Dear Roller Derby Community:
Baller Shot Caller recently wrote a public statement describing the racism she experienced as a member of Atlanta Roller Derby and her decision to leave the league. We’re writing this statement because Baller is right, racism is an insidious force in our majority-white league.
This statement isn’t an attempt to absolve ARD. Instead, the goal of this statement is, first, to express our regret and our humility. We are humbled by Baller who exhibited courage and honesty in sharing her story, a story which is invaluable for making ARD an accessible, inclusive, and just place for Black skaters. We are grateful to Baller and other past and current BIPOC members of ARD who have and continue to invest so much emotional labor into the league, labor that is too often overlooked, but that has been fundamental to our ability to live up to the values we aim to uphold as a community.
And with this humility and gratitude is deep regret. We are sorry that our current and previous Black members have experienced racism perpetrated by other league members. We’re sorry to lose Baller, who is a great innovator in our sport and a wellspring of enthusiasm and support on any team. We’re sorry that, in our league and in the broader world, Black people are so often put in positions where they not only experience racism but also have to bear those experiences up for public scrutiny in order to drive institutional change. We hope to someday become a league that breaks this cycle of racist harm within our membership.
The second goal of this statement is to report the steps we’re taking to accept accountability and make our league a safer place for BIPOC skaters.
One part of our process for accountability is acknowledging and addressing the racism that Baller described in her statement. In her statement, Baller described a recent incident where two members of ARD leadership collaborated on an email that chastised Baller for missing a meeting. Baller reported that when she read this email, she felt that ARD members saw her as a slacker who was dispensable. We see that while keeping track of Baller’s participation, these members A) placed Baller’s ability to perform her job under unnecessary scrutiny, B) introduced the consequences of inadequate job performance before it was appropriate, and C) didn’t consider Baller’s circumstances. They policed Baller’s actions more thoroughly than was necessary and more thoroughly than has been done for white skaters. This is racism. Since Baller’s resignation, both members of leadership have resigned from their league positions and sent out league-wide statements acknowledging and apologizing for the harm their actions have caused. Our Access & Equity (A&E) department head is also presenting the issue to our resolution committee on Baller’s behalf.
It is important to acknowledge that Baller’s experience in this incident is not an isolated event. ARD is not exempt from the historical racism that pervades our country. Racism is present in ARD in both systemic and cultural ways. This incident was simply the last straw among many instances of harm against Baller, harm which has also been perpetrated against other Black league members.
To address the issues of racism outside of this incident, our league is practicing ongoing accountability through anti-racism education and scrutiny of our policies. In 2020, we voted to create a new league Access and Equity (A&E) department. Through this department, league members are reviewing and re-writing ARD policies and our Code of Conduct to find ways to make league policy more inclusive and equitable. We’re instating new league jobs to make sure that every department in ARD engages with A&E and that league practices are carried out in a way that supports our anti-racist efforts. We’ve put in place an anonymous reporting system for league members who have been harmed by or are concerned with another member’s behavior, but don’t feel comfortable filing a formal grievance about it. We also have ongoing anti-racism education reading and discussion groups that meet both over Zoom and communicate asynchronously on our league forum.
While we believe that the work we’re doing is essential, we also know that this isn’t enough. Anti-racism work is never finished, and personal anti-racism among our white league members will always be imperfect. We are working on cultivating a culture that encourages individual members to partake in this work and hold themselves accountable. The insidious nature of racism among our white league members, even those engaged in anti-racist work, is not an excuse for the harm done to BIPOC league members. Instead, this imperfection should inspire us to consistently find ways to repair the past harms done to BIPOC skaters and prevent future harm.
To other majority-white leagues: please learn from our example that racism exists in your league regardless of the racial representation in your league. The worst possible thing you can take away from all of this is that anti-racism efforts are futile. Racism does not disappear overnight, in a year, or even in a lifetime. There will be times when you are reminded of just how much work there is to do. Keep working.