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Colour in the lines: The racial politics and possibilities of US skateboarding culture

This thesis examines the informal sporting culture of skateboarding as a contested site of racial politics in the United States of America (US). Action sports scholars have long identified the ‘whiteness’ of this sport but rarely created space for the voices of people of colour (POC) within skateboarding. Underpinned by Critical Race Theory (CRT), this project centralizes the previously unheard voices of POC and reveals the unique challenges, strategies, and successes of POC within the elite skateboarding culture across particular historical contexts of skateboarding and within US society. With the aim of understanding the complex and nuanced experiences of race within the skateboarding culture, sport, and industry, I conducted semi-structured interviews with forty male and seven female skateboarders of colour who have played critical roles in the culture as athletes, company owners, managers and media producers. Participants in the study are from a spectrum of racial backgrounds (African American, Asian American, Latinx/Hispanic) with their skateboarding participation ranging from the mid-1970s to the present day. Interviews were supplemented by a quantitative and qualitative examination of skateboarding magazines over this same time frame. Engaging the empirical material in dialogue with CRT, the key themes are organized into four chapters. The first explores the importance of family and community in forming the participants’ earliest understandings of race, racism, and politics. It then examines their initial participation in skateboarding, including the challenges of facing racial stereotypes from their communities and society in general. The next chapter outlines the path into professional skateboarding and the racial politics of gaining ‘visibility’ from those in power positions within the industry. It also examines the formation of elite skateboarding teams and the critical role of mentorship and interpersonal relationships with other POC as well as with non-POC allies. The third chapter focuses on the critical role of niche media, and particularly the politics of visibility within skateboarding magazines. The fourth and final chapter focuses on SOC as agents of change within the skateboarding industry as designers of skateboarding artifacts (i.e., shoes, boards) and company owners. In this chapter, we see the power dynamics shifting with POC skaters holding key roles, and with their creative entrepreneurship and unique strategies impacting the iconography of global skateboarding. Ultimately, adopting a CRT approach, this project is supported by the politics of the researcher—an African American skateboarder, photographer, and critical scholar—who recognized the need to create a forum for the long-overlooked voices and experiences of racial minorities within skateboarding. In so doing, both narratives of the positioning of POC within skateboarding, as well as the politics of researching action sports communities, are challenged. Chronicling the endeavours of pioneering cultural intermediaries within the unique sporting culture of skateboarding, this thesis reveals how individual and collective actions have gained momentum over the past four decades and changed the racial possibilities for future generations.
Type of thesis
Williams, N. (2020). Colour in the lines: The racial politics and possibilities of US skateboarding culture (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13741
The University of Waikato
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