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Building unapologetically Black spaces in Winnipeg

Image: Modified from an original that is used with permission of Black Space Winnipeg.

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Alexa Potashnik. She is the founder of Black Space Winnipeg, a group that works to create spaces that are unapologetically pro-Black and Afrocentric, while also acting in solidarity with other oppressed groups, and challenging anti-Black racism and building inclusivity across all sectors within Winnipeg.

It's pretty difficult to find a broadly embraced narrative of "Canada" that doesn't erase or significantly marginalize Blackness. There have been people of African descent in this part of the world pretty much as long as there have been people of European descent, but our dominant stories rarely reflect this, with Black people usually erased or de-humanized. That's true of the family of narratives pushed by more conservative elites, like the vision of Canadianness promoted by the former Harper Conservative government that emphasizes ties to Britishness and long histories of militarism. It's also true of more liberal stories of Canada that focus on things like multiculturalism, socialized medicine, and liberal internationalist foreign policy.

That may sound counter-intuitive – isn't multiculturalism meant to address that sort of thing, after all? But among other critiques of the versions of multiculturalism that have been promoted by the Canadian state over the decades are that they continue to centre and privilege whiteness -- that they often have left little space to name and challenge systems of white supremacy and the other axes of oppression that white supremacy is intertwined with. And that they often serve to erase the specificities of Black experience, of anti-Black racism, and of Black resistance and thriving.

Take the city of Winnipeg. Alexa Potashnik's grandparents moved there from Jamaica (via England) in the late 1960s. There have been quite sizeable Black communities, mostly with roots in the Caribbean, living in the city since at least the 1970s, and in more recent years Black communities in Winnipeg have grown even larger and more diverse with further migration not only from elsewhere in Canada and from the Caribbean but from various countries in Africa as well.

Yet much like in Canada as a whole, dominant ideas and stories of Winnipeg tend to erase Blackness, spaces of artistic and cultural production in the city have often excluded Black producers and Black stories, and powerful institutions that organize life in the city are no more committed than anywhere else across the continent to the changes that would be necessary to create a world that truly values Black lives.

Potashnik founded Black Space Winnipeg to push back against that erasure and marginalization. It started about a year and a half ago with a private Facebook group for Black people in Winnipeg to share stories and experiences with one another. And by July 2016 it became the basis for the city's first Black Lives Matter rally. Since that point, the group has been involved in numerous events of many different sorts, ranging from workshops and other forms of public education, to arts and culture events, to the "Silence is Violence" rally held in late August of this year in the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Image: Modified from an original that is used with permission of Black Space Winnipeg.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

Talking Radical Radio has been nominated for a Hamilton Independent Media Award. If you like the show, please vote for Scott Neigh under the category of "Best Journalist – Social Justice and Human Rights" before November 8!

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