We wanted to gather thoughts and provide ideas for those looking for ways to help diversify your leagues. Creating a safe space for skaters of all races, especially People of Color HAS to be a priority now and forever. Let’s discuss how skaters can put forward change in their leagues, while acknowledging the problematic behavior that brought us to this point.
“We want to make our league more safe & inclusive, how do we do that?/ I want to help but how do I start?/ I’m a self proclaimed Ally, tell me how to help./ What do you need me to do?/ I’ve never seen anything racist happen in derby??” These are questions people are asking right now in the derbyverse and we hope you’re ready to tackle the hard, uncomfortable answers with us.
Doing the work on your own
“I’ve received so many of these requests lately, and I don’t know why me except that I’ve been vocal. But I always have been. It feels like no one cared yesterday but today… now someone wants to listen. But what about the years I’ve been screaming this? All that wasted time? And now some groups want a quick list of “what can I do to make this better? How do we start it? If we do this, are we not racists?” But I hate that check list mentality. How about a conversation. When was the last time these groups and people really sat down to ask a Black person what they need? Has anyone asked you? No one asked me. They are just asking for what they want from me now… to help them now. That feel performative and unfair. “-Carmen Boatwright, Cocoa Butther
Start with Knowledge and Research
WATCH: Invisible Knapsack Collective: Unpacking Whiteness In Derby & Skate Culture via the League of Accomplices’ Facebook page
READ: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi (click the link to purchase through a Black-owned bookstore). Dear White Allies: Don’t Appropriate Our Anger by Anoosh Jorjorian. “As white sports lecturers, we’re learning how to make our classroom less racist” by Michael Hobson and Stuart Whigham.
JOIN: The Roller Derby Inclusivity & Diversity Facebook group gives skaters a space to talk and ask questions while on the journey to learning how to be anti-racist.
SPEAK UP: Visit sites like Change.org or Care2.com to sign petitions that are working towards changing laws and bringing unlawful people to justice. GoFundMe and Patreon are good places to start if you want to donate and support causes making a difference. Write to your local Congress person or seek local anti-racism training for your leagues.
LISTEN: Subscribe and follow along w/the podcast Holding Space w/Magical Wheelism. Listening to stories and topics that affect People of Color in your league can only help us all grow as individuals and teammates, which is what we’re all striving for right? Pay special attention to episode 18 with featured guest Neon from @BIPOCwhoskate.
“It has been the kind of month that could break a person. But we can’t break, we have to keep responding and communicating and teaching and preaching as though our lives depend on it… because they do.”-Carmen Boatwright, Cocoa Butther
Be gentle with your teammates right now, especially BIPOC, because everyone is raw. Everyone is on edge and needs a way to channel their anger and despair.
Realize that as a non-BIPOC, you have privilege. Understand that you may have hurt BIPOC skaters in one way or another in the past by your actions, words or inactivity in standing up beside them when they needed it. Think about how your league treats BIPOC skaters and understand that things need to changed before moving forward. Don’t continue to ask them how to help, there’s so many resources being shared freely on social media and Google that anyone can figure out steps they need to take without putting the burden on their BIPOC friends. Taking the time and the effort to explain microaggressions and racism to friends and family takes a toll on a persons mental health.
“It comes out of sheer frustration that racism still exists and that it exists in the roller derby community, that is all inclusive!“Foxie Christine, Small Town Outlaws
Don’t bring more BIPOCs into your league if it isn’t already a welcome space for everyone. Cultivate real friendships with everyone on your team, including BIPOC. Spend time outside of practice together, if you can, because leagues are stronger when everyone feels welcome and appreciated. Leagues that are super clique-y will break down very quickly, because the organization will feel rotten from the top down. Imagine if those top clique-y groups are all white, and the Board of Directors are all white. That sends a powerful message about your priorities; it makes any POC feel super unwelcome. Try and examine it and fix that how you can.
Also, know your skating history! Watch “United Skates” on HBO and pay respect to the skating culture that has been around in the Black communities for decades. It’s not a super new movement, but more to come on that in a future blog post…
Recruitment is important in roller derby because it allows us to grow our leagues, but you have to be ready to go outside your comfort zone and find different places to visit and find new skaters. You can’t keep visiting the same restaurants/bars/gyms etc and expect to find an even mix of nationalities to talk to. Try visiting elementary schools, colleges, rec centers and skating rinks in all areas of your city.
