Old White Man – Identity and Identity Politics



There’s no getting around it; I cannot claim to be young, and my family background is almost 100% northern European, and although I was frequently mistaken for gay as a young man, and on one memorable afternoon in 1967 was propositioned by both a girl and a fellow, I can report that as far as I know, I am what they call cisgendered. Not that I knew there was ever an alternative when I was young. So, for good or ill, I am an old, white, man.

What is more, I was born shortly after the end of the Second World War, and thus count as a Baby Boomer. Strangely enough, my brother, who is only two years older than I, is, according to Google, not a Boomer. Of the four boys in my family, that label belongs only to me.

It also belongs to anyone born up to twenty years after me.

That’s the trouble, you see. Because I truly find it impossible to believe that when I was eighteen, a newborn girl and I had much in common. Yet, as we are both supposedly Boomers, we are supposed to share the same politics, the same moral imperatives, the same educational background, and the same opinions about anyone born after 1961. That, apparently, is when you get to be counted as a Generation X-er (notwithstanding that one can claim Boomer status right up to 1964). However, the brothers I grew up with should, theoretically, not share these characteristics

They are not Boomers.

Now, according to what one sees on social media, all of us Boomers went to cheap colleges, got jobs for life, have bought our second homes, and ruined the environment. We are racist, conservative, homophobic, transphobic, misogynistic idiots, who despise Millennials for being entitled, lazy, and for spending too much time on their cell phones.

This should be especially true for me, because I was born south of the Mason-Dixon line and my parents were Republicans. But since absolutely none of these things apply to me, I can only suppose that some woman born in 1964 is an absolute terror and clearly a Nazi. She has to be,  to average things out, you know.

Now, I know that protesting that I do not fit any of the stereotypes shoved onto Boomers is just a bit of “Not All Men” special pleading. But when you start presuming to know what someone is like because of when they were born, that’s simple prejudice (or astrology), and it isn’t any more attractive when it’s ageism than when it’s racism.

But the thing is, the protest that not all men are rapists, or even misogynists, is actually true. Even if this truth is used to hide behind and to ignore the fact that far too many men are at least tacitly supporting rape culture by their silence. I accept that. I mean, when it comes to being abusive to people, one dick is one too many.  So though it’s true that not all men are misogynists, way too many are. Still, the basic fact remains: if you prejudge people by their color, their religion, their gender, their politics, or their age, you stand a better-than-even chance of being mostly wrong about them. This is especially true if you start projecting all the things you don’t like about the world onto a particular group and blaming them for your woes.

It’s yet another example of binary thinking, which I wrote about back in August, 2017.  I am not the stereotypical Boomer. However, because I am not conservative, I must, by definition, be Libtard, and therefore in favor of abortion, against traditional marriage, an atheist, a socialist, (which is to say, a Communist)  who’s soft on crime and secretly supports Daesh, while wanting open borders and hating our freedoms – and who definitely wants something for nothing.

Sorry, still wrong.

In fact, forget about age and race, stereotyping anyone because of a group you decide to put them in is just plain dickish. Not because it denies the individual any autonomy, but because it’s just factually wrong.

Most of my friends are younger than I. In fact, for a Boomer, I am friends with a lot of Millennials. This may be because we have a lot in common. Not everything, mind. One of my favorite young parishioners is much more politically conservative than I am. Sometimes we get close to arguing about it. But we don’t, because we know that the things we might disagree about are much less important than what we have in common. We know better than to argue about what we are, because we both know who we are.

It seems to me there is something even more invidious than putting other people into boxes and labeling them – and that is putting yourself in a box and labeling yourself. Even worse than prejudging your so-called enemies, is prejudging your friends. I fear my conservative parishioner has a tendency to agree with other conservatives simply because they are more like him than not. After all, if you agree with someone about small government and abortion, you might as well take for granted what he says about Mexicans is also true, even though your personal experience indicates he is wrong. At any rate, don’t argue with him about that, because, overall, you agree on a lot of things.

The real danger in this kind of tribalist thinking is that when you go looking for things to agree about, just to fit into your box more comfortably, you shut down your sceptical faculties, because they might cause embarrassment.

So, please, don’t put people in boxes. That includes yourself. It’s a dickish thing to do.

After all, there are boxes waiting for all of us down the line, and I see no virtue in hurrying to get into them.

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