Off the Track

Oppression in Roller Derby

roller derby
Photo: Gabriele Sturaro/L3 Photo Studio

Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby is facing increasing oppression and this episode begins the dialogue to address the issues and effect change through new policies

Off the Track is hosted by “Mick Swagger” of Team Indigenous

Podcast length: 30′ 21″

Change is uncomfortableOn this week’s episode between two women of color;  “Mick Swagger” talks to retired player Naty Guerrero-Diaz about creating systemic change through league policies in the face of increased oppression in the sport. This conversation is intended to begin the dialogue in how the roller derby community addresses and combats oppression.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT:

[00:00:00] Welcome to Off the Track on WiSP Sports Radio. Episode 3. Off the Track is about flat track roller derby featuring exclusive interviews. I’m Mick Swagger and at WiSP Sports we believe that women in sport deserve equal coverage. Thank you for joining me on this all news show all about religion. Off the Track podcast is hosted by me “Mick Swagger” my pronouns are she-her and Off the Track features interviews of coaches players former players business owners and fans of flat track roller derby. We can be found on WiSP Sports Radio. This episode was recorded on the traditional lands of the Chinook People I’d like to give acknowledgement and respect to their elders past and present on our third episode. We’ll be discussing the concept of systemic change in roller derby lately our community has been confronting issues of sexual abuse transphobia and racism. How we deal with these very hurtful topics has been hit and miss. And if I’m honest mostly miss in my opinion how can we as a community confront this head on in a way that acknowledges those hurt and oppressed can create and maintain safe space for folks to thrive in this community content warning we’ll be discussing instances of bullying and racism in sport today we’ll be focusing our discussion on the topic of when policy diversity and inclusion failed the OC and roller derby. I’ll be joined by Naty Guererro Diaz a Chilean woman living in Naarm which is situated on land stolen from the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and immigrant of Australia and who is a longstanding executive committee member of the Victorian Roller Derby League. Naty,  Welcome and thank you for joining me today thank you.

[00:01:47]

N: Thanks. It’s nice to be having this conversation with you. Just at the outset I’d like to say that although I’m usually in Wurundjeri land today I’m in the land of the Boonwurrung People of the Kulin Nation. And I want to pay my respects to their elders past and present and also acknowledge that this land was stolen and that the Boonwurrung people’s sovereignty has never been ceded.

M: Thank you so much for that acknowledgment Naty. Would you mind just giving a brief synopsis of your Derby involvement as well as your pronouns.  

N:Sure, my pronouns so she and her and I joined…well, I first became aware of roller derby around 2009 and I joined VRDL at that stage as a freshie and I have spent my entire Derby career with VRDL. I have never been a member of a different league, which I think is quite unique for a lot of us now especially longstanding players and people involved in the sport. And although I’ve never played at the highest levels I have played in lots of different levels and also I’ve been involved in the running of the league in the executive of the league and in leadership positions throughout the league for most of my time as a member of VRDL. And now I’ve taken a bit of a step back but I am still a member of VRDL although I don’t have any leadership positions or playing positions anymore.

M: Thank you so much. Just to kick things off so we can give some background and frame this discussion. I will be speaking to my own personal experience at VRDL so that we have context around the discussion.

[00:03:54]

M: However it’s not just about my experience. This is meant to prompt discussion on how to create systemic change in our leagues through policy which is something that you can speak a lot about Naty. I invite you to contribute as much or as little of your personal experience as you’d like and also speak to mine since you were on the Executive Committee, while I was a member. I just also like to acknowledge as you said before as you know being leaders on teams and leagues we hold many other POC stories. I personally don’t want to share those are not my story to tell or the focus of this discussion. I really want to keep it you know surrounding policy and how it affects oppressed folx.  

