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Advocacy group calls for critical thinking on language amid whiteout celebrations

CTV News with Lori Wilkinson 11 April 2019

A Winnipeg advocacy group is sparking a conversation about the term “whiteout” and associated celebrations in the city. Black Space Winnipeg says it wants people to think about language and the impact words have, going on to say the whiteout might not feel like an inclusive space for everyone.

Black Space Winnipeg works to build inclusivity and promotes education and awareness around anti-black racism. Black Space Winnipeg founder Alexa Potashnik lives downtown and is familiar with playoff revelry, saying she saw it up close last year.

“Obviously having a party, having a good time. But there were also a lot of moments that were not so pleasant, either people were really intoxicated or racial slurs were being thrown around,” said Potashnik.

After seeing a headline online this week, Potashnik says she watched videos of past fandom and thought about the imagery.

“I understand that they want to celebrate the Jets culture and Jets tradition, but in a lot of ways it still makes a lot of people of colour, of marginalized groups not feel safe in those spaces,” said Potashnik.

“You’re moving through thousands of people: it’s all white, this sea of white that floods the streets of Winnipeg. If you’re socially and racially conscious that’s going to trigger a lot of people.”

Potashnik ended up posting about it online and said she was immediately met with backlash and defensiveness. She’d like to see the term whiteout changed, but said she doesn’t expect that to happen.

Potashnik said she’d like to see people think critically and talk about creating a more inclusive atmosphere.

The whiteout was created in 1987 during the playoffs as a way to engage fans. At the time Calgary Flames fans would wear red, filling their arena in the colour.

University of Manitoba sociology professor Lori Wilkinson said while people might not have had conversations about the language at that time, it doesn’t mean they can’t have them now.

“This gives us a chance to talk about how our words have meaning that we might not be thinking about at the time when we’re using them,” said Wilkinson.

“In the English language and in North America we often talk about good things being white and bad things being black. Why do we have the word blackmail? Why isn’t it whitemail? Or we talk about the black sheep of the family versus the white knight that comes in and rescues you.”

Wilkinson also said it serves as an educational moment when people can develop understanding and perspective they might not normally have.

CTV News reached out to True North Sports + Entertainment but did not hear back.