Racial equity, roller derby, and the future of the sport

I’ve been thinking about racial equity in roller derby for many, many years. When I skated, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of diversity not just in my own league, but across roller derby. It wasn’t until I retired and had time to think about what I experienced, what I saw, and what others talked about that I realized not only was there a lack of racial equity in roller derby, but that many of my friends and teammates were hurting from what I’ve now realized was derby’s lip service and lack of action.

I LOVED my Kansas City Roller Warriors All Star team. We were also very, very white.

I retired nearly 5 years ago, and during that time, much has changed. Part of what I saw after I retired included friends and former teammates pointing out the lack of diversity in roller derby. I also finished my Master’s degree in Journalism and had focused my research on how Twitter was used in socio-political topics and have data to prove that systemic racism exists everywhere in this country. And what set many people over the edge was that in the midst of a global pandemic, Black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were murdered and many of us saw our Black friends crying out in desperation—yet again—to just let them live.

The journalist in me wanted to explore the topic of racial equity in roller derby for a couple of reasons. One: I love roller derby, and despite the fact it touts itself as a progressive sport, I wanted to see what I was missing and do my part to help the sport evolve. Two: I saw my friends in legitimate pain. I wanted to share their stories because they are people I care deeply about. I asked them questions about a community that presented itself as a safe space for all of us, but quickly learned racial equity in roller derby isn’t a priority for any league. I wondered what I missed while I was skating and started wondering if I was actually contributing to a toxic environment for my BIPOC friends.

If it weren’t for Gotham and southern teams, I wouldn’t have skated with many people of color.
Photo of Blaque Jac and me by the incredibly amazing Sean Hale.

I decided to interview two friends from the Kansas City Roller Warriors who have been very up front about how much things needed to change, not just in roller derby, but everywhere. What I got from their interviews was so important I needed to break it up into segments. I’m sharing the first interview here.

This series begins with Dreadlocked N. Loaded

Dreadlocked N. Loaded is such a phenomenal human being, and I swear, everyone I talk to about her practically shouts, “I LOVE DLNL!” over the mountaintops. I truly don’t know how she does it all, either. She’s a librarian with two—I repeat two—Master’s degrees. She’s heavy into genealogy, she serves on the KCRW board as well as leadership groups for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. She was featured on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. And she skates. She’s incredible.

Dreadlocked N. Loaded explained how she nailed picture day

I started by point-blank asking her whether she experienced a lack of racial equity in roller derby. Her answers were eye-opening. Her discussion about her hair on picture day was heartbreaking. And for a little background about issues with roller derby picture day, which DLNL and I discussed but I cut out for length purposes, I encourage you to read this article on racial biases that exist in photography.

Is roller derby as progressive as it claims?

DLNL’s first-hand experience is that it’s not. Since its resurgence, roller derby has claimed to be progressive, and in many ways it is. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association has had transgender policies in place for years and has long embraced the LGBTQ+ community. DLNL says, in her experience, does not have the same racial equity as it does gender and sexuality equity. She details what she’s experienced by explaining how white supremacy is “baked in the bread” and makes suggestions about what we can do to change racist mentality.

Troost Ave. and a lack racial equity in roller derby

The Kansas City Roller Warriors briefly had a practice space on Troost Ave. in Kansas City, which we lost to a fire. Our short-lived home gave me insight in numerous ways, one of which took me years to process. When I told DLNL about a wake up call I had that involved our league turning away women who weren’t paying dues or signing waivers, she was shocked. Here’s why: Troost Ave. is famously known for its racial divide, which began in the late 1800s and continued for generations due to white flight and redlining from restrictive real estate covenants. And then, rather than inviting the Black women from this neighborhood in to skate, we turned them away because of our policies. DLNL and I discussed the impact that might have had and what could have been done differently.

How does white supremacy show up in derby?

DLNL is part of KCRW’s Inclusivity Committee as well as the WFTDA Anti-Racism Team (Art) Project, which has set priorities for the WFTDA to eradicate racism. We discussed the BLM protests versus the January 6 protests. I ask that you please take the time to read this bit of research, released this week, about how it was racism and fear that led to the insurrection. The difference between how people are treated because of their skin color is stark.

How to be antiracist in roller derby

DLNL talked about how racial equity in roller derby needs to be a global endeavor and to do more than just offer lip service. She explained how Atlanta Roller Derby veteran Baller Shot Caller retired due to racism within the league and what needs to genuinely happen to move forward.

What can we do to combat racism?

DLNL has many recommendations. To start, do not ask her, “Educate me.” But do educate yourself and listen to what suggestions she has to offer.

Want to help?

I was so grateful to DLNL for giving me 90 minutes of her time, and being willing to put up with my toddler running into the room over and over and over again while we discussed very painful topics. Please consider sending a donation for her time and willingness to talk. You can find her on PayPal at @traceyfromkc or Venmo at @Tracey-Hughes-20.

I also hope you’ll take the time to read, listen, and learn from the videos and articles I posted. Ensuring racial equity isn’t an overnight fix, but taking the time to expose yourself to different viewpoints and to learn how racism is “baked in the bread” from a historical context will help you better understand what you’re missing. At least it has for me.

11 thoughts on “Racial equity, roller derby, and the future of the sport

  • Thank you so much for the interview with Tracey! A necessary conversation that needs to be had. Keep up the good work!

  • Thanks for sharing. Quick correction: Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville Metro Police in 2020, not Brianna Taylor.

  • Thank you for this! My league started in 2006 and very early on we had black skaters leave telling us “this is too white” … We didn’t take those concerns seriously, or look at our policies then to see how we could do better. I am so glad derby is finally starting the have these important conversations.

  • Thank you both for the thought provoking conversation. The “Hair Discussion” was very enlightening. It put words to something I’ve always recognized as intrusive, adding the part about “inspection” gives me better words.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Tracey’s story about finding her grandmothers in wills and relating that to inspection made me cry. I’m so grateful for her willingness to share her story.

  • I tried to send a PayPal to Tracey at the address posted and it didn’t work for me @traceyfromkc is that the right address? Thank you

  • thank you so much to everyone for taking the time to read & view, to reflect on the info, and to share this link with others. and Melody, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your willingness to do this! i’m honored that you wanted to hear my thoughts.

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