Tales from the 2.9: exploring black Canadian culture, one creator at a time

'It's like I say on March 1st every year — February's over, but I'm still black!'

'It's like I say on March 1st every year — February's over, but I'm still black!'

Casey Palmer brings stories from "the 2.9" — the percentage of Canadians who identifed as Black in the 2011 Census. (Casey Palmer)

In Tales from the 2.9, Casey Palmer asks black Canadian writers, photographers, filmmakers and other creators the same five questions. The answers he receives reveal the diversity and breadth of the experience of black people in Canada.

When he created Tales in 2016, Palmer posted one profile per day throughout Black History Month to represent and explore black Canadian culture. The response was resounding and for 2017, Palmer is bringing the project back — with a Canada 150 boost.

We decided to turn the spotlight on to Palmer with five questions of our own.

1) What inspired you to start Tales from the 2.9? 

A need for increased representation!

The "2.9" in Tales comes from the percentage of Canadians who identify as black in the 2011 census. Not enough to have proportionate representation on the federal Cabinet. Or win a majority vote pretty much anywhere in this country. Heck, some might argue there aren't enough of us to even have a voice. It's from those feelings that I started Tales from the 2.9, looking to celebrate Black History Month in a way I hadn't seen done in the digital space. There's such a richness and diversity inherent to black Canadian culture, and I felt we were missing out on a key opportunity to explore that and showcase it for others to see!

2) Were there any common themes or surprise discoveries from the 2016 stories?

Writing the first Tales in 2016 gave me pause to reflect on what it meant to be a black Canadian, realizing that it's one of the few cultural groups without a defined religion, nation or language — we're all just lumped together through the simple virtue of our melanin. As such, it also means that we've developed a culture that becomes uniquely its own within the context of wherever you find it. Whether we're discussing slavery's historical impact on the East Coast, migration to Quebec from French-speaking Caribbean and African nations, or the migrant flood to Toronto from former British colonies with the passing of the Immigration Act in the '70s, you get a very different story no matter who you talk to.

3) What do you hope readers get out of the series?

Ultimately, I want readers to have a visceral sense they've learned something important when they read each post in Tales from the 2.9. I'd love for readers to be so moved that they share the message with others — part of the reason why Tales exists is to build awareness of black Canadian culture, and what better way to express that than showing our friends and family what we've learned?

I work with each contributor to get to the crux of their story, looking for the core thread that truly makes it their own. This means asking a number of difficult questions and recounting challenging experiences... but ultimately, we get a more poignant message to share with the rest of our nation through it.

Casey Palmer hopes to represent the diversity among his fellow Black content creators. (Casey Palmer)

4) Is the 2017 version going to be different in any way? And what does it mean to do this series during the country's sesquicentennial year?  

As if Tales wasn't already ambitious enough, this year I'm trying something different and telling 150 stories in a series called #Chronicle150 — 150 Truly Canadian Stories for its 150th Birthday! Turns out February 1st through June 30th is 150 days exactly, so what better way to ring in 150 with a series to do it justice?

And Tales from the 2.9 will kick it all off.

5) What happens to the project when February is over?

It's like I say on March 1st every year — February's over, but I'm still black!

In my eyes, there's no reason to limit examining black culture to one month of the year, so when we wrap Black History Month up on the 28th, I'll continue with Black Fridays, a weekly look at black Canadian culture and the different aspects of it through anecdotes and analysis!

I hope to see you there!

Follow Tales from the 2.9 at caseypalmer.com.

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