Aging in an Age of Innovative Technologies, Global Changes to the Economic Paradigm, and Quebec’s Uniqueness

By N Oji Mzilikazi

Historical forces of power, racist ideologies, white supremacist education, racist attitudes and practices, and racial, economic and social exclusion accounts for Aboriginals and people of African descent as the premier impoverished and discriminated ethnicities in Canada. As noted in a 2011 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Wellesley Institute, “a ‘colour code’ is keeping visible minorities out of good jobs in the Canadian labour market.”
Things are worse off for Blacks in Quebec regardless of French language proficiency, having French as their mother tongue or being born in the province. For all the language and culture wars between Quebec’s white francophones and white Anglophones, they are able to accommodate one another, unite to oppose and oppress non-whites—and separately and collectively discriminate against Aboriginals and people of African descent.
A 2010 McGill University study, based on a comparison of the 1996 and 2006 census results, found things have gotten worse for Montreal’s Black community: “University-educated blacks had 10.9 per cent unemployment, which was on par with jobless numbers among non-black dropouts.”
What does it say about the society when a white high school dropout is on the same level as a Black person with a university degree, when educated Blacks and uneducated whites are equal in employment opportunities?
Since we as Afro-Canadians, Black Quebecers, West Indians, Caribbean people and overall people of African descent live in an overwhelmingly white society of two linguistically and culturally different founding and competing colonialists, the English and the French, and whose economic, cultural, social policies and institutional practices are geared towards them, and by extension sustaining exclusion, discrimination, racism and white supremacy, the slightest social or economic earthquake devastates the community regardless as to how educated or gainfully employed members are.
Economics is at the heart of racism. Cheap labour and the exploitation of people and resources are intrinsic to capitalism. Keeping folks’ underemployed, poor, educationally bankrupt, financially illiterate, politically excluded and socially segregated, and more-importantly, self-assisting in their own self-defacement and dehumanization, when combined with an absence of visionary leadership ensure an unending pool of two-legged beasts of burden.
Here we are celebrating MCSO’s 40th Anniversary, all put together; well-dressed, money in our pockets and purses, radiant, beautiful, handsome, educated and quite the professional and quite possibly angry or worried because our life sucks, underemployment and the lack of financial knowledge have us unprepared in retirement, our loved one is in a nursing home or we face going to nursing homes that do not address our needs, especially culinary: mannish water, cow foot soup, ackee and saltfish, pelau, roti and patties are non-existent—and no one knows it but you.
Only you know what you had to do, what you had to put up with or what was done to you to get to here—where you are. Who knows what you would’ve been, what you could’ve accomplished if hurt and pain didn’t befriend you, if you weren’t betrayed by those who were supposed to love and protect you, or abused and exploited by those who claimed they loved you?
Who knows what you and I, our community, could’ve accomplished if racism and discrimination didn’t plant their boots on our face, and there was visionary leadership?
The age and aging in our community face many challenges. Many, in their younger days, found themselves trapped in dead-end and low-paying jobs without any benefits, especially if “without papers.” Equal numbers were “paid under the table” by employers looking to get over by not giving the government their due. Only to realize that upon turning 60, they have no Quebec pension to collect and must wait until age 65 to collect federal.
Ignorance as to the benefits of paying into the system as well as permanently struggling business have some of our entrepreneurs in the same boat when it comes to Quebec pension. Vast periods of unemployment have others in the same jar, entitled to little or no Quebec pension.
Many in our community worked hard, made the requisite sacrifice so their children can excel, have an education and find gainful employment, acquire the best things in life. Quebec couldn’t facilitate their dreams. They had to migrate to greener pastures. Parents now live alone and must contend with infrequent visits as aches, pains, arthritis, high-blood pressure and diabetes.
There are many seniors in our community, single mothers and battle-scarred grandmothers who paid their dues and who deserve being served, but are under stress, in distress, as they are forced into service, forced to drag tired bones to parent-angry, manipulative, technically savvy, indiscipline, self-absorbed, troubled, damaged grandchildren/siblings; children orphaned by neglect, abuse, mental illness, drugs or incarceration and who need respite.
Aging in this age of innovative technologies, global changes to the economic paradigm, and Quebec’s uniqueness is fraught with complexities. The Council for Black Aging Community of Montreal exists to assist seniors in navigating this minefield.
The Council advocates for elders, provide information on the wide range of subjects that affect the elderly, encourages elders to maintain their autonomy and independence for as long as possible at home, interpret legislation from all levels of government that affect elders, and respects the wishes, decisions and confidentiality of your information.
The Council organizes activities to maintain as well as improve quality of life, activities that foster socialization, prevent social isolation, do conferences and have lectures by health professionals, do call-ins to (persons) shut-ins, do friendly visits.
N Oji Mzilikazi is a board member of the Council for Black Aging Community of Montreal. Speech delivered at the MCSO 40th Anniversary celebration on Saturday, November 11.