Age doesn’t excuse bigotry

It’s time to stop letting your relatives get away with racism and homophobia because they grew up in a different time.


by Rachel Robinson, Writer

Like a lot of people in my generation, I’ve heard elderly people in my family say upsetting things about minorities for most of my life. I’ve also watched other family members give them a free pass for being raised “in a different time” for just as long. I was around 10 years old the first time I heard a relative say something that registered as racism, and it wasn’t until I was 15 that the excuse of a “generational gap” stopped making sense.

About a year ago, I was at a family dinner and someone told a story that I still can’t quite wrap my head around. She talked about how one of my elderly relatives had recently moved into an assisted living facility. When the relative found out that her nurse was a black man, she locked herself in her room and called her daughter demanding to be transferred out of the facility. The whole story was told and received like a joke.

I was the only person who didn’t seem to think it was very funny. I still don’t understand how every adult in the room heard that story and thought, “This is meant for my entertainment.” I find it very concerning that a person can get away with aggressively racist behavior just because they were born before the civil rights movement. But based on discussions I’ve had with Baby Boomers — they can.

The 2016 election had a huge influence on the common topics of conversation in my extended family. Nearly all of my relatives are either active Trump supporters or they hate his guts. It’s impossible to avoid talking about him because he is one of the most infamous people in this country.

Still, most of us don’t like to talk about politics with each other unless someone else brings it up. The only people that will consistently bring up something they heard on FOX News last night are the most senior members of the family. No one else’s opinion is respected and no matter how offensive the things they say are, they’re always defended and forgiven immediately. It makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter and it allows older people to justify their actions.

From a young age, I’ve been told that I should always respect my elders because they are wiser than I am. I’ve also been told that it’s rude to correct them when they say something offensive because they don’t know any better.

Those two things seem contradictory. It’s unfair to non-bigoted elderly people to say that none of them have enough critical thinking skills not to be racist and homophobic. Secondly, I do respect my older relatives enough to have a rational conversation with them about the issues with what they’re saying.

However calm and respectful these conversations may be, it’s important to realize that you often won’t be able to change someone’s mind. Sometimes people are so set in their ways that it is impossible to help them, but what matters is the fact that you said something. There’s a very good chance that most people aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say, but there will always be a few that will.

The discomfort of the many should be well worth the reward of the few. I do understand that that might not be the case for everyone and that for some people, arguing with their family members could be a threat to their safety. You shouldn’t be held accountable if this is the case for you, but for everyone else, I feel there’s no excuse for avoiding family confrontation because you’re uncomfortable with it.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people love to talk about how angry it makes them when their Trump supporter grandpa ruins Thanksgiving, but no one actually wants to do anything about it, including me. However, if it really makes you that upset to hear them voice their disrespectful opinions, I suggest trying to change them. Prejudice is not going to die out with older generations so it’s important not to tolerate bigotry just because of the age of the bigot. If you claim to oppose the dehumanization of people of color and LGBT people and you respect the elderly people in your life, you have an obligation to disagree with them.