” (a comment which make me cringe, not just because I’m a millennial but because it is a way of talking down younger people) to the societal stigma associated with looking old. In these cases, and many others, people are judged on the age they are and/or the age they look.

Hopefully, through the posts I make on ageism, I can help others confront both blatant and subtle ageism, and help us respect people in all stages of life.

Addressing Silence on Black Lives

I am not the sort of person who likes to write blog posts, or anything, at the last minute. However, the recent death and burial of Richard Collins III, an African American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, moved me to write this blog post. I decided that it would be wrong for me or others to ignore this tragedy and be silent on it, even if it means writing a blog post which may be slightly disorganized this week.

It is especially wrong for me to ignore this tragedy because it exposes an injustice that needs to be addressed—the fact that, in even the best-case scenario, many of us are silent or say “thoughts and prayers” about these tragedies against African Americans.

This statement may come across to some as an overly emotional response to a recent tragedy that in some ways hits close to home for me; since I have friends who are in Army ROTC or have been commissioned in the last couple of years, they may’ve served with Collins III if he lived. However, if people look at the pattern of reactions after the killings of African Americans, maybe all of you will understand my thoughts.

With many shootings against African Americans, such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and many others, the reaction from numerous people (especially when law enforcement or neighborhood watchmen are involved, like in these three cases) tends to be one of pointing out the wrongdoings of the victims and celebrating “justice” when the people who took away these lives are declared “innocent.” I put innocent and justice in quotes because there is nothing innocent about killing someone, and because there is no justice in declaring the “innocence” of someone who took away a life that should still exist.

That being said, what is especially troubling is that, even when the lives of outstanding African Americans are taken away, there are a few prayers and condolences at best, and silence at worst. There were prayers and condolences after the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, but other than a short period of prayers and condolences, most attention was turned to other issues. The police officer killing of high school student Jordan Edwards in Texas last month got relatively little attention, even though Edwards was an excellent student and athlete. And the case of Richard Collins III, an outstanding student and recently commissioned Second Lieutenant in the United States Army who was killed by an alt-right nationalist, was also met with relative silence.

Admittedly, I was one of the silent ones, as I didn’t make a post on social media about Edwards or Collins III. But silence on the killings of people like these does not end violence against innocent African Americans, or even violence against African Americans who did not commit offenses that were deserving of death. However, the killings of African Americans, and the relative lack of outrage over these killings, gives life to Black Lives Matter’s rallying cry of “white silence is violence,” whether we realize it or not.

The Ableism of Internet Map Directions

For most of us, it is easy to get transit directions to get from Point A to Point B. You just go onto Google Maps (or maybe Bing or Yahoo Maps), type your starting point, type your destination point, and get directions from there. It seems simple enough.

Simple enough for able-bodied people.

If you are wheelchair-bound, or told by your doctor or your own body to try avoiding stairs, obtaining directions are not that simple for one reason—to my knowledge, not a single internet map provider gives people an opportunity to select wheelchair-friendly directions.

The problem is especially noticeable in my hometown of New York City, where the subway system is so unfriendly to wheelchairs that it is in the midst of lawsuits right now. Given the lack of wheelchair access with the subways in New York, and with transit in many parts of the world, there is a severe need for wheelchair-friendly directions.

Yet, not a single internet map provider gives you the opportunity to plan out wheelchair-friendly directions. Google Maps may allow you to switch directions depending on whether you prefer the subway, the bus, fewer transfers, less walking, etc., but it does not allow you to switch directions depending on whether you need to avoid using stairs. Bing provides you fewer options than Google and fails to show wheelchair-friendly directions. Yahoo provides fewer options yet than Google and Bing, and Mapquest (AOL’s internet map service) does not seem like something you use if you need mass transit directions. Regardless of options, none of these internet map providers do the job of giving people wheelchair-friendly directions.

So if you can’t use stairs but want to make a day trip to the American Museum of Natural History, for example, you will find that all map providers are useless because of the lack of wheelchair-friendly directions. That is because the subway station for the museum lacks wheelchair accessibility, and there is nothing on any internet map provider which tells you that. Hopefully, people who suddenly lose the ability to use stairs will realize the uselessness of these internet map directions before starting out on their journeys.

Wheelchair Access Google
Google Maps lets you know whether you want the “best route,” “fewer transfers,” or “less walking,” but there is no option for “wheelchair accessible.” This picture was taken by me.

Between a lack of wheelchair-friendly transit (both mass transit and walking), and map providers such as Google and Bing failing to provide you with wheelchair-friendly transit directions, the result is that someone who desperately needs to avoid stairs will need to look hard for directions, and look much harder than able-bodied people like me.

The lack of wheelchair-accessible directions is an injustice, and an injustice I was blind to until recently. Yet, all it takes is something like a broken leg or a car crash that paralyzes part of your body, and suddenly you need to rely on wheelchair-friendly directions. If such an unfortunate event ever happens to you, you will not be able to rely on internet map providers for your transit directions. You will need to figure out directions through other means because internet maps, like so many other things, are made for an ableist world.

The Problems with “Racial Colorblindness”

Maybe there is an irony that my first serious post with “Blind Injustice” has the word “colorblind” in the title.

Though when we think about what it means to be racially colorblind, and how racial colorblindness is an oft-discussed topic, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Colorblind ideology seems good to some, on the surface. It was an especially appealing idea to me a few years ago because it seemed to reflect the idea that, if we ignore racial differences, we would no longer treat people with other skin colors differently.

However, through friends, life experiences, and reading over the past few years, I noticed some problems with racial colorblindness that all of us should be aware of:

  1. Being colorblind means that we are blind to how people are created. People are created with various skin colors, and denying that through racial colorblindness does not seem like a way of acknowledging, let alone giving glory to, the way each of us were created.
  2. If we take pride in colorblindness, then we will not be taking pride in the diversity of ways we were all created. It is pretty awesome that the skin of human beings was created in so many different ways! Through racial colorblindness, we would not appreciate the diversity of ways in which we were created.
  3. Colorblindness means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. Skin color is a part of who every one of us is, so saying that we don’t see color means that we don’t see ourselves and others for who we are. In other words, the phrase of “I don’t see color…I just see people” is not really accurate because by not seeing color, we’re not seeing the complete person. Such views can actually be hurtful to ourselves and others, even if our intentions were ones of nondiscrimination.
  4. Colorblindness also means that we are blind to how skin color has a factor in what happens around us. In particular, colorblindness can help us ignore the critical role that skin color plays in injustices such as police brutality, housing, economic inequality, inequality of public services, and more. Consequently, colorblindness keeps us from getting to the root of many problems, let alone solving the problems (and in the process keeping forms of racial injustice alive and well).
  5. Colorblindness also blinds us to the ways that we might discriminate against people with different skin colors. I know this point goes contrary to the thinking that being blind to skin color is the way to treat all people equally. I also know that this point will lead people to the “But I’m not racist!” reaction. However, the messy truth is that if we remove our own defensiveness and colorblindness, maybe we’d find ways that skin color plays a role in how some of us might contribute to school segregation (yes, modern-day school segregation exists), housing inequality, financial inequality, racial stereotypes, or some other form of racial injustice.

This is admittedly not a perfect or complete list. However, this list shows how colorblindness takes away from the beauties of having different skin colors, and at the same time fails to acknowledge the role that skin color plays in the challenges we face.

By removing colorblindness, we can appreciate people for how we were created, hopefully embrace the diversity of ways we were created, and recognize the problems that exist because people with different skin color are still treated in different ways. This removal of colorblindness may not solve all our problems with racial injustice, but hopefully it can at least make us aware of the root of racial problems.