Stop Giving Older People A Pass On Being Terrible

by Sara Farrell Baker
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / Getty Images

Let’s skip the fluffy intro and anecdote and get right to the meat, folks.

Stop giving older people a pass on being terrible.

Yes, I know you love your grandparents and your great-aunts and uncles and all that. But love means never having to say you’re sorry to a group of strangers in line at the store because your grandmother keeps saying racist shit way too loud.

The time has come for Aunt Thelma’s loaded statements about “those people” to be cut off with a swift admonishment. We aren’t saying nasty shit anymore, Aunt Thelma. If you can’t say something nice and without bigotry, stuff some Werther’s in your facehole and don’t say anything at all.

And if Angela Lansbury’s progeny could sit down for a nice “We don’t blame women for the actions of sexual predators” afternoon tea, that would be great. Just lay it out in simple terms for Mrs. Potts and make it clear that victim blaming does not fly in the year of our Lord, 2017.

It does not matter that things were different when they were younger. We’ve been saying “they come from a different time” for far too long. They have figured out how to DVR Fox & Friends, so miss me with bullshit about how the elderly cannot adapt. They’ve been living in a world — in this world — where racist, sexist, homophobic vitriol is frowned upon for long enough that it does not make sense for them to not get it. The time they came from is over, and they need to get right. It is truly ageist to think that because someone has gotten older that they are incapable of decency.

There is no excuse for bigotry. There just isn’t. Do not make the mistake of giving your loved ones a pass just because they are going to die soon. Medical science is making new advancements every day, and Granny Pearl could be here another 10 years yapping her dentures about Adam and Steve. Do a favor for Future You and the future of society by calling her out now. Today.

Silence is acceptance, and the reason Uncle Fred keeps saying worse and worse shit about Sharia Law is he feels emboldened by your acceptance. Do not accept his shit. Do not loudly cough and change the subject at the dinner table. Put down your fork, look him in the eye, and tell him that his fears are unfounded, hurtful, and dangerous for Muslims living peacefully in this and other Western countries.

Making people uncomfortable is not the end of the world. You’re not going to roll Grandpa into an early grave by asking him to stop talking about “the blacks.” If your mom is more uncomfortable with your call-out than with the racist garbage spewing forth from Gramps, that is indicative of a bigger problem on her part, not yours.

Tiptoeing around the issue does absolutely no one any good, Grandpa included, because one of the known side effects of being bigoted is decent people no longer wish to hang out with you. If he wants his grandchildren to call or visit outside of birthdays and bank holidays, making those occasions not horrible is going to be for his own benefit.

Ignoring hatred works for the privileged. If we want a just society, we need to start at home because everyone needs to be uncomfortable with hate — and that includes Grandpa and Grandma. And, Aunt Thelma too. I leave you with the words of a man who would be an octogenarian today had his life not been tragically cut short by racists. A man who also grew up in a different time. Every person whom we consider to be elderly today was an adult capable of critical thought during the Civil Rights Movement. Hold your grandparents to the standards of someone from that time.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” –Martin Luther King Jr.