‘I Wanted To Understand Winnipeg Better’: 5 Questions With Owen Toews

Owen Toews is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta. He received his PhD in geography from the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and has worked as an instructor at the University of Manitoba Department of Environment and Geography, Brooklyn College Honors Program, and the Hunter College Department of Urban Affairs and Planning. He is a founding member of the DIY museum collective Winnipeg Arcades Project, a member of the abolitionist prisoner solidarity group Bar None, and acquisitions editor for ARP Books’ Semaphore series. Born and raised in Winnipeg, he is descended from Russian Mennonites.

Owen’s new book, Stolen City: Racial Capitalism and the Making of Winnipeg is available now.

1. To those who are unfamiliar with the term, how would you define “racial capitalism”?

Racial capitalism is capitalism. The term racial capitalism highlights the basic fact that capitalism has always used racial structures to justify the thefts, attacks, and inequalities that are inherent to it.

2. What spurred on your interest in this topic?

I wanted to understand Winnipeg better. The patriotic stories that we learned in school and on the radio didn’t ring true in Winnipeg. Later on when I read some more honest writing about the city, I felt as though it still implied that colonialism was something from the past, or was something happening outside the city, which didn’t seem right. I wanted to understand how certain aspects of city-making today are still colonial, in their own way, in order to make it easier to take action to correct them.

3. What do you hope people will learn from your book?

I hope people will learn that colonialism and anti-Native racism continue to be structured in to the making and remaking of the city, and that one of the biggest reasons Winnipeg is still so racist is that capitalism requires racism in order to function.

4. Although you write in different genres and subject matter, has your mother, Miriam Toews, influenced your writing in any way?

Yes, definitely. I admire how joyfully and tenderly anti-authoritarian my mother’s writing is and I hope there is a bit of that in Stolen City.

5. What is your favourite and least favourite thing about Winnipeg?

My favourite thing about Winnipeg is Neechi Commons. My least favourite is the police.