Op-ed by George Payne
With Australia burning, tensions rising in the Middle East, the impeachment of a U.S. president, as well as a looming American election, there are far more important topics to think about than the careless and ill informed tweet of a conservative radio host in Rochester, NY.
Nevertheless, Bob Lonsberry has just enough influence to be dangerous. If he is not forcefully and routinely challenged, he will continue to say things that are both untrue and destructive. This time around he stated that “boomer” is “the n-word of ageism.” And that “Being hip and flip does not make bigotry ok, nor is a derisive epithet acceptable because it is new.”
Whenever Lonsberry talks about racism he stumbles pathetically because he fails to grasp (or does not even try to grasp) how racism functions on an institutional and structural level. Racism is not, as he asserts, merely about name calling or mere bigotry; it is about the way power is attained and distributed in society.
American educator Robin DiAngelo is a good source for understanding this concept. “In the U.S., while individual whites might be against racism, they still benefit from their group’s control. Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them.” Elsewhere, she writes that “Although racism does, of course, occur in individual acts, these acts are part of a larger system that we all participate in. The focus on individual incidences prevents the analysis that is necessary in order to challenge this larger system, and until white people understand that racism is embedded in everything, including our consciousness and socialization, then we cannot go forward.”
Regarding the topic at hand, I think it is fair for Lonsberry to point out that “Ok boomer” is indeed a derogatory expression, one with harmful consequences. It may even be, as he contends, an ugly form of ageism. But this term is not analogous to the N-word. When the role of group power dynamics is considered, it becomes obvious that the baby boomer generation still maintains a disproportionate amount of control in nearly every realm of society, including business, politics, real estate, and higher education.
When viewed in this context, “Ok boomer” is a term used by an insurgent minority attempting to co-opt some of the power wielded over them by a generation with more status, wealth and influence. This is not at all how the N word is used against African Americans and within African- American communities.
Does Lonsberry care to know the difference or was he just trying to rile up listeners in order to boost his ratings? If the latter, what he said is not simply a form of free speech by a man paid to speak his mind. On the contrary, it is a stupid and vile form of race baiting that does absolutely nothing to advance the public discourse.
George Cassidy Payne is an adjunct professor of humanities, freelance writer, and domestic violence counselor. He lives and works in Rochester, NY. Payne holds degrees from St. John Fisher College, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, and Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
( The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of the Minority Reporter.)