In honor of Black History month, Derby United wanted to recognize a very special person in the early roller derby community along with members of our league that make it more diverse. We have come a long way in cultural diversity as a nation but there is still a lot of work to be done. Roller derby is an amazing progressive community and a safe space for all. We strive everyday to better this system and teach others to be confident, open minded, and unafraid to be who they are.
Darene Andersen was the first woman of color to play roller derby. She started in Pasadena in 1957, taking up roller skating after her parents would not let her play baseball or football because it was too rough (and, of course, because she was a lady). Andersen hid her weekly attendance to roller derby bouts as well as her love for roller skating from her parents. Instead, they thought she was taking ice skating lessons. At first, roller skating was simply a hobby, but after attending time trials for the local roller derby team at the Olympic Auditorium, she proved she had what it took to be a star. With her parents’ approval, her career began. At age 19, he earned “Rookie of the Year” in 1958 with her first team, the Brooklyn Red Devils. She went on to play for high level teams all across the country. She skated for the Hawaii All Stars, San Francisco Bay Bombers, New York Chiefs, Los Angeles Braves, and many other roller derby teams. When she retired from derby, she became first black woman on the west coast to become a Pari-Mutuels Clerk with the Southern California Racing Association.
I asked our black skaters how culture correlates with their lives in roller derby and here’s what they had to say:
Aleese the Kraken, SoCal Derby
“Strong women as role models are a very important and sometimes misunderstood aspect of my culture. In roller derby, I am encouraged to embrace the strength I see in myself and all of the women around me. There have been very few black women/men that I’ve skated with in the 3 years I’ve been playing, but it helps having groups like