By N Oji Mzilikazi
The full keynote address I delivered on Saturday 11 November at Montreal Caribbean Social Organization 40th Anniversary Celebration
Ms. Corbett, Thanks for the warm introduction.
Madame President, Guests of Honour, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greetings in name of everything that’s Good, and a Pleasant Good Evening to one and all!
My name is N Oji Mzilikazi. I am a board member for the Council for Black Aging Community of Montreal, whose office is in this very shopping plaza, opposite Super C.
I’ve put myself in a position this evening to undertake a duty, which I generally take great pains to avoid—that of giving a speech. And to know I must do so before the esteem members of the Montreal Caribbean Social Organization, and its friends and guests at its 40th anniversary grand celebration.
Allow me to explain: I was hanging out at the Office of the Council for Black Aging when Mr. Errol came in to inquire about a speaker for this very function. Without a second thought—and insanely arrogating unto myself the full authority of the Board and Association, I told Mr. Errol to consider it a done deal.
I never foresaw myself as the designated speaker. After all, the face of most organization is usually the Executive Director and/or the President of the Board. I am just a member of the board with no portfolio whatsoever and desirous of none. I’m contented to be ordinary. And so, for my brashness (I’m only kidding), I’m the one you’re saddled with, and the Council president, my president, Ms. Wilma Alleyne is seated at the head table to ensure I don’t bring the Council in disrepute. (Only Kidding.)
My task this evening is more than just delightful. It is an honour and a privilege to stand before you and with you.
I emigrated to Canada in June 1978. Since all I’ve ever known was songs of Black Power, Black empowerment, Black Liberation and songs of Freedom, and living in LaSalle, MSCO was the first Black organization I visited. Then, it was located behind the City and District Bank at the corner of Newman and Dollard.
Militant—in my mind, Revolutionary—in my mind, I didn’t want to align myself with or join any sort of social organization. Hence, I didn’t become a member of MSCO.
My next visit to MSCO, then located in the LaFleur shopping centre was sometime in the late 80’s or early 90s. I was hired to Dj at a hip-hop/R&B New Years Eve dance by a promotor I knew quite well, and I did it as a favour.
My politics prevented me from partying in businesses located in basements, especially when the entrance and exit are the same. I equated that to acclimatization to the cargo hold of a slave ship, and I don’t cater, even if President Barack Obama would be there. That’s me, that my politics. No disrespect to any of our business located in basements because of economic factors and the like.
A little over two months ago I was introduced to Mrs. Doreen food service on a Friday in this very locale, and since then, I’ve stopped cooking on a Friday.
With that in mind, can I claim being an MCSO regular, an MCSO supporter?
I was thoroughly impressed the first time I walked through the door of this Association, and it is all because of the photographs and memorabilia on the wall.
One is hard-pressed to find in English-speaking, Black, West Indian, Caribbean organizations photographs of their progenitors, photographs of their Board members for any given year; in short no memorialization of those that built, served, sacrificed, contributed to an organization storied history; no memorialization of those upon whose shoulders we stand. Progeny is thus left to say my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt, my uncle, my father, my mother served community, and there is no visual proof; no photographs or names engraved on plaques in tribute or as validation.
Madame President, your organization deserves a round of applause. Give yourself a round of applause.
I’ve been in Canada for 39 years. MCSO has been around for 40 Years. We have both experienced a world of things, and if you would allow me a bit of conceit, we have both aged gracefully. And this leads me to the subject this evening:
Aging in an Age of Innovative Technologies, Global Changes to the Economic Paradigm, and Quebec’s Uniqueness.
In December 2004, Statistics Canada released a report that stated, “Canada has changed from a high-fertility society where women had many children during their lives to a low-fertility society where women are having fewer children overall and at increasingly older ages.” And with the current birth rate, in 25 years, the population of seniors 65 and older could be more than double the number of children under 15.
In October 2005, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said that Canada’s population must rise to 40 million from its current 31, to compensate for an aging population and retiring baby boomers.
Days before Quebec’s 1995 Referendum, Lucien Bouchard, the leader of the Bloc Québécois stated, “We’re one of the white races that has fewest children.” The implication: White francophone women must have more children if Quebec is to ever achieve its dream of sovereignty.
In 2001, Quebec recorded the lowest birth rate since 1910. (The low birthrate of white francophone women is at the heart of the fears of French language and French culture dying.) Per government reports, Quebec’s population is aging faster than the rest of North America.
What does a low birthrate have to do with aging?
Workers pay taxes. Taxes gave municipalities and governments the revenue they need to afford the wide range of public and social services and pay salaries. Without a replacement population to ensure a continued and sizeable tax-paying workforce, an aged population will burden our currently free health-care system. Health-care already takes a huge slice of the budget.
The maintenance and enjoyment of wealth necessitate having to feed as few mouths as possible; having fewer people using up resources. Consequently, the more affluent, developed and progressive a society, the fewer children it produces. Canada is an affluent nation.
