Home Book Collections Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

Problematic Stories of Youth Saviorism Stigmatizing Older Adults

via Ashia

Three Cheers For Catherine The Great! and Stolen Words

Older Adult’s Problem: All of the baggage that comes with cultural assimilation – wanting to, wishing it wasn’t forced on us, etc. Also learning a new language.

Youth Savior Solution: Finding a dictionary.

The Moral: This should be a sub-genre of books. An older adult missed out on learning a language, and only their grandchildren are smart enough to go grab a book from a library so they can learn. (NO.)

I have to admit this smarts, because speaking a different language than your grandparent and not being able to tell them how much you love them hurts. From personal experience, it’s not so easy as sitting down with a vocabulary worksheet and pointing to a picture of a chicken and BAM, grandma knows English and you can tell her how much she means to you before she dies. No. You just say goodbye with hand gestures and gifts of clementines and hope she gets it, because unless you’re a wealthy kid with support from other adults, kids can’t just learn to communicate with the people they love just because they want to – no matter how much we wished we could. It’s hard to hold on to your language in a sea of whiteness, never mind learn a new one.

In Three Cheers for Catherine The Great, a grand-child shows her Russian-Speaking grandmother that learning English is possible. Which I have to assume her grandmother already knew? I mean…she’s raised two generations of humans and taught them Russian. So. Okay. This youth savior gives her grandmother the gift of¬† starting to learn English. Okay.

In Stolen Words, a grandfather deals with the trauma of successfully being targeted and abused by colonists forcefully assimilating him, forcing him to lose the language of his nation and his family. His granddaughter takes a quick jaunt to the school library and happens to find a book in Cree. This is a gift for him, so he can learn. I liked this book initially – because it pulled at my heartstrings, at the pain of losing the Cantonese I spoke as a baby. It felt valid. If it was just a story about assimilation and cultural loss, it’d be so great.

But the ageism – that’s where the problem comes in.

Which, come on, do you know how hard it is to find a book in Cree? Do you know how hard our government has fought (and I mean fought, violently) to eliminate Indigenous languages? Thanks to the hard work of lots of dedicated Indigenous authors, it’s getting easier, but Cree dictionaries aren’t just like, hanging out in most school libraries. And if they were – Grampa would have picked one up a long time ago, he’s not a fool. Dr. Debbie Reese goes into this better than I can over in American Indians In Children’s Literature. But from a whitewashing perspective, this book has problems.

Beyond that – there are many, many more books like this, where a grandparent has an issue with language, a hole in their heart about having a piece of their culture taken away, or denied to them, and a youth savior pops in with a dictionary and solves everything. Which kind of belittles what a big deal this is, how hard it is to overcome, and how older adults don’t fail to achieve their dreams because they are old and incompetent, but because there were systemic barriers in the way that grow even larger as we age.


You might also like:

Add Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

3 observations

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:21 PM

Intellectual humility – a great virtue I learnt late and I learnt hard.

It’s all about letting your self be vulnerable; trusting people know more than you do or at least different things that you do. And not blaming or shaming.

I didn’t really have a handle on humility until I was 28 and in the early 2010s on a site exploring feminism. I think intellectual humility recognizes that you’re in a community of equals that you had a hand in creating too.

And for a long time I thought it was only about appearing/sounding humble and not trying to make other people feel more stupid than they may have felt already.

As as the Eartquakes are realising it is also about experiencing pain and powerlessness and not covering for it.

And kids do start out intellectually humble. You can also just know a little more than them and fight knowledge poverty together and close gaps.

Yes, the ways we do this for and with kids are very often contrived and artificial.
sometimes there is a fear – or the kids experience the fear – what if I really am the smartest person in the room and I don’t know what to do? What if I can’t use this privilege well according to my values? What if my community is cutting me down.

Our elders experience these things too. Still!

And I liked the way you pointed out the ways in which post_truth is analogous to normal developmental experiences of five and seven year olds.

PAternalism/maternalism – and a lot of kids start to be parentified or take on parentified roles at this age. They see their parents’ capabilities decline/that the rents are less empowered in other spheres. And their empathy/sympathy develops.

We do need to find ways to be on the kids’ sides without encouraging paternalism or saviorism. Our seniors take on long and deep views.

Do the Eartquakes spend time with seniors in the neighbourhood?

Ashia February 6, 2020 - 1:55 PM

Lots of thoughts to noodle on! Thank you!

For us – the Earthquakes don’t spend time with _anyone_ in our neighborhood. Because of our disabilities, and our lack of local family or social support, we can’t even go to the grocery store. Their grandparents are too busy for us and don’t have time (or patience) to deal with the hyperactive earthquake. I gave up on leaving the house except for private meetings and picking kids up at the bus stop years ago – the cutting remarks and gasps and evil looks just wear me out. The social calculus is just too much, and I end up having meltdowns. These days, if we’re really in a good space, I can take _one_ kid to the library with me, or both kids to an outdoor event for kids, but only if we have both parents – also hard with both of us working overtime.

If it was more accessible, I’d start with attending intergenerational events at our local library – but those same events aren’t accessible for folks with social disabilities. It would be lovely if we had opportunities to interact with older adults who know and understand neuro disabilities, but alas – the median mortality for folks with our disability is 36. If they haven’t died yet, they’ve survived by becoming reclusive and hiding their disabilities.

Adelaide Dupont February 6, 2020 - 1:32 PM

And about being old and about being shitty – how being old is being used as code for being shitty.

One of the things I regret most int my writing is not promoting the circular economy – clothes and fast fashion are very easy to dismiss as being old.

Furniture is easier for me to represent as being emblatic of an era.

And the whole veteran and vintage circuit – for example, cars!

Then I think of J K Rowling and how she laughs at history. And all the historical fiction I have read/am reading.

And the 94-year-old Japanese woman whose children were captured in North Korea. WHy do I only pay attention to these awesome people when they are dead or dying?

It is ‘t about how we young and younger people can benefit from wisdom – it’s like a quarry if we think that way.

And all the 90+ year olds I have been privileged to live alongside. think too, how seniors are represented in rural and regional communities.


This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Read More