N: Yeah yeah look that that sounds right and I think you know I think the personal stories are you know they’re difficult and they’re what makes us you know the personal the personal experiences are what makes us people.  But ultimately I think we need to move away from personal stories and into organizational stories in order to affect true change. Change that moves away from just the interpersonal and moves into the systemic. Because I think that’s that’s what we need. Too often I think we get bogged down in what is or at least I guess some people get bogged down and what they see is an interpersonal issue, when in fact it’s a systemic issue and they’re just not seeing it. So I really want to move into that systemic discussion.

M:That’s exactly it. Can you tell me why it’s become such an important subject for you.

[00:05:51]

N: Yeah look I mean it’s always been an important subject for me but I guess the catalyst for what’s happened more recently is that I’ve I’ve always been a leader within the league. I’ve always had positions of leadership and also those unofficial I guess positions of leadership where people come to you or come to me for advice or for guidance on what to do in certain in certain areas. And I think whilst I’ve been holding official positions of leadership I have tried to affect change particularly, Inclusion and diversity, and more recently when I step back I’m still being asked to come in and have those discussions. and in on International Women’s Day, VRDL was invited to speak at a forum and I was invited to be a part of a panel at that forum talking about diversity. And it struck me, not for the first time, but I guess for probably the upteenth time that I was the only person of color in that panel and also I was the only person speaking about race and I raised that with the league after the forum.  The forum was actually quite a painful experience for me personally because it was this whole forum talking about diversity and we didn’t want speak about rice except when I did. And that is hard to hear. You know as a as a Latina, as a brown person it’s really difficult to yet again the only person who’s aware of race in the room. And so I raised that with the league and the league committed to making changes and if I’m honest I haven’t seen the fruit of those changes. And that was you know a couple of months ago and now so that’s probably been the catalyst for the latest discussion. But in terms of when it’s…whether it’s an important issue it’s always been an important issue at least for me. Obviously having always been brown, it’s always been at the forefront of my mind.

M: Absolutely and definitely this discussion has been one that I’ve I’ve had with several people throughout my time playing roller derby. But I think at this juncture it really feels pivotal to to bring to the wider community because it’s becoming such a problem within leagues to not address or to address racism improperly in my opinion.

N: Yeah and I think the other thing is that I think roller derby has made a really concerted effort. And I think to a certain extent quite a successful effort to try and include people from other communities or other oppressed communities. You know we’ve had lots of discussions around transphobia and of course the issues are still there and they’re still very prevalent and I’m not suggesting that we’ve done a perfect job of eradicating transphobia in the roller derby community far from it but I think particularly within VRDL. We’re always talking about it it’s always an issue that is at the forefront of people’s minds. You know how can we be more inclusive. How can we be you know how can we be more welcoming and yet that same type of discussion isn’t had about race. And to someone who is really committed to diversity and inclusion and like I am that’s really painful to see people trying to actively trying to include to include you know everybody except except for people who are black and brown or who are not white.

[00:10:24] And that and that’s why I think it’s so pivotal at the moment because we’re doing so much good work in other spaces and we’re not doing things very good work in this space.

M: Absolutely agree. You know people have a really easy, well I think that an easier time including gender minorities. Maybe it’s because it’s reflected within their own community. And maybe even they see themselves in that space and so creating a safe spaces is something that is easy because they know that maybe what they would want or what is needed. How do you think that we can do that better for people of color? And by using policy specifically

N: Yeah I think I think the filing of policy makers is often that we make policy, to serve the majority of the group. So we have a group of I don’t know 100 or 150 members and we make a policy that’s going to serve you know 98-99 percent of those members. The problem is when you when you have a group that’s been excluded from Roller Derby for a long time like particularly in Australia, People from other cultures or non-white heritage then they are not going to be served by a policy that serves the majority because they are in the minority. We know that and so particularly when you have policy that serves the majority like that it often is silent on race, it’s silent of issues that affect the minority of members and that is a failing. Because as soon as you’re silent about race as soon as you are silent about oppression, that is when oppression is able to flourish.

