As new, white skaters become more acquainted with roller skating on social media, they have and will gravitate towards skating communities IRL, which is wonderful. However, once rinks eventually open back up they may find themselves at unique events not created for them the way they may be used to. So I’m reaching out to my fellow white skaters with a bit of a primer for entering these new spaces with curiosity and most importantly, respect.
Yes, skating is for everyone, but first, you must understand that “adult” black skating communities were created out of racist segregation carried out by anti-black policies on admissions, pricing, dress codes, music choices, etc. Black skaters had to create their own spaces and events as a place to cultivate their own communities for safety and enjoy their preferred skate style and music. I feel very connected to parts of black culture and I highly value and appreciate the black people that have created it so I’m very grateful to have been warmly embraced and welcomed as family in these communities. But over 10 years later, I also understand and respect that I am still a visitor here.
(Watch the HBO “United Skates” documentary for more insight on the history of modern skating.)
Before the pandemic, I would often see new white skaters find indoor adult skating events then make disparaging comments and attempt to dictate what kind of music should be played and where and how people should skate. They would also disregard the flow of traffic as they skate in their own preferred manner, completely oblivious to others. Other times, they would stop talented black skaters and insist that they become their teachers in the middle of a fast-paced, crowded rink. Many skaters are friendly and are often happy to teach, but they should not be treated as your personal concierge. I suspect this behavior comes as a result of the privilege of always being treated as the default customer, where all their particular tastes and needs are immediately catered to.
Black people often have to worry about and manage how they navigate public (or mostly white) spaces to avoid making white people uncomfortable or possibly turn confrontational. So both the subtle and blatant behavior of entitlement and disregard for the black skating environment by white skaters is truly mortifying to watch. Even so, black skate leaders remain welcoming and, to my knowledge, have not attempted to apply rules and limitations the way that white rink owners and skaters have unto them.
White skaters, please spend some time observing these events before charging out to the rinks and skate parties and acting the same as you might either outdoors with your friends or during a public family rink session. Your skills should be at a point where you can safely maintain pace and control with the other skaters. I’ll just say it outright – regional and national skate jams are not intended for beginner skaters. They are intentionally produced and marketed to more seasoned skaters so they can enjoy a relaxed, experienced atmosphere and not have to dodge beginners and kids all night.
Understand that you may be a minority and should conduct yourself with a bit of deference and honor for the existing customs and culture of these spaces. With this approach, you can actually learn, experience, and enjoy all that this incredible activity has to offer.
This blog post might feel a bit uncomfortable or controversial to some, so feel free to share any questions or comments about this topic in the comments below.
Additional reference: Rink Safety Infographic