Breaking down racial barriers to create equity in roller derby

I have to start this post with a giant, “THANK YOU.” Thank you to all of you who took the time to read, watch, and digest the incredible words of Dreadlocked N. Loaded. I knew her words about the racism she’s experienced would be impactful, and were they ever! Thousands of views later, it’s obvious to me that giving skaters like DLNL a platform is not only a good thing—it’s a necessary thing. I’m excited to now go back and share the original interview that kicked off this entire idea with my friend Singh Machine, who I talked with about racial barriers in roller derby.

Singh Machine, an Indian/American skater, jams as a Victory Vixen for the Kansas City Roller Warriors. Her experience is that there are racial barriers in roller derby.
Singh Machine in action is seriously a blast to watch. She’s a beast.

So, yes, before I interviewed DLNL, I interviewed Singh. I tried to start this skating series with some fluff about “why skate anyway” with my Derby Life Partner Chum Fiesta. Next up, I talked to Singh about how she rolled into a practice never having skated before and how she became a beast on skates. That was last September, and at the end of the interview, I said, “Hey, can we pivot for a minute? I have some questions for you.”

I told her I had been processing a lot of the inequity I had seen in derby and had noticed some posts she made on Instagram. That’s when she let me know she had retired from derby prior to Covid-19 because of the issues she experienced. So I started asking questions. I mentioned I wanted to talk to DLNL and some other skaters. And that’s how this entire thing came to be.

This concept unfortunately came to a standstill

A lot has happened since I first interviewed Singh. First of all, I broke my ankle showing off for my kids at the skate park. That put everything at a standstill. And then? The election. January 6, 2021. More deaths of Black men and children. I talked to DLNL in February, and even then, it took me time to process it all and post it. Once that I finally had DLNL’s interview up, I quickly wished I hadn’t waited so long on Singh’s.

I began by explaining my idea about this series to Singh and told her why I was thinking about it. Please bear with me, as I kept a lot of that in this video to set up the discussion. But I wanted to get her take on how derby can begin to break down the racial barriers in roller derby that so blatantly exist. Based upon her response, it was something that had been on her mind, too.

What changed since September? A lot in roller derby—and the world.

There are some topics from my discussion from Singh that have blown up. For example, we, like DLNL, talked about Baller Shot Caller, who called out racism in roller derby before I realized it had become a topic. I encourage you to watch her post if you haven’t yet. It’s long, but it’s worth it. It caused the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association to start the ART Project DLNL is a part of. My home league, the Kansas City Roller Warriors, started an Inclusivity Committee.

Then in the aftermath, Baller Shot Caller retired from the Atlanta Roller Derby league, citing issues with lack of follow-through. Singh and I had conversations that were relevant to that time period, but that remain an issue.

Singh opened up about her own experiences with skating and what pushed her into retirement. She explained that it was passive racism and a lack of accountability, supported by the political climate of 2020, that ultimately pushed her to say, “Enough is enough.”

In this video, Singh makes several recommendations about great resources to follow for education and for ways to actively combat racism. Follow these links if you’re interested:

What can be done about racial barriers in roller derby?

At this point in the interview, I had kept Singh on a Zoom call for well over an hour talking about fluff and I didn’t want to keep her all night. So we summed it up quickly.

As I mentioned, though, a lot has changed. For full disclosure, both Singh and I (as well as DLNL and several other AMAZING individuals, including current and former skaters and fans) are members of the board for the Kansas City Roller Warriors. I am so excited to be back, despite being unable to skate, and doing what I can to help further this and many other important discussions within the league.

Next, since the interview with DLNL exploded, I actually had a request come in for Singh’s thoughts (Hello, Deadamame!) as a skater of South Asian decent. Given the Covid climate and the anti-Asian sentiment currently happening in this country, I can happily tell you Singh has agreed to follow up with me soon, not just to continue the discussion about racial barriers in roller derby, but to see what her experience has been as a South Asian/American woman in 2021. She also directed me toward another league member of Asian descent, which I plan to contact immediately. I have more interviews in my pocket and more experiences I want to share.

For now, I’ll pause here. Again, thank you for reading, and please continue to share these posts and the stories my friends are sharing.

And in the meantime, if you have thoughts about people you’d like me to talk to or topics I should consider covering, either inside or outside of roller derby, you can reach me through my Facebook page or by commenting here.

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