Once you do find an inclusive mix of athletes to be on your team, be creative in ways of making as many practices accessible to them:
-Hire a babysitter or two to watch all the younger kids so parents can attend practice. Being able to bring your kids to practice has helped many of us keep our attendance up. Build the nightly childcare payment into monthly dues for the parents so it’s one easy payment they have to worry about.
-Play around with having practices at night or not during the day on weekends to allow for more accessibility for those that have weird job hours or family responsibility.
-Don’t make new skaters pay due immediately. Don’t allow the cost to practice to be a barrier for being able to play. We all know gear is expensive, allow some skaters to pay as they can on a case by case basis.
Really quickly, we wanted to speak about league training for Board of Directors. If your league is unable to pay a third party company to provide leadership training, there was information shared at a 2017 RollerCon seminar by Dr. Nguyen “Tom” Griggs who works with Lead Connect Grow, LLC. Key notes have been shared in the Derby Leadership Discussion group on Facebook. There is also free training available online via The Diversity and Resiliency Institute of El Paso.
“I think it’s less of an assumption that people can’t pay and more of a recognition that marginalized groups have financial barriers mounted against them that white people don’t experience in the same way.“Chelsea Ryan Anderson, QuikTrip, Kansas City Knockouts
Having a Diversity Committee is a really important and necessary tool to have to help your league be inclusive. This committee should be made up of both non-BIPOC and Black, Indigenous, People of Color, so that everyone can shoulder the work it takes to creating a safe space in derby. If you don’t have ANY People of Color on your team, that’s telling you something. There’s either racism within your ranks or a barrier that is keeping others from joining the team and wanting to stay. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to recruit new people into an organization that isn’t ready for them. Work to protect any BIPOC you may currently have so they know & feel that their team has their back.
“Let’s put together our brain power and work on it together and really start putting down some action items, and not just ticking off boxes. Actually forcing change within your league. It’s gonna be uncomfortable at some point. You’re going to have a conversation that maybe raises your heart rate a little bit and makes you feel like, “Oh my gosh. I might stumble up and say the wrong thing.” But those mistakes are necessary for this change. So, have those hard conversations. Don’t steer away from them.”-Baller Shot Caller (Power Through the 4th Whistle podcast episode 101)
Put diversity goals and values within your Code of Conduct so as new skaters, people can see that racism is not tolerated by your organization. It should be known from the start that everyone is expected to be respectful to each other on and off the track (and on social media). There are subtle ways that racism is expressed that maybe you’ve never noticed before, but the time to open your eyes, ears and hearts is now.
If BIPOC members are telling the board that another skater has said something racist to them, just listen. Unfortunately, Black skaters have been taught to put up with mean behavior because it’s seen as “rocking the boat” or they’re being “too negative” or that the other person was “just joking”. Racism is not a joke. People’s feelings are valid, please listen to them.
If a BIPOC skater has a situation they need to report, ensure they have a safe and private space to file a grievance. If a situation arises and any POC call you out publicly, please give them the chance to tell their story. As a white skater, be open to situations where you may have to step in and speak up for someone that doesn’t feel safe to call out racist tendencies towards them. Let them know they’re not alone.
Businesses and leagues have been facing backlash for deleting comments on their social media and then gaslighting those BIPOC members. This erasure of BIPOC voices and the emotional labor everyone puts into these posts isn’t a good look for anyone. These call outs (or call-ins) are an opportunity for growth. Take the time to listen.
Don’t put it all off on WFTDA to deal with the discrimination & racists within your organization, because that takes time and resources that they don’t fully have right now. Maybe give these offenders one or two strikes (at most) then get rid of them! Trust us, it’s better for the whole community, this includes Officials.
