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GOING BEYOND SOCIAL CATEGORIES

by Gerry McCarthy

A few months ago, I was surprised to hear myself described as an "old white male activist." Although it wasn’t spoken in a nasty way, the remark disturbed me. Even though I’ll turn 42 this year, I don’t consider myself "old." But since we’ve abolished middle age in our culture, I suppose I fit the bill.

     Since being cast as an "old white male activist," I’ve taken to examining how our culture responds to aging. The results of my informal study are depressing. Although racism, sexism, and classicism continue to plague Western culture, another negative "ism" has flowered. It’s called ageism.

     Serious problems exist with ageism. First, it flows from the corporate desire for a cut-and-dried world. In short, we have precious little tolerance for ambiguity these days. That has consequences too. Especially when we categorize people as "old" and "young" As author Tom Beaudoin indicated to me recently: "None of us, for all different sorts of reasons, are absolutely firmly within any social category. Whether that is
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