Monday, October 18, 2010

Ebony and Ivory

I had a silly sort of bubblegum post I was going to run today but then I read the current article over at Roller Derby Inside Track and I decided to put that off so I could put in my 2 cents on the issue discussed therein. For those who missed it, there was a bit of a tempest in a teapot during the Western Regional over warpaint worn by a Rocky Mountain player that looked suspiciously similar to the blackface makeup that caucasian performers used to wear in vaudeville-era minstrel shows. I won't retrace all the ground covered in the RDIT article, I'll simply link it here so you can read it and then come back here for my commentary on the issue. Go ahead, I'll wait.

My spin on this is that there is a very positive takeaway in terms of perspective on where we are now versus where we used to be. If this had happened during most of the history of the United States, it would have been completely intentional and it not only would not have been controversial, it probably would have amused people and caused other skaters to follow suit. Back then, if any white person had raised objections, they would have been subjected to racially charged insults themselves and possibly been roughed up a bit. Hell, Echo Ecko probably wouldn't have been allowed to skate on the same team as white skaters. (That's not an exaggeration, see this for proof: )  Those of us who, like me, are around the age of 40 or older instantly raised our eyebrows and said "uh oh" when we saw AJ's black warpaint. That's because we saw TV stations matter-of-factly broadcast old 1930's movies like the one where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland sing a song called "Black Up For The Minstrel Show" as they slather shoe polish on their faces then put on a racially degrading skit. I would submit to all of you that it is an amazing and wonderful thing that a group of 20-somethings saw that same paint and had no clue that there was any unpleasant racial connotation to it because they had not been exposed to institutionalized, socially acceptable racism in the same way that we slightly older folks were when we were their age. I'm not saying racism is dead yet but in a weird, counter-intuitive way, this warpaint/blackface kerfuffle proves that in America, it is on its deathbed with a morphine IV drip. AJ, I'm honestly glad that it didn't occur to you and your team that your warpaint could be seen as uncouth. Hopefully your kids will be stunned in their late fifties while mind-surfing the long-forgotten corners of the Mnemonic Internet to learn that anyone was ever treated differently due to their skin color, sexuality, nationality or religion.  And AJ, don't be scared off of the warpaint by all of this, just go for something that will actually be seen by us older folks as a subtle bit of a social commentary on the futility of racism, like this stylish and attractive motif:

5 Trekkie nerd points if you know which is the "bad" color arrangement.



  1. Well, both of them thought the other was "bad", however the one who was most vocal about it to Kirk was the one on the left (as you're looking at the picture).

    Oh, and I liked your post, especially "wonderful thing that a group of 20-somethings saw that same paint and had no clue that there was any unpleasant racial connotation to it". I agree.

    PS: My local derby girls (3 teams) are:

  2. Finally, someone spoke up for AJ and Rocky Mountain. Growing up in NY with a large black family you understand those things. I was doing stats for them that day and when she came out I looked at her, smiled and then said "uh oh". Even in my mind I had briefly forgotten what that was about. At the same time, I thought it was cute. I met AJ before the games at the hotel. She is an awesome person. I even worked with her ref boyfriend. I knew she didn't have the intentions of hurting people. If anyone felt offended... all I can say is GROW THE F UP AND GET OVER IT! - Not everyone is out to get you. At Nationals, I thought I'd wear a black face (even though I'm black) in support of AJ telling her no harm no foul. Then I thought about it again and said "that's old news. Lets just watch them win some games." Good luck Rocky Mountain.

  3. Killsbury DoughboyOctober 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

    Maybe this is just a sign that "war paint" for derby is dumb.

  4. self expression is the choice of the skater. that is what makes roller derby so great. we are not fast moving billboards like nascar. AJ's mistake is alludes to a failure of american schools to address the history of racism. someone should have said something then and not after the fact.
    not the fault of the sport for allowing warpaint and other unorthodox forms of expression. the minute i am asked to 'clean up' my image for someone outside the league, i am gone. conformity is not what derby is about.

  5. Amanda's supposed to be a shock jock.

    I'm more disappointed this blog doesn't bother to spell check / look over their writing.


  6. oh shit. im not ecko. you spelled her name wrong though, smartyboots.