By Jasmine Phat
A flurry of women of all sizes and color flooded TikTok’s “For You Page” in eccentric glory against the set of a world plagued by a rogue virus during the height of 2020’s COVID-19-infested summer. Moxi and Impala Skates sold out by the hundreds, leaving eager beginners disheartened while feening for a nostalgic escape from Zoom calls and days slept in. In a world teeming with political disenfranchisement, the looming promise of climate change and the rage of social injustice, who knew a pair of shoes with eight wheels would be such a coveted form of catharsis?
Happy-go-lucky skaters glided across thousands of phone screens, mesmerizing viewers with elegant glides and twirls, often accompanied by an upbeat song such as J.Lo’s “Jenny From the Block.” Such a trend entranced those trapped indoors to place a pair of wheels on their own feet, a makeshift portal that transformed empty streets into a space of skating potential. Endless days of remaining indoors, confined within the safety of the walls of one’s home eventually became an act of endurance; people yearned for a sense of freedom. As such, skate brands such as Moxi and Impala became beacons of hope during the pandemic, and Indy Jamma Jones’ Youtube channel was the only virtual school worth attending.
The boom of roller skating on Instagram and TikTok led to a worldwide shortage of roller skates, sending all brands and companies to place “Sold Out” signs on their online sites. It would be weeks until a “Pre-Order Now!” sign would take their place. While the sudden growth in sales had been beneficial to manufacturers, the experience still had been one that was unprecedented, leaving both companies and customers flustered. In an article by Vogue, Michelle Steilen, creator and owner of Moxi Skates, stated that her business has expanded greatly, as she hired more staff to handle the abrupt demand. Despite the increased staff numbers, manufacturing still left orders delayed by the months, only igniting the lust for skates further.
Despite the silver-lining found within the midst of this year’s pandemic, a dark underbelly of racial injustice formed alongside the thrill. As of right now, white people run the show on social media, and through businesses. Roller skating would not be what it is today had it not been for Black people; the sport itself has deep roots in Black history, which needs to be remembered as the new wave of roller skating surges on. While roller skating is flourishing in the mainstream, it’s a hobby that never died out for Black people.
In May of this year, during the George Floyd protests, skating mogul Amy West, also known as Indy Jamma Jones went under fire for censoring Black skaters on Planet Roller Skate, a Facebook Group. A stark injustice and form of ignorance had been present in the act, as West silenced Black voices as they spoke up on the struggles of being racially profiled.
There is no doubt that Black culture had contributed to what roller skating is today: a jam-packed, music-filled world of action and dance. According to Alex Petit, a writer for Indiana Daily Student, roller skating’s culture was born during the Civil Rights movement, as roller rinks were one of the most difficult places to desegregate. As a result, white people would stop attending rinks on certain nights, as there were different themes for each night. Skating culture developed through these segregated nights, as Black skaters were free to experiment with skating styles, dances and music, while hip-hop and disco became hit genres. Additionally, according to Petit and the documentary “United Skates,” roller rinks were some of the only places hip-hop could be performed or played.
As a hobby so indulged and rich in Black culture, it’s unfair how whitewashed roller skating has become, especially when Black people have fought and protested to have their rights at roller rinks. While the new-age of roller skating continues, it’s imperative that we uplift and remember the legacy that has brought so many the freedom and joy of soaring through the world on eight wheels.