A long while ago, Stentor wrote a post about racism and how the standard binary conception of “racism is what racists do” hurts antiracist efforts. But to me, the most interesting point was something Steve said in the comments:
I really wish we could take the “youth advisor” approach that is used with ageism concerns and apply that approach to racism issues.
I’ve been in plenty of mixed age youth-adult workshops where an adult will make an observation about the abundance of adults talking and how we need to step back and allow space for youth voices.
Although he doesn’t invoke the dreaded term, “Safe spaces,” this is apparently what he’s talking about: ageism is a problem of adults not letting young people speak on their own terms and in their own spaces. As such, a reasonable way to undermine it is to let young people have their own voices without adult interference.
The reason I find the comment so compelling is that I’m reasonably certain this is a bad approach to ageism, but before reading it it didn’t occur to me to connect it to similar problems with race and gender.
There already are safe spaces for young people: message boards, mailing lists, party hangouts, IM, LiveJournal, MySpace. Not coincidentally, those that are youth-oriented are also politically irrelevant. I suppose it’s a little like how jobs become undervalued if they become predominantly female: letting young people have their own workshops will just label them as young, and let everyone older than 25 know which voices to ignore.
Part of it is personal. Out of all the people who’ve flamed me in the past, I can think of exactly one who probably knew my age but failed to age-bash me (thanks, Bitch | Lab). And here I include people who thought they knew my age but got it wrong by three years on account of my using an alias created in part in order to stem age-bashing.
It’s not that young people don’t have their own safe spaces, but that these spaces are ignored, then. Whenever someone under a certain age limit steps into the mainstream arena, the only arena that matters, s/he gets castigated as too young to know better, unless s/he mouths off the correct platitudes.
At least on the political blogosphere, ageism isn’t an issue of young people not being encouraged to speak up, but of young people being actively shut up when they say unacceptable things. And judging by the venom I’ve seen piled on Democratic Underground on conservative pundits under 30 (which, I should add, is exactly parallel to the “woman in congress” joke), it’s also the main problem in broader political discourse.
In particular, patronizing to young people – “Here, we’ll let you guys simulate real political discussion” – is part of the problem, not part of the solution.