Add to the mix, the availability of birth control and other non-reproductive technologies, abortion, sexual choice, the financial independence of women, female empowerment and freedom from domesticity, plus the decline of the Church in controlling lives and lifestyle, and it’s impossible to confine women to the home or demand they produce babies.
The Canadian birth rate is well below replacement levels. (Population projections show that by 2030, “net immigration may become the only source of population growth.”)
Per a 2010 Canadian Parliamentary report: “A birth rate that is below replacement level over the long term would make the government’s ‘current fiscal structure not sustainable.’ If it continues its downward trend, there would have to be a sharp rise in taxes and major cuts to government services.” (Major cuts could include pensions.)
The latest census data shows for the first time in Canadian history there are more people over the age of 65 than there are under the age of 15.
Compounding matters—the ability of Federal and provincial governments to continue to amply cater to the needs of our increasing aging population as well as maintain its current pension payouts, much more increase it, to keep pace with the cost of living—are the effects of globalization, outsourcing, computerization, automation, free trade and non-stop advances in innovative and information technologies and their industries.
For all their advantages, they are not job creators. They do not spread wealth or support social mobility. (Just look at the devastating impact of Whats app, Facetime and email on the postal service.) They made numerous long-established occupations and skilled trades obsolete, closed factories, laid off million of workers, created widespread employment unavailability/job shortages, and are directly responsible for impoverishing communities, the increase in poverty, homelessness, people on welfare, the increase in drug usage/drug addiction, gravitation to crime, social systems under siege, youths unable to envision a bright future, and government cutbacks; towns, cities and municipalities no longer having a large tax base of workers—adequate financial resources to deliver as well as adequately service the basic needs of the population.
Work enriches both people and society. Work alleviates poverty and is the first step towards prosperity. Work puts time to beneficial use. In doing so, work minimizes criminal pursuit, and by extension, contribute to social stability.
Work; being employed, bestows a positive outlook on life. Work allows one to plan a course and dream of brighter, better and bigger things. Work inspires, engenders self-esteem, the sense of pride, and the sense of worth and accomplishment.
Despite the upsides to work, business do not care about the human condition, their employees’ financial obligations or aspirations, or the negative ramifications of their policies. Business is all about maximum profitability.
To that end, business is continuously looking for new ways to hire labour cheaply, cut expenses, increase profits for themselves and their shareholders, limit legal accountability as well as limit corporate responsibility.
Manufacturing jobs are labour intensive. For decades, factory work/manufacturing jobs was the source of stable employment. They allowed school dropouts and the poorly educated to earn a living, provide for family, own a home, open their own businesses, also ascend to middle-class status. And even though automations, technological advancements and computerization forced reductions to the workforce, manufacturing was still labour intensive; still employed vast numbers of workers.
Blinded by tunnel-vision pursuit of mind-boggling profits, western business elites closed factories and companies, and outsourced—apportioned entire industries and thousands of jobs to countries with less-developed economies and an abundant supply of cheap labour.
In those markets, there are no unions, no minimum wage scale, no employment, health or insurance benefits, and very weak to no worker and environmental protection laws. Monthly salaries do not come close to the daily wage paid to an employee in a rich nation like ours.
Since competitiveness determines success in the global marketplace, outsourcing cannot be reversed. Besides the prohibitive outlay of capital necessary to return those jobs, western nations cannot compete with the cheapness of labour in outsourced markets and the cheapness to which life is held in those countries. As such, industries and jobs exported to Asia, Southeast Asia and other less-developed nations are permanently lost, regardless of the rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump about “bringing jobs back.”
The unavailability of jobs and competition over jobs have undermined worker protections, benefits, job security, the power of unions, and cheapen the price of labour. Workers can no longer afford to tell an employer to F–off, and easily find a new job. Workers must contend with having to work and produce more for a lesser salary and with less to no benefits.
And so, technology, advancements in information, automated systems, automation and its role in the loss of skilled, as well as labour intensive jobs, a global marketplace, the inter-relatedness, co-dependency of economies alongside competitive pressures from globalization have irreversibly changed the economic paradigm.
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 impoverish 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, 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 Canadians, Black Quebecers, West Indians, Caribbean people, Black 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, sexy, educated, brilliant, confident, and quite the professional, and being complemented by others, 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, palau, 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 aged 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 whatsoever, 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 realise 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 exceed and excel; have an education, attend university and with 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, diabetes etc cetra advance their aging.
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 advocate 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, have seminars, conferences and workshops, plus lectures by health professionals, do call-ins to persons that are shut in, and perform friendly visits.
The Council for Black Aging is partnered with many associations. Madame President, I believe it would be mutable beneficial for the Montreal Caribbean Social Organization to partner with the Council.
Before I take my seat, I would like us all to raise a glass to the health and continued growth of MCSO.