Discrimination by Officials
“And I think that one of the things that I can touch on that people have seen in the public is the issue of microaggressions from refs to skaters. In my eyes, I’ve been skating since 2010, and I cannot count the times, because there are too many, that I have been called “Black One-Four-Three.” I think the most recognizable time for me was my very first Playoffs with Atlanta playing against Denver. And a ref who is not necessary to name called me, “Black One-Four-Three.” And I didn’t respond. I didn’t respond. Because technically they had not called me. And finally, I believe they called me on an insubordination and I tugged at my jersey and I said, “I‘m wearing red. I’m not black.” And they still issued me the insubordination and said basically, “That’s not what I said. I didn’t call you black.” And at that point I felt like, “Okay. Well pretty much you’re the ref. Pretty much what you say goes. I guess I better just shut up.” And that’s pretty much what happened for the next ten years of my career.“-Baller Shot Caller (Power Through the 4th Whistle podcast episode 101)
Microaggressions and racial biases suck. Maybe you’ve never experienced it firsthand, but all BIPOC are here to say THEY DO HAPPEN in other sports*, not just roller derby. It could be like the example above or maybe it’s Officials calling more penalties on BIPOC skaters*, or ignoring egregious hits towards them. Either way, it should not be tolerated. We’ve heard too many stories similar to this, and each one is heartbreaking. So what do we do? What should we do? Call them out on the spot. These errors need to be changed as soon as they happen or else they will fester, these are the people in a position of power and can negatively affect a game’s outcome.
Here’s some ideas for when instances like this happen (especially if it happens to a Ref multiple times in a bout or scrimmage). The Official should:
-Apologize to the skater, coach and team and let them know they’re working on not doing this again. If an apology isn’t given because they believe they’re right or feel they didn’t do anything wrong, then said Official should face suspension.
-Take a look inward to understand what is happening and why they’re behaving as they are. Do the work to fix the problem or just stop officiating, because all that will happen is teams and players will continue to be hurt by the Official’s actions. Know that the leagues will hold them accountable with real consequences. Keep everyone on a level playing field!
“I think it’d be telling if WFTDA started tracking penalty callers – that is, which ref called which penalty. My guess is there’s a lot of uncomfortable trends hiding in the data.“Jeffrey Arp/Jake From Skate Farm, Official
Businesses You Choose or Choose Not to Work With
Support skate artists and businesses owned by People of Color. Be selective of whose logos you choose to wear on your jerseys and pants, whose banners you hang at your practice spaces, who vends at your events. Don’t allow your organization to work with businesses that are known to be racist or ones that follow white supremacist ideals. Don’t allow them to continue to have access to the roller derby community, while we’re all trying to build/rebuild a better skate culture. Follow RollerCon and WFTDA‘s lead and cut ties to businesses that don’t support the same values that your organization does.
One example is my (Ratchet’s) old team had a falling out with a sponsor, because we started kneeling during the national anthem at the beginning of bouts. This was around 2017 when former NFL player Colin Kaepernick started kneeling at football games in peaceful protest and the derby world started to intentionally follow suit. One of our sponsors cut ties with us because they didn’t agree and took it as an attack to the flag. At the time, it sucked to lose sponsorship money, but was was good that it showed us that business didn’t align with our league values.
On the positive side- work to support Black, Indigenous and People Of Color who create content, art or products for the skating community. There is so much AWESOME out there; find it and keep those communities rolling.
Major Skate Companies that Sponsor Skaters/Teams
Sponsoring or hiring skaters only helps a company feel good and potentially get more sales; it doesn’t really help the community in the grand scheme of things. It’s time to rethink how it’s done. By helping different types of skaters all around the world, it’s ensuring a company will continue to have customers in the long run. When hiring BIPOC models, visit platforms like @blackskatealliance, because representation matters!
If people can’t afford to skate, they drop out over time (or don’t even start!) and this decreases the pool of potential customers. It’s keeping the skate community alive by help those without access to gear.
-Sponsor skaters of color that don’t already have access to costly gear and skates. Don’t just sponsor only white passing skaters that already have much more access to these items.
-Sponsor up-and-coming teams/skaters or the teams that are in locations that don’t have as much access to gear. Donate more to the organizations that do this work year round, like Derby Without Borders.
For more ideas, check out the open letter from Atlanta Roller Derby and our other blog post from skater Black Magik. Thanks to the Knapsack Collective and to our contributors for allowing us to use their words, information and resources. *Special shout out to sports researcher turned Photographer David Dyte for introducing us all to links to academic work. Many thanks to those that will share this with their leagues and those that read it for themselves. We’re all learning how to be anti-racist, together. Keep being kind to one another.
The Bout Betties Team (Ratchet-Face, Taco Bruiseday, Night Witch & Mollytov Cocktail)