'Start a conversation': U of A political scientist launches podcast exploring systemic racism


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For Andy Knight, the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white police officer in 2020, was a pivotal moment even from nearly 2,000 kilometres away in Edmonton.

Knight, a well-known political scientist and the first Black chair of the University of Alberta’s Department of Political Science, wanted to have a conversation about race, the systemic nature of racism and its history.

“So that’s the basic genesis of it. It was really to inspire people to think about these issues more seriously, to use that occasion of the George Floyd moment to alert people as to the historical legacy that led to this kind of anti-black racism,” Knight said.

On May 25, 2021, one year after Floyd’s murder, Knight and co-host Zack Penddah, a University of Alberta political science student, launched BlackTalk a podcast featuring interviews with prominent Black figures from around the world and stories from Black community members closer to home.

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“The idea behind this is to start a conversation not just with Canadians, but people across the globe, on what the Black experience has meant and what anti-Black racism has done, basically, to try to limit the progress that Black people have made over the years. But we also try to bring about a sense of hope,” he said.

The five-episode first season features a talk with historian Sir Hilary Beckles about the history of white supremacy dating back to the 1600s in Barbados as well as an episode with journalist Cecil Foster about the historical context of anti-Black racism in Canada.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, May 25, 2018.
Celina Caesar-Chavannes rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, May 25, 2018. Photo by Justin Tang /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, well known for leaving the federal Liberal caucus and accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of tokenizing her, talks about the way racism has affected her mental health.

“That was an eye opener for me, because I know that she suffered quite a bit through her time in Ottawa, but, you know, it’s more than that. It is a deep-seeded, structural element in our politics,” Knight said.

University of Alberta nursing professor Bukola Salami, and former Fort Valley State University president Ivelaw Griffith are also featured.

Each episode includes a chance for local community members and students to talk about their experiences.

“We see what the next generation has had to put up with and whether or not there is any hope for them in the future,” Knight said.

“It’s a pretty broad, sweeping kind of analysis but I think it’s very important to have this conversation at this time.”

Knight said the initial reaction to the first season has been positive and he hopes to do more in the fall. The episodes can be found on major podcast platforms or online at blacktalk.ca.