[00:12:32] That’s when your able to push it to a side in the implementation of that policy you’re liable to quite legitimately not take that that issue or that diversity or that cultural factor into account because it’s not it’s not accounted for in the policy and I think that’s the biggest filing of policy makers.

M: Yeah absolutely. Like I think that you really nailed it there like and pin-pointed something that is a discussion in Indigenous communities and specifically when we were forming Team Indigenous is making sure that every single member is heard and their opinion is known to the group. And that’s you know and in an Indigenous type of leadership I’ve experienced from the time I was a small person, in knowing that if we are creating systems and policies for a group it has to include every single member of that group. So important.

N: Yeah absolutely and I think I think policies goes some ways towards,  that you know you have to create and write policies that are going to serve the most marginalized, the most oppressed, the least represented. Because if it serves that group then it will serve the rest of the of the group as well… because nobody wants to feel marginalized. So if you if you write a policy with that in mind I think it’s going to be you know it’s going to stand you in good stead. But I don’t think it’s enough. I think the magic of a good policy on maybe not the magic but certainly the strength of a good policy is its implementation. And I think that is when people’s personal biases or their unexamined racism or unexamined you know unexamined I guess cultural or personal experience, come ot the fore.

 

[00:14:39]

N: Because you can have a perfect piece of policy, but if it’s implemented by people who are inherently racist then it’s going to be a racist policy and it’s only going to serve white people. It is my view. I don’t know. I don’t know what you think about that what your experience might be of that.

M: I mean you know one of the most difficult things that I experienced was trying to follow policy at VRDL and understanding that while the policy was meant to help mediate and helps people solve interpersonal problems or you know whatever whatever types of issues they were having. The way that it was administered by people that are inherently racist meant that I was experiencing like extreme racism throughout trying to use policy. So I just found that it allows perpetrators to continue to traumatize other people. And I saw it at all levels of the league and I was coaching all of the different teams and I think the only parts of the VRDL I wasn’t involved in was the executive committee. So I couldn’t really, I was figuring out how to navigate the system and these policies when they were working against me. And I don’t know the answer to creating better policies or how to be more inclusive. But do you have any ideas about how those things can serve more people or how they’re implemented better.

 

N: Yeah I mean I think I think you’ve got to start with the piece of policy.

[00:16:30] You know policy writers who are thinking about the most marginalised people rather than thinking about the majority of the people in the league because that piece of policies are likely to be silent about the issues that are oppressing that group. If you write a policy that is targeted at eradicating a certain type of oppression, say gender oppression gender diversity oppression or Race Oppression then you know it would be silly to write a policy that’s targeted at that. That never mentions that oppression. So I think that would help this issue of silence within policies about the issues that are important. But also I think just as importantly or even more importantly sometimes you have to train the people who are implementing those policies to have those issues front of mind. You can’t just pick up a piece of policy and follow it step by step,  without at every step saying to yourself as an administrator as a Leader. OK. Who are the people involved and what is what are the issues that are facing those people that are most oppressing those people. You must start with that question at all times because if you don’t then you will miss the elephant in the room. And I think when when you and I were going through the issues that you were having at VRDL, Mick, that was part of my thinking part of my approach when I was trying to when I was trying to move through or navigate through those issues was what’s going on here what are the dynamics the interpersonal dynamics between the people involved between the people in leadership and was trying to make an effort not I guess not to overemphasize those, but also not to sweep them to the side. I think that is an attitude that is training, and that is an issue by administrators that you cant leave to chance, in my view.[00:18:48]

