DARE TO ASK: Here's looking at you, kid?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do older people stare so much? I've walked into restaurants and stores
and have been stared at the whole time I was there.
Mary, 25, Springfield, Vt.
Are older people staring more, or is this younger person experiencing the
older person's stare differently because of who is doing the staring? That's
what Gene D. Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at
George Washington University, wonders.
"If you told me you had a survey that found this, I'd take it more seriously,
but this could be an isolated case, where perhaps the person looking at her had
a recently deceased daughter, and this person reminds her of her. Or, this woman
might just be paranoid."
Some might think older folks develop a more entrenched mind-set as they age,
but what often happens is that around their mid-50s, adults become less
inhibited and experience a "liberation" phase of psychological growth, said
Cohen, author of The Mature Mind.
"That's when they get a friendly voice that says 'If not now, when? Why not?
What can they do to me?' They get more courage to try something new."
Buy sorry, he said, that doesn't translate into staring down people more
"I don't see increased staring as a part of aging . . . in fact, many people
would feel they don't want to be intrusive or to provoke someone."
Another reason for any staring that does occur could be that the older person
"doesn't see enough young faces, and when they do, it's a pleasure, so you have
to take that into account."
Daring to apologize
I recently wrote a column that tried to answer questions from readers who
felt some black women get upset when white women flip their hair.
I interviewed comedian and lecturer René Hicks, and, I'd have to say, I
missed the boat (OK, I didn't even know where the dock was) when I tried to
condense all she had to say into a limited space. For various reasons -
white-guy cluelessness and poor execution among them - I didn't capture the
context and nuance of her thoughts. What resulted sounded harsh, and certainly
wasn't what Hicks was trying to convey.
Sometimes the line between edginess and enlightenment can be a precarious one
to walk, especially for a column about cultural differences. For the record, if
I left the impression that black women who don't have long, flowing hair are
somehow inferior, or that the world is running rampant with black women upset
over white hair-flipping, well, that is the last thing I (and more to the point,
Hicks), was trying to do. I am deeply sorry for that.
I must admit, it is René who's helped put me on this path (even given me a
shove when I needed it) toward more self-reflection, and I'm sure I'm only
partway on the journey.
I intend Dare to Ask to be entertaining and educational, not hurtful. My
sincere apologies to readers and to Hicks, who has devoted her life to creating
cultural understanding, not divisiveness.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his