Jr. Writing Contest Photo: Self-portrait by Tumi Akin-Deko

Published on September 5th, 2013 | by Guest Contributor

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Photo: Self-portrait by Tumi Akin-Deko

The Color of Roller Derby

By Tumi Akin-Deko

Roller Derby means a lot to me and it has empowered me the whole time I’ve been a part of this wondrous sport. I have had many experiences that have made me stronger and happier. But there is one continual experience that I want to share with you, reader. I want to share with you my experiences of being a black girl on our derby team.

Now, I live in Memphis, TN, and you could say I live in the ‘hood,’ but if you met me you wouldn’t say that. I am a Geek to fullest extent of the word. I love Japanese Anime, Cartoons, Science and Video games. My two sports of passion are Debate and Roller Derby, which seem different, but actually pretty similar: you want to destroy your opponent, only one with logic, the other with your body. When I say destroy, I mean it in the most sportsmanship-ly way, being a jerk in any sport is wrong.

I went to an inner city school which is where our renown Debate team resides. Because of my school’s utter lack of diversity, my school is 99.9% black. We have a Hispanic family who managed to break the 100% black populace. So due to this, my first passion, the debate team is 100% black. But Derby, my 2nd but equal passion, was 100% white. That was until I came along.

Now the way I had set this up, one might feel that I am going to go through some trials and tribulations about overcoming racism or something. But in fact being on Roller Derby was just the opposite.

Before I can continue. Here’s a little background knowledge. The South is a wonderful place, but subtle racism is still a thing here. It happens on both sides. Once when I went to a summer program in Mississippi, the black and white campers basically segregated themselves. That’s sometimes how it is. Also, black people tend to be wary of white people from Mississippi, due to its stronger history of discrimination. It’s just a thing here. It’s just a blemish on an otherwise very friendly region. Some places are just more friendly than others.

Now, taking a step back, let’s look at Roller Derby the sport as a whole unit in and of itself. Here’s something to think about. Roller Derby is a white dominated sport. Not to say other races can’t play it, it’s just that due to whites being the majority race and due to Roller Derby not being on the foreground sports just yet.

It’s just a little intimidating.

On the way to my first day of Derby practice, which was just past the border to Mississippi, not knowing any of these girls, I was a little scared. What if these girls were racist? What if they didn’t like me because I am black? What if, what if…

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The derby girls I met are amazing people who I’m glad and proud to be friends with. They are friendly, crazy, silly, and just plain awesome. We all have unique qualities that help create our roller derby team’s identity as a unit. People came and people left, and what we have left is a pretty awesome bunch.

The thing about Roller Derby is that it’s for everyone. Short, tall, fat, skinny, curvy, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Buddhist, it doesn’t matter, you’ll find your niche. You can always be yourself. So my ending words would be, never fear to try something new or feel intimidated, because most likely the experience will be worth your while, whether it’s good or bad. Especially Roller Derby, it won’t let you down!

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  • Megan Grant

    Thanks for sharing your story, Tumi.

  • Gobblyn Queen

    I
    feel this issue all the time, I wish more women of ALL ethnicities
    would consider joining roller derby…but it still would be pretty bad
    ass to have an all African American women roller derby team… just saying…now off to find fantasy roller derby bracket..and btw…in the 50’s,60’s and 70’s African American MEN& WOMEN made up 40% of the roller derby players in the past. One of the premier coaches in derby today is Cliff Butler he runs derby clinics in Texas.

  • Ivona Choker

    This is a wonderfully written, inspirational, article. You are awesome!

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