By Jasmine Phat
A cool summer breeze comforted my skin as I prepared to roller skate as Mountain’s Edge Regional park; the Sun was far gone and only the indigo sky welcomed Las Vegas’ local skaters against the pandemic silence. With most areas of social interaction and recreation closed due to the season of COVID-19, taking on the streets with wheels seemed like a beacon of hope against the world’s plights. White girls flew by on their longboards, blonde hair flowing against the air’s crisp currents. Other girls donned pink Impala skates on their feet, with elbow and knee pads to match. My boyfriend at the time, who is also a white skater, squeezed my hand as my eyes drank in the makeshift skatepark.
As an Asian girl, something felt slightly renegade, a blatant and stark sense of lacking that I initially couldn’t identify. I briskly whizzed by other skaters and expected to feel familiarity, but I didn’t. I felt different despite knowing I’m just the same as the rest of them. The reality slowly sank in as I realized what was lacking was in fact skaters of color, and Black skaters in general. I didn’t feel safe, or like I could make any friends. I felt so lonely despite being quite in the epicenter of skating. Also, no offense to the skaters at the park, but most of them looked like amateurs. I wanted to be around skilled skaters who I could befriend and learn a trick or two from. The truth began to sting once my boyfriend tried correcting my skating, I wasn’t sure if I couldn’t stand being told what to do, or if him, a white man, trying to teach me something I could have learned on my own, was what made my favorite hobby turn sour in the center. What perennially has been a culturally rich pastime now felt superficial, and ultimately Caucasian.
Roller skating burst its way back into the mainstream thanks to the likes of TikTok and Instagram, where videos of women elegantly gliding down the streets on wheels became the newest attraction for young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those with a couple of bucks in their bank accounts quickly made their way to online skate stores such as Moxi Skates and Impala Skates, almost immediately rendering both companies out of stock within the span of several months.
With the allure of nostalgia, retro aesthetics and a genuine excuse to escape the confinement of our homes, roller skating seemed like the answer. However, while the resurgence of skating continues to pierce the veil of modern trends, the culturally rich history of roller skating must not be forgotten, especially when white voices and faces are dominating the trend.
“Like all resurrections of America’s past, though, the online skating craze also comes with an undercurrent of racism and Black erasure,” Jess Joho of Mashable said. “As with so many popular trends, if you dig past the sea of predominantly white faces populating the 1.5 billion TikToks under the #rollerskating tag, you’ll find the largely overlooked history of Black communities that never let it go out of style in the first place.”
What makes the modern revival of roller skating so flawed is the sheer fact the mainstream treats it as simply a revamping of a nostalgic pastime with white people taking the reins, when it’s been here all along, celebrated by the likes of Black communities and people of color. Essentially, what is currently a trend has been a safespace for an extremely marginalized group for numerous decades.
“I can definitely acknowledge that social media inaccurately represents the community, and it’s so much easier to find white influencers compared to finding other influencers of different backgrounds,” said Conner Ruschmeyer, a local and white roller blader. “There should be a greater push to represent more diverse influencers.”
Ruschmeyer believes that there should be more diversity overall when it comes to roller skating influencers, as it would make aspiring skaters feel more welcome in a culturally rich subculture.
“My favorite influencer is an Asian male,” he said. “He adds such style and fun to the sport and I believe that overall, the hobby should just become more diversified where there is representation found throughout, and where everyone can find someone they enjoy and relate to.”
Beginner Venezuelan roller skater Valery Urdaneta finds both benefits and pitfalls to the rise of skating in white communities.
“It’s strongly integrated in Black culture,” Urdaneta said. “But due to its strong connection to Black culture, similarly to disco, it’s ridiculed and viewed as something stupid or weird. However, the resurgence of white women roller skating is a reminder of how they’re used to make things more digestible for the rest of the population. A white roller skater will always be more popular and recognized than any Black man or woman.”
Roller skating has never died out in Black communities, and a lot of its culture has developed thanks to the strides of Black people. Roller rinks were one of the most difficult places to desegregate, as many rules created and enforced were ones involved with separating days in which Black people could come, what clothes they could wear and what wheels they could use on the rink floors, as stated in Alex Petit’s “Black Voices: with a rise in roller skating popularity, society must recognize its roots in Black history.” Roller skating’s very roots are a fight against racism itself; Black people fought police and protested for the ability to skate.
Additionally, with true resilience, Black people took advantage of these segregated nights, transforming a standard of oppression into a zeitgeist abundant with vibrant fashion, soul music and hip-hop, jam skating(a form of dance skating), athleticism and a genuine sense of community. Had it not been for Black people, we would still be listening to conservative tunes as we skated stiffly, with no dancing, nor fun.
Despite my initial discomfort at the park, I notice a gradual increase of women of color taking on the streets with roller skates. Joining Facebook groups such as The Unity Skate Collective has allowed me to connect with skaters of all shapes, sizes and walks of life, even enabling me to make local friends to skate with as well. As the pandemic surges on, I know the love and curiosity for roller skating will too.
It’s crucial for us to perpetuate the legacy and history of skating because it will allow us to further appreciate how and why the culture became what it is today, with Black skaters in the lead. Moxi and Impala, both white owned, are leading the capital way in this wave of roller skating. As such, it’s imperative that we make sure Black voices and faces are leading us when it comes to how we learn and accessorize. Moonlight Roller Skates stand a main contender as a Black-owned roller skate business, and GypsetCity provides reviews and skate tutorials! Additionally, Kelsey Guy and hellothisisjoshy provide entertaining and enriching skating posts. Supporting Black roller skaters on social media opens a portal of understanding, appreciation and respect for the community that made roller skating what it is today.