Life & Love

The Roller Skaters Fighting For a More Inclusive Sport

Desiree Watts just wanted to find community with other skaters.

She remembered roller skating as a child growing up in upstate New York, living with her grandmother, who’d been a roller disco queen in the 70s and 80s. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it seemed like a perfect time to pick the sport back up. Countless others seemed to have the same idea: TikTok and Instagram came alive with videos of BIPOC skaters looping around to funky tracks, and waitlists appeared to buy retro-inspired skates online.

“As soon as I put them on and hit the street, it was like second nature, even though I hadn’t done it in over 10 years,” Watts, 23, told

Watts, who’s now based in Buffalo, was looking for an outlet to learn new tricks and connect with other skaters in lockdown, so she joined the Planet Roller Skate Facebook group, named for the Long Beach-based shop that sells popular lines of colorful skates.

desiree watts roller skating

Courtesy of Desiree Watts

Indy Jamma Jones—real name Amy West—is a major presence in the online world of roller skating. She started the Facebook group only a few years ago after joining forces with Pigeon, owner of the brick-and-mortar Planet Roller Skate shop. Before long, the PRS online group grew to more than 10K members, West told Things were humming along nicely.

But shortly after George Floyd’s murder in late May, the group went off the rails. A Black community member posted in the group looking for support, and recounted a recent experience of being racially profiled by the police while skating. Hundreds of likes and comments in solidarity poured in, with other skaters sharing their own experiences being discriminated against. An hour or two later, the post disappeared.

When the same member posted again to ask why her post had been deleted, a group moderator finally chimed in, saying it violated the group’s rules against posting “political” content. Members of the group noted that posts about LGBTQ issues, body positivity, sexism, and misogyny had previously been allowed to flow without interference. Some saw the justification as clear evidence of a double standard when it came to issues of race and the Black Lives Matter movement; members left the group in droves. The moderator who’d justified the deletion also left.

“They showed me it was not a safe space for us to be heard,” Watts said.

Artemis Peacocke, a Seattle-based skater who posts under the name Faeiryne Faun, was banned from the group after asking moderators to clarify the rules. In a YouTube video she posted about the ordeal titled “Is Planet Roller Skate and Indy Jamma Jones Racist?”, Faun says she was told her comments violated rules around being “courteous” on the page.

“They showed me it was not a safe space for us to be heard.”

“This is reality for us, whether you’re roller skating or grocery shopping…being Black will affect you, and sometimes it will kill you,” she says in the video, which has now been viewed more than 120,000 times.

Faun also called out Jones for calling talk about George Floyd’s murder “adult content” and promised to make another group where these “adult” topics would be open for discussion.

After the dust cleared in July, West posted a teary-eyed apology video for her more than 226,000 YouTube subscribers apologizing for the “harm that I’ve caused.”

“Instead of taking the time to understand why people were hurting and were upset, I saw my friend being called out, and I reacted to protect her,” Jones says in the video. Much of the community didn’t seem moved by her apology, and in a follow up video, Jones spoke directly to her critics: “You, judgers of my character, may no longer suggest that I am racist.”

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West’s attitude about the incident has evolved since then. Now living in NYC, she told that, as founder of the PRS Facebook group, she takes full responsibility for its “poor moderation.” She feels like a “complete idiot” for having used the term “adult” to describe the original post’s content.

It’s well-known in skating culture that rinks throughout the U.S. employ a strategic kind of segregation: “Adult night” almost always means Black skate night. She remains embarrassed, sorry, and ashamed, she says. But West adds that she’s learned—and continues to learn—from what happened.

“I feel like my world perspective is shook in the best way, in a way that was totally necessary, and I’m thankful for that,” she said. “And I’m thankful to everybody that’s called me out.”

The Planet Roller Skate group is out of West’s hands now. (It’s since been renamed The Unity Skate Collective.) The LA shop originally built by Pigeon, real name Shayna Meikle, is now Pigeon’s Roller Skate Shop, and the online store for PRS redirects to West still helms the Instagram and YouTube channels.

Significant subterfuge between West and her former partner, much of which happened publicly on social media, muddies the understanding of who owned what. While Meikle has reduced her role to employee, West maintains that ownership of the online shop was “a 50-50 joint business venture,” albeit one with no legal contract in place.

Many skaters have decided to shun both parties—or at least find community elsewhere. New, inclusive, actively anti-racist communities on social media, like BIPOC Who Skate and Queer Skate Alliance, offer more ethically conscious alternatives.

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Watts opted to start her own space.

“I wanted to create a group for BIPOC like myself, so our voices can be heard in the roller skating community,” Watts told me. The group she founded, Roll Out: A Roller Skater Collective, now has nearly 6,000 members.

TogetherWeSkate was also founded in the wake of Planet Roller Skate’s implosion. A team of about 18 manage its members and content. With the exception of blocking hate speech or otherwise offensive content, the moderators for TogetherWeSkate and Roll Out rarely remove posts by community members. What’s more, neither tries to weed politics out the conversation; both understand that, especially for members of marginalized communities, identity can be inherently political.

For 19-year-old Lauren, a TogetherWeSkate mod, finding inclusive spaces as an Asian LGBTQ woman who is neurodivergent is uncommon: “I’m not really used to having these inclusive spaces for my identities in larger society. It’s just not there,” she says.

Peacocke has since started her own group, too. Through Seattle Skates!, she and two others cultivate community with IRL meetups and collective fundraising for social justice organizations.

“I’m not really used to having these inclusive spaces for my identities in larger society.”

And as the community tries to build better and more inclusive spaces, fighting against modern forces that erase Black history—like gentrification and the police state—have also become a critical effort. During segregation, Black skaters were banned from rinks and protested to win their right to entry. This led Black skaters to develop their own styles and skating moves, separate from the white population they weren’t permitted to roll alongside.

To this day, Black skaters are often discriminated against at rinks through coded rules like no “small wheels” or skates without standard toe stops (both typical of Black skating styles) and no “saggy pants” allowed.

Nina Tadic, a co-founder of TogetherWeSkate, told that “Skating is a sport that has been kept alive by Black skaters in particular.”

“It’s our obligation as members of this community to make sure that recognition is in place and make sure that all skaters feel heard and have a voice,” she said.

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