Manitoba

Winnipeg Jets' Whiteout street parties need name change, says black organization

Winnipeg's Whiteout street parties are attracting thousands of Jets fans downtown to celebrate their team, but for some people the image of throngs dressed head-to-toe in all white can be threatening.

Promoting a Whiteout downtown can be triggering to people of colour, group says

The Whiteout started back in 1987 as Jets' fans response to the Calgary Flames' Sea of Red during the playoffs. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Winnipeg's Whiteout street parties are attracting thousands of Jets fans downtown to celebrate their team, but for some people the image of throngs dressed head-to-toe in all white can be threatening.

Among them is Alexa Potashnik, the founder of Black Space Winnipeg, a non-profit organization that lobbies for safe spaces for Winnipeg's black community.

She posted a message on the group's Facebook page on Wednesday morning, ahead of the Jets' first game of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, suggesting the name of the playoff party be changed.

Along with it, she posted an image and the caption: "Have a look at these photos from past Jets pandemonium/fan appreciation. The four men wearing all white Jets outfits with pointed hoodies … remind you of anything?"

This Facebook post by Black Space Winnipeg has prompted a lot of angry responses. (Black Space Winnipeg/Facebook)

The Whiteout started back in 1987 as Jets fans' response to the Calgary Flames' Sea of Red during the playoffs. That was at a time when the Jets home colours were white, not blue as they now are, but the tradition has stuck.

"I get the colour context 100 per cent, but it's the culture that we're talking about. It's the wording we're critiquing," Potashnik told CBC's Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa on Thursday, citing a headline that called for turning Winnipeg's downtown white again as playoffs returned.

"It's triggering for some people. For marginalized communities — whether that's black communities, Indigenous people of colour, folks with disabilities, queer communities, it impacts us all."

She says the group is not advising anyone to boycott the parties, which take place on blocked-off streets around Bell MTS Place during home playoff games.

"We're just saying, how can we make these parties so that everyone feels safe? That's the biggest thing."

Potashnik lives downtown and has been to the parties, which she says can be fun, but she has also heard racial slurs and racist humour while walking through the crowds.

"It's quite real," she said.

Thousands of Jets fans attend the Whiteout street parties at ever home playoff game, crowding streets near Bell MTS Place and watching the games on big screens. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

While there has been an emphasis on security and ensuring people feel physically safe, she suggested more consideration should be given to emotional safety — and that means changing the culture and tone around the marketing of the event.

"People have a very narrow definition of what safe is," Potashnik said, adding that her Facebook post "hit a nerve."

It had more than 500 comments and nearly 230 shares as of Thursday evening.

Potashnik expected some backlash but not to the extent she has received, with a lot of angry vitriol and many commenters suggesting she's hypocritical since her organization has the word "black" in it.

Others called the post ridiculous, stupid, a publicity stunt, a pathetic attempt at outrage, and a joke. At least one commenter said the post was creating the very thing Potashnik said she is trying to prevent — a rift in society.

"Please please don't over reach … the struggle is real but this is not one of them. Black Space, I am out," wrote someone who identified themselves as a black Jamaican Canadian and proud Winnipegger.

Fans gather prior to first round NHL playoffs action between the Jets and St. Louis Blues in Winnipeg on Wednesday. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Tucked among the horde of angry responses are some supporters. Few, but some.

"Thank you for speaking up, can never hurt to try to be a bit more sensitive at least about wording and how we carry and present ourselves, good luck in your campaign," wrote one person. 

Another pointed out that the hatefulness displayed in most of the comments justifies Potashnik's argument.

"The folks who are anti what we're doing and very defensive are people, I think, who are scared of change," Potashnik said.

"We just want to have a conversation. I don't think there's anything wrong with that."

She's pleased the issue has become such a firestorm because "hopefully, this will get people to think in a new way."

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