Interview with Zanana Akande: Is Ageism the last bastion of socially acceptable discrimination?

Given that she is a groundbreaking and pioneering visible minority woman, we thought Zanana Akande would be an ideal person to interview on the subject of ageism and how it can be overcome. Ms. Akande was the first black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and the first black woman to serve as a cabinet minister in Canada.

Prior to her career in politics, Ms. Akande has had a career as a teacher, as a principal, and as a lecturer in university. As principal, she has been responsible for the direction of large inner city schools with culturally diverse populations. In Cabinet, Ms Akande’s work on the Roundtable on Anti-Racism supported the development of an anti-racist curriculum produced by the Ministry of Education. Ms. Akande’s has broad media experience, as interviewer and panelist for MTV; co-founder of Tiger Lily, a magazine giving voice to the perspectives of visible minority women and as part of the founding group which launched FLOW, Canada’s first urban music station.

CARP: How would you define ageism and how is different or similar to sexism and racism?

Z.A.: It’s a bias against people who are older or who are a certain age. Ageism, sexism and racism are all biases. As a result people will have pre-conceived notions about how you should be behaving and they confine you by placing you in a mould and by making you feel different from the norm. Ageism doesn’t seem to affect me the same way racism does. Sexism is so widespread, most women my age have been through it but perhaps the younger generation will feel differently and will not have to endure as much sexism. Ageism, sexism or racism are essentially means for people to control you by defining you and if you don’t meet their expectations, it seems to disappoint them.

CARP: Is it possible to face double or even triple discrimination? What happens when different forms of discrimination intersect?

Z.A.: People can be incredibly dismissive. That can especially be the case if you are older and a visible minority. People sometimes think that you should be playing a particular role based on your race, your gender or your age, that you should fit in this neat little package. People assume that these characteristics will dictate your opinion and your position on things. It’s annoying, because it’s yet another hurdle … Yet you are expected to respond and to do so diplomatically. People can also deny you the opportunity to contribute because they just assume you are not appropriate for the situation, they won’t even consider you as a potential candidate!

Very often, older women are poor women, because they have taken themselves out of the labour market to raise kids. There are many women who are part of my generation, and even many of today’s young women who haven’t achieved their full potential because high powered roles are given to men much more often then they are given to women. For those reasons, older women are not often in the same lucky circumstances as older men.