The whitewashing of roller skating's online revival
The latest online trend resurrects America's racist past.
Jun 27, 2020 at 8:50am PDT“Utah’s predominantly white, so it was powerful because it brought out some kids that maybe don't think about racism at all,” he says. “It's playing a role in teaching the youth about standing up for something right by using what you’ve got. People are learning their history, because they're replaying it — but in a positive way.”
Bravo agrees, seeing similar benefits at the many skate protests she’s attended in Los Angeles.“It's a great way to reach out to people through common interests,” she says. “It furthers conversations around racial injustice while showing just how similar we all are.”
Faeiryne’s negative experiences on the Planet Roller Skate Facebook motivated her to host a meetup with Black skaters in her area, which was a small but powerful gathering.“This can all be an opportunity for people to see that racism exists everywhere around them, even in their niche little sport hobbies."
“This can all be an opportunity for people to see that racism exists everywhere around them, even in their niche little sport hobbies,” she says. “It's not just some far off intangible concept that you don't have to worry about. It's happening in your community. It’s something we all have to actively address no matter what space we're in.”
While Warren didn’t attend organized protests, she and her friends did skate together while holding signs in solidarity with the movement. An older white man called the cops on them with a noise complaint.“It's just annoying,” she says. “No one is gang banging. No one is selling drugs. We're literally just roller skating.”
Once the cops left, they just kept skating.Like every problem with racism in America, though, it’s ultimately not up to Black skaters to fix an issue they didn’t create. To its credit, much of the online skating community is trying to be part of the solution, albeit with varying degrees of performance rather than effectiveness.
It’s great to support Black skaters by following them to try and correct biased algorithms, for example. But there’s a fine line between supporting and tokenizing.“I wish people would just include us in the overall narrative instead of designated us to, like, Black Skaters Week, or a Black Skater Moment versus all the ‘Normal Skaters,’” says Faeiryne.
It’s notable too that many of the skaters featured in this article only started getting attention on TikTok for calling out racism. Videos of them simply enjoying skating or demonstrating their skills still get less than half as many likes or views.Bravo says that white people seem to think that by following Black skaters, they’re suddenly not part of the problem anymore.
“Marginalized people can find instant community, instant connection through roller skating.“But there’s a lot of introspective work you need to do before you message all these Black skaters asking for handbooks on what to do,” she says. “Ask what internalized, racist qualities you have or were taught, what do you need to dismantle and destroy within yourself and those around you?”
Roller skating is an activity that has attracted all kinds of marginalized folks throughout history, and its recent revival has beena safe haven for LGBTQ communitiesin particular. But for a long time, its leaders hid behind ideals of inclusivity and diversity as a way to deflect from dealing with racism.
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