M: Yeah and you know I really appreciate it the way that you approached it. What I really where I think things became a miss was not in the interpersonal issue that I had. But in the  my leaders surrounding that and them being unable to really support or see what was happening. So their response to that issue felt very racist. You know I was told those typical things like smile more or you know asked not to talk or asked not you know to just kind of quiet myself and just kind of suck it up and take it. But then you know what I was really trying to get out was this idea of restorative justice which is an Indigenous value over punitive justice because everyone’s like what do you want. You just want this person punished. Absolutely not. I want to resolve this in a good way like I want to be a part of this community I want that that person that continue to be part of this community but we need to learn from these types of challenges that come up. And so how do we do that in a good way and also use policy. So it’s supported. And I think you know as we went about that process and I got this really very small one-lined e-mail that was like the issue has been resolved and I was like wait a minute how is this not how has this been resolved. I haven’t actually been able to talk to anybody and have a good outcome. So do you think that, Yeah I guess.[00:20:35] And what are your ideas about this idea of the resolution of these policies as well, the Punitive vs Restorative Idea?

N: I think that in a small community where you have to not only kind of interact with that person but often you have to interact with that person really closely has to be in the same team. You have to be on the track together with the same goal. You have to work together and also physically you have to be quite close to them and you have to trust them enough to you know block you and to block them and stuff. I think you can’t have you can’t have policy that works towards punishment because that doesn’t work. And I agree with you entirely that you have to find a way to coexist with with someone when you’ve had when you’ve had difficulties and the policies need to be targeted towards that. But you can’t do that and unless people are made aware of the difficulties. You know if somebody is being racist that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re doing that on purpose. Most of the racism that I’ve ever experienced has been experienced because people don’t realize that they’re being racist. White people tend to not realize that certain things are racist and that’s not that’s not because they’re willfully ignorant, most of the time even. It’s because we grow up in an environment where at least you know in predominantly white countries we grow up in an environment where white supremacy is the norm. And so when people are practicing white supremacy they don’t see that as racist, whereas people of color, of course experience that as racism.

[00:22:32] And we have to I guess be willing to to name that and to own it and to say to each other listen that that behavior is racist and not allow that to be an insult but rather an opportunity for change. I don’t think we’re there yet but as administrators and as leaders of roller derby leagues and clubs and sporting clubs generally we have to have the courage and the tenacity I guess to say to our members we’re going to be calling this stuff out. And you need to come along and you need to see this is an opportunity for change and an opportunity for you to get along with all members and for you to work with all members and you can’t just kind of curl up in a ball of white guilt, because that doesn’t work.

M: Absolutely absolutely. Because POC in order to thrive in this community the space has to be as revolutionary as it is for white women. And you know from what I’ve seen over the past 10 years and coaching around the world it’s not everywhere. Its not most places and I really like to see that change.

N: absolutely. I mean white white women, you know white derby players are often and we hear it all the time often saying. This is the most revolutionary thing that ever happened to me. I’ve grown as a person I’ve met people who are like minded. Ive, you know and enjoyed my time in the community and that’s all true but it’s not true for all of us. This this Sport or this community. It’s not been the most revolutionary community that I’ve ever been in.

[00:24:32] It’s it’s not brought me you know a myriad of new experiences or even you know like a big group of friends that I’m going to be lifelong friends with. I mean you and I have had this discussion, Mick. I have very few true friends in roller derby that I’ve found. I have found roller derby to be a space where I need to navigate my my identity carefully because I have felt that at times I haven’t been white enough for the group.  That I’ve been too outspoken or too angry or too physical in a space that values physicality you know and those are issues of race. Those are issues that arise because the league that I’m a part of is I would say at least 98 percent white and has been the entire time of being a part of it and hasn’t really been willing or able to look at that and address it head on you know which is a real shame.

M: It is a real shame, especially in a city as you know diverse and big as Naarm, as Melbourne is.

N: Yeah yeah absolutely. I mean I can count the people of color who have moved through the league. I can name them all and that that in itself is a problem. I couldn’t I couldn’t name all of the Queer or gender diverse people or the league because it’s just too many of them. You know like there are a large part of of the of the league not just in terms of leadership but also in terms of numbers and people of color are not. And that is that is not reflective of the of the kind of city that we live in.

