Posted by Chandra Ward, ATLANTA, GA -- Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I too had dreams. When I was a kid I had a dream that one day I would have other Black females to skate with -- that I wouldn't be the only female surrounded by a motley crew of boys. Hell, I had a dream that one day I would have other females of any race to skate with. I started skating when I was about 11. What I mean by that is that I had a skateboard and skated with it.
I had that skateboard until 10th grade. I was fascinated with skate culture and skateboarding as a sport. I wasn’t hardcore -- I only managed to learn simple beginner tricks such as the manual, the tic tac, crab walking and 360 turns. Still, it was obvious to me back then that I was breaking normative gender expectations and perhaps even racial ones. I mean, skateboarding has traditionally been a white male sport. I finally put my skateboard away because I didn’t want my behavior -- or anything else for that matter -- to be inconsistent with the normative expectations of how a “normal” 15 year old Black girl should act. I saw no one around me or in the media to help validate my hobby or my invisible identity as a teenage Black female skater. Besides, by then my only skateboarding companions were two white boys in junior high school.
Though my dream was never realized for myself, fast forward 20 years and it has been for others. Today I see kids of all ages and races descend onto Atlanta's first public skate park (read gentrified) Old Fourth Ward. There are many occasions when I see a crew of all Black guy skaters pushing down the streets of my Inman Park neighborhood on their way to the skate park. That makes me excited. Twenty years ago, I think you only could have seen that in California. Now, a city in the South with one of the Nation’s largest Black population has a free, public use skate park for any and every skill. You can see in my pictures kids of all sizes enjoying the multi-skill level skate park unveiled by the legendary skater Tony Hawk last June. With the opening of this public skate park, kids from all backgrounds have the opportunity to engage in and enjoy their passion for skateboarding without feeling self conscience and out of place like I did.
In fact, one day not long ago I was watching the Black guys skate up and down and around the skating bowl when I noticed a little Black girl. She wore protective gear and was standing on her skateboard among the boys. She then skated around the novice skilled area with her brother. She seemed comfortable on the board. Watching her skateboard, I marveled at how much younger she was than me when I started skating. I hope she doesn't give up skating like I did. If she does, I hope it isn’t due to gendered and racialized boundaries erected by societal messages of what is normal and what is not. I hope she is there for the sisters of the other skater boys who may just watch from the sidelines for now, but see that skateboarding can be for them too.
Chandra Ward is the Assistant Editor of Social Shutter and a Doctoral student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.