Harry Belafonte died today. He was 96.
Throughout his career, Belafonte infused our lives with joy even as he reminded us that we could and should do better. A confidante of MLK, Belafonte was an activist for Civil Rights. A person of mixed race, Belafonte embodied dignity and strength, kindness and goodness.
At age 90, he spoke for nearly two hours at the Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, denouncing Trump: “The country made a mistake and I think the next mistake might very well be the gas chamber and what happened to Jews [under] Hitler is not too far from our door.”
Five years ago, Belafonte appeared in BlacKkKlansman: The Tragedy of Jesse Washington.
As tributes pour in for Belafonte, his age is regarded as a tribute to a life well-lived.
He is spoken of with the respect due him.
There are many cultures in which age, not youth, is esteemed.
Our market-driven economy has for far too long regarded aging as something to be dreaded, rather than something to aspire to, something to esteem.
Full disclosure, I am now among that class of women considered invisible. Post-menopausal, over 65, no longer regarded as fabulous, hardly regarded at all. So, yes, I have a bit of perspective on this issue of aging.
Moments before I learned of Belafonte’s death, I heard newscasters deriding Joe Biden’s age as a drawback to his upcoming election. In all fairness, they derided Trump’s age as well.
Both men are two of the oldest men to ever run for president. That they are doing it twice, says a lot about who we are as a nation.
We are a nation in flux.
The market nor the media have caught up with where Millennials and Gen-Zs are headed.
These groups no longer see aging as something to be dreaded.
While we women over 60 are dying our hair rainbow colored to match the tie-dye shirts of our youth, our granddaughters are dying their hair grey and cheering the aged.
Betty White was the grandmother Millennials and Gen-Zs admired.
They wept without shame when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, knowing that with her passing they would lose the biggest advocate they had on the Supreme Court. A righteous woman who would fight for them with her last breath.
These Millennials and Gen-Zs marvel over Rita Moreno’s vigor and zest at age 91. Taylor Swift only wishes she could dance like Moreno.
At 77, Dolly Parton is the sweetheart of Millennials and Gen-Zs across the globe. She is regarded as a national treasure by Blue and Red voters alike. (As I write this, Dolly Parton is singing Cracker Jack over the high school intercom for passing class.)
When it was announced a month ago that 98-year-old Jimmy Carter was going on hospice care, Millennials and Gen-Zers took to their social media sites posting their favorite Carter quote, talking with a tinge of envy and a lot of admiration about his love story with Rosalynn. People who rarely pray have prayed for Jimmy Carter. He is the president they don’t remember but as a man has earned their deepest respect.
These Millennials and Gen-Zers, who grew up watching Dick Van Dyke dance with Mary Poppins, try to mimic his steps and silently hope to be dancing and bringing joy to others when they are old like him. Should they be so lucky to live to be 97.
And what about William Shatner? 92. And Morgan Freeman? 84.
Freeman taught us all when he declared: “I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.”
And Shatner made us all laugh when he declared that the key to his youthfulness was “drinking the blood of young runaways.”
The Market and Media folks seems to be the only ones hung up on ageism. Just like with Congress’s inability to grasp technology, the people writing the news and selling youthfulness by the Botox syringe, fail to grasp where the next generation of voters is headed.
It isn’t youthfulness they crave so much as it is wisdom.
Millennials and Gen-Zers know that in order to survive they need a president who has taken seriously the issues of climate change, diversity, the rights of women and LGBTQ. They aren’t interested in voting for someone trying to oppress them.
Banning books and reproductive rights is akin to repealing the rights of women and people of color to vote. Which is exactly what some of these younger Republicans would do if given half a chance.
Age isn’t the problem.
Do you want to move the country forward for the good of all people?
Or do you want to take away the rights of the voting public in order to serve the few?
That’s the issue at stake.
Age isn’t the problem. Values are.
Somebody alert the media: Today’s young voters want bans on guns, not on books and abortion and Drag shows. They want a president who shares their values on these issues.
And they plan to vote accordingly.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of The Murder Gene, available at fine bookstores everywhere.