[00:26:42] It’s certainly not reflective of the area of the city that league is that the league is situated in and it’s absolutely not reflective of the kind of revolutionary community that I would like to be a part of.

M: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having this discussion with Naty. You know I really hope that this is a discussion that prompts other people to think to talk about these ideas and continue to grow our community rather than be afraid of it. And you know some things that I really have appreciated through our conversation as we’ve talked about the subject over the past two years. But specifically today is really making sure that our policies reflect every single member of that community. The minorities in the community and then they will work for everybody. I think that was a really great thought in there and that’s revolutionary in many ways. And also the idea of you know restorative justice and not punishing people but coming out of conflict in a good way together having learned and having grown as individuals and as a community. So I thank you so much for this discussion today.

N: Thank you. Thanks for the opportunity. I think it’s an important discussion to have.

M: So I would very much like to continue this discussion. I’m hoping that leagues will continue this discussion and on this podcast over the next few months. And when I can invite other people to join, we will continue to hit on this topic in various ways. So with that said thank you so much, Naty, for coming today and for sharing your experience and trusting me with this discussion.

 

[00:28:44] Thank you so much for joining us today and be open to hearing about policy diversity and inclusion as it fails POC in roller derby to continue this discussion. Team Indigenous has been invited to roller to participate in a bout versus Team Greece. We also have been given space to hold workshops so we will be there hosting a panel discussion and workshops to address privilege and racism within our sport. Details are still being worked out but these look for that announcement soon. We would love for all those that are going to Roller Con and are going to be attending to join us in that discussion. I also want to acknowledge that today is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Awareness Day and share few facts about that. I apologize for these facts being focused on Turtle Island so-called U.S. focused. However these are stats gathered by Missing and Murdered Indigenous USA which is a nonprofit based here in Portland. There are many more stats for Canada and Mexico in other Indigenous lands in the world. This is just specifically centered on so-called USA. five thousand seven hundred twelve the number of known incidents of missing and murdered indigenous women in 2016. 84 percent of Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime. To learn more on missing and murdered indigenous please go to Facebook to Facebook.com/teamindigenous to learn more on how you can get involved. Thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Photo: Photo: Gabriele Sturaro/L3 Photo Studio
3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Goldie

    May 8, 2018 at 5:25 pm

    Hello! Was wondering if there is a transcript for HOH folks? Thanks! Xoxoxo

    • WiSP Sports Editor

      May 21, 2018 at 11:08 am

      The transcript of this episode of Off the Track is now available on the page.

  2. Lisa Nilsen

    May 15, 2018 at 8:15 pm

    I respect your experience as a person of color. I could not be whiter, but was raised in an Alaskan Native community. What I heard you saying Naty is that you were perceived as “too out spoken, too angry, too physical” and I have to say those have nothing to do with race. They are traits which make a person an easy target for anyone threatened by those traits, especially because the inverse traits those same people have are compassion, justice and sensitivity.

    As you discussed the most impossible question is “what do you want to get out of this?”. The average system of justice in punitive, someone is supposed to be “punished” and that is supposed to be justice. With bullying and what Naty describes as racism it is nearly impossible to make it to the point of having a relationship of trust and safety with a teammate on or off the track. The person who treated me the worst on my team said to me, when I used the coping skill of no contact, no vulnerability allowed, “I feel like we are breaking up,” as if we had been in a relationship. An abusive one.

    Where I have another perspective is this doesn’t feel racial to me because it happened to me, it happened to other white women I know.

    The same way the pronoun discussion is eclipsing the race discussion, and it did even in this interview, we are continuing to push the core issue further and further away.

    At the core this is an abusive person abusing a target. That is the core of the issue and until that is addressed we can paint any label on it and make a gazillion rules and it is still going to happen.

    This is so much bigger than race.

    Much love and respect,
    Lisa

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