Growing up, I was taught to honor my elders, to acknowledge that their experience made them wiser in the ways of the world. For this reason, I internally cringe when I write the words, “Old white people need to die.”  It seems callous and disrespectful rather than what it is – a fair and reasonable analysis of the demographics in the recent elections in Alabama.

In Alabama, 74% of the voters for Roy Moore – a homophobic, racist, misogynist accused of sexually assaulting and harassing multiple teenage girls – were 45 or older. Since 92% of Moore supporters were white, we can safely conclude that a majority of older white people in Alabama either approved of or did not object to Mr. Moore’s opinions or actions.  In addition, we know from the exit polls that the older a white person was, the more likely they were to vote for Moore.  While only 36% of white people younger than 45 voted for Moore, nearly 60% of those older than 65 supported Moore.  This may explain the recently popular sweatshirts emblazoned with “F*ck Your Racist Grandma.”

White grandpas and grandmas are a big part of the problem in America. This shouldn’t surprise us.  A person who is seventy years old today was born in 1947.  This means they spent their most formative years growing up in a nation where black people were second class citizens, homosexuality was an abomination and women were considered the weaker sex.  While they may have reluctantly acquiesced to the cultural changes around them, this doesn’t mean their perspectives and prejudices have significantly changed.  Indeed, with age comes nostalgia.

I see this dynamic in my own father, a progressive liberal in his 70s. In these past few years, he has spent countless hours and thousands of dollars seeking and buying the cars he drove as a teenager.  While I find his obsession odd, I am increasingly thankful that his nostalgia is for the trappings of the past and not its values.  This is obviously not the case with many older white people in Alabama.  Roy Moore stated America was greatest during the days of slavery and they voted for him.  Donald Trump ran his whole campaign on a nostalgic theme of “Make America Great Again.”  The subtext of “Make America Like It Was During Your Childhood” was especially appealing to older white people.

This is not to say there aren’t millennials with racist and misogynist opinions. Most of the white supremacist marchers at Charlottesville were 45 or younger.  However, demographically, they are a decreasing minority.  Without old white people, Donald Trump would not have been elected and Roy Moore would not have come so close to being a US Senator.  While education and dialogue are important ingredients in shifting our culture away from its bigoted past, the chief contributor to social change in the next 25 years will be funerals.  Those white people born before the Civil Rights movement need to die.

We also need to stop electing old white people. Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton had won the election, the United States would have had its oldest elected president – an old white person.  Nostalgia aside, this is not a positive trend.  While cognitive decline begins at about the age of 45, we know that this deterioration accelerates after the age of 60.  I’ve seen this in my father and recognized the beginnings of this in myself.  I am not as sharp and creative as I once was.  I am more forgetful and less flexible.  You should not elect me to political office.

Unfortunately, in a society that can medically extend life span, we’ve enabled older people to remain in power and influence even when their mental capacities are in serious decline. We’ve created a society where people who grew up using typewriters and who struggle to navigate e-mail are being asked to make important decisions about net neutrality and cyberwarfare.  This should frighten us.  Regardless of what you think of Donald Trump today, you can rest assured that his mental faculties are not going to improve over the next three years.

Here is our dilemma. Right now in America, the vast majority of the wealth, voting power and political influence in the United States is in the hands of old white people who grew up in day when “colored” people drank from a different water fountain, when being gay was a crime and men were the “head of the household.”  Though some of these old white people are committed to creating a different and better world for their children and grandchildren, many are not.  They are only capable of looking backward. Until they die, they are a drag on the progress of our nation.

I say all of this aware that I may be accused of ageism.  So let me end with this clarification.  It is time to redefine what it means to honor our parents and grandparents.  We do not honor them by allowing their past prejudices and cultural calculations to persevere.  We honor them most by learning from their mistakes, honestly recognizing their limitations and building positively on the world they created.  And, for some of them, perhaps we honor them by refusing to drive them to the polls.  If there is age before which you should not vote, there should probably be an upper limit as well.

While I wish Roy Moore had lost the election in Alabama by a much larger margin, the demographics of the election give me hope. In 25 years, the people of Alabama may not vote like the people of California, but I expect they will no longer consider someone like Roy Moore as an acceptable candidate.  Those of his ilk and era will have died.  A younger generation, exposed to a vast, vibrant and divergent world through the internet, will gradually take power.  Raised in a multicultural nation, they will make America greater than it has ever been.

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11 thoughts on “Old White People Need To Die

  1. Where’s the justice in running out the people who built America/ the west out of town? And why is it that explicitly pro black, or pro Latino groups are celebrated, but when whites even show the mildest signs of collectivism, they are instantly decried as ‘white supremacists’? Although, its good you’ve wrote what you wrote, so maybe, more will wake up to this vitriolic rhetoric and return home to support their own ancestry and race.

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    1. There are lots of racist assumptions in your comment. That you identify white people as the ones who built America is a racist rewriting of history. Without the labor of 4 million slaves, Chinese rail and mine workers, and countless Latino farm workers, America would simply not have been built. As to whites showing “the mildest signs of collectivism,” I think that an odd description of Western Civilization. Any fair reading of Western history would acknowledge that the white collective has been quite successful at protecting its own interests at the expense of nearly every other minority group. While not all Moore voters were white supremacists, they demonstrated a clear lack of discomfort with that position. Finally, your call to “support their own ancestry and race” is exactly why my rhetoric is necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While I agree with your point that older white people tend to vote conservatively, there’s some additional details I think are important.

