This piece was published on September 3, 2018, in the Nation newspaper, a daily newspaper published nationally in Malawi. It was published under the title “Discrimination, power play.”
Recently, one voluble politician showed us, once again, that political communication is fraught with many perils. In a bid to rally supporters, he questioned why some were asking the current president of Malawi to retire due to old age when these same people do not have the audacity to ask the Pope to resign when he is even older than our president is. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth, huh! For our purposes, here, let’s set aside the admittedly bad optics of a politician dragging the Pope, if not necessarily the papacy itself, into politics. I think the argument the politician was trying to make—albeit in a bungled, somewhat sacrilegious way—is that every person who occupies a position should not be discriminated against based on his or her age. There is even a term for such discrimination—ageism. Ageism is discrimination based on an individual’s age, that is, whether the individual is viewed as being too old or too young.
This article is in support of all those who at some point have been discriminated against because of their age, gender, or disability. I will dwell on the issue of the president’s age mainly because it is the most egregious example of ageist thinking in the media of late. In other words, I am writing this article also in disagreement with those who would contend that the vice president or any other candidate should not run because of his or her young age. Ageism in all forms is wrong, and the contention that the president must not run again because of his age is not only ageist it is also specious. For one thing, he is of sound mind and body, and he is running for a legitimate—I repeat, legitimate—second term. He is not in the running for an unconstitutional third term. Forcing him to step aside would be against the principles of democracy, whatever else one thinks of his performance as a president in the first term. It would be discrimination. Now, if one thinks the president should not serve again because he has not done a good enough job as president, well, then, that is a separate argument all together—an argument that is best settled at the ballot box. It is now clear that those who said the president should resign because he is old were really saying that he should resign so that they get a chance to run their preferred candidate instead. Well, they should have just said that, then, rather than say so many discriminatory things, which brings me to my next point.
Just like politics, all discrimination is local, and it is usually the guise for a power play. So, for instance, male colleagues will discriminate against a female colleague because they cannot abide her and the fact that they—men—must be on an equal footing with said colleague. They might question her intellect and poise under pressure. The word emotional comes to mind. When all else fails, they may even question her moral character, all this to stroke their own egos. It is a pernicious and all-too-common problem, discrimination is, and we are all capable of discriminating as and when it is suits our designs on exercising or acquiring power. When it comes to sexism, it is not for nothing that there is a word for the hatred of women (misogyny) as there is a word for the hatred of men (misandry). Yet, one more often hears about actions that are examples of hatred of women.
Most would agree, though, that discrimination against the disabled is not right. Known as ableism, such discrimination has real consequences for their quality of life. For instance, how many disabled people do you see in positions of power, and I don’t just mean public, political power. Quite few. In fact, none comes to mind at all at present. At the extreme end, ableism may manifest itself in outright violence against the personhood of the disabled—as is the case with the killing of albinos for their body parts. We must all seek to end all forms of discrimination.