    1) If I have this statistic correct. Only 38% of eligible voters voted in Alabama. I’m sure voter suppression was in play, but if young people voted in higher numbers it might not matter as much who granddad voted for. So, we should also be doing more to get younger and more diverse groups to vote.
    2) Your point about not electing old white people. You mentioned Hillary and Trump, but you failed to mention Bernie. I voted for Bernie in the primary, but I don’t want him to run in 2020 or Joe Biden. We ABSOLUTELY need younger people running for office. Personally, I like Keith Ellison.
    3) While the points you make about the early life influences of today’s elderly people help explain why they vote so conservatively. I think it’s safe to say that people in general tend to grow more conservative with age. So, to some extent I think this will always be a possible issue. Those ideas we consider progressive today may seem outdated to future generations. We are all people of our place and time.
    4) While I strongly disagree with the views of many of my older family or friends, they are still in many cases the people who took care of me when I was young or sick or needed a helping hand. I still have compassion for them. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Maybe an age, decision making test could be required for voting? Don’t see that ever happening though.

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    1. Jeff, you add to the conversation with some great points. As much as I like Bernie, I too won’t be voting for an old white man in 2020. I also appreciate your observation that we become more conservative with age. However, I think each generation has the opportunity to make some progress. As to honoring our elders for their care, I completely agree. I will be sad to see many of them go, especially those who taught me to think about justice and equality.

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  3. This just-turned 79 tear old white male agrees with everything you say except “old people must die”. Unduly inflammatory I think.

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    1. Unduly inflammatory, probably. Unfortunately, a post entitled “Shifting Age Demographics Offer Signs of Hope” doesn’t usually get read. In my defense, I didn’t say they “must die.” I said they need to die for us to make more progress on several key cultural issues. I am especially appreciative of those who taught me to focus on justice and equality. I will miss them when they die. All that aside, thanks for being such a cool old white guy.

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  4. I’m a 65 year old boomer (second wave). I agree with everything you said. Even the very conservative Roman Catholic Church makes all Clergy resign at 75 year old. To avoid the ‘one size fits all’ approach, the newly resigned clergy can be reappointed as required. It would be great if we did not have any politicians or CEOs over 80 years old. That is not enforceable, as courts from the 1970’s to the late 1980’s ruled mandatory retirement ages were thrown out by the courts. (back then the mandatory age was usually 65) This timing is significant, as since then we have been getting all the ‘miracles of modern medicine’ that won’t retire from positions of power. my grandparents didn’t have this problem of people my age and older hanging on forever. Just wait until the billionaires start using new medical breakthroughs to live nearly forever.

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  5. Jim,
    I applaud your forthrightness and analysis worthwhile reflecting. I’m doing so, there is much common sense to your point given the data and by the current landscape of aging white males & females voting on critical issues that affect the very fabric of this Nation. “Old White People Need to Die” is a strong as statement as ever and a privilege that only a “privilege white male” can espouse and get such constructive and civil response. Response that sits in acceptance, I would gather due, solely, to the fact that you are a white male. I raise as it’s germain to the central issue of Race and the new normal this country is coming to terms with.

    Why do I raise this? I can not help as a black male, why type of responses I would garner from, supposedly non-racist whites liberals or conservatives your very same commenters, had been I maki such a bold and measured analysis. I’m sure with out a doubt, even with supporting data as you have provided responses would less palatable. Now, I have no evidence only the things like a raciales Justice System of Segregated School Systemeven those that are seemingly integrated as long as there is not too many, Black or Latinos, easing the fears of white patents and placating their supposedly fiction based non-racist self image.

    There is not a point here I do not disagree with in theory. Still, I would rather them not die but push themselves uncomfortably to challenge their history, their privilege and start to shift via thoughts and action. Dying is too easy, it gets them of the hook with zero responsibility for the continual damage they have and continue to create. No! dying is not the answer, rather living through the shift, experiencing the pain and uncomfortablity so often felt by the marginalized is critical before they leave this earth. I’m doing so, they have a redemptive chance if you will, a break through that can have a powerful effect on the peers and other generations; capture the true meaning of courage and what it takes to make a more perfect Union.

    BTW: when time permits check out my latest piece: https://equitabledevelopment.com/2017/12/10/the-alcoholism-of-whiteness/amp/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carlos,
      Thanks for your very thoughtful response. You are completely correct in suggesting it is my white privilege that allows me to pen a post with the title “Old White People Need To Die.” I understand that my writing is not courageous, but privileged. I do think that I should use the privilege to provoke my white peers and not coddle or comfort them. I hope I’m using my privilege appropriately, but I am open to your critique.

      I also appreciate your point that death is too easy. It doesn’t force the bigot and racist to confront the pain and injury they have directly or indirectly caused. I too wish they would come to some revelation before the grave, but I am pessimistic after a year of writing to white folk. The biggest push back to this post was from progressive white people unhappy that they aren’t getting “credit” for all they’ve done for the cause of justice.

      I went and read your post on “The Alcoholism of Whiteness and was profoundly moved by your words and by the analogy. I will post it to my Facebook page. I appreciate our interaction the past and look forward to your critique in the future.

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      1. Jim,

        It’s my pleasure, maybe at some point we can work on a joint piece. I’ll IM you my email and my phone number. Thanks for your feedback and encouragement about my piece.

        Brotherhood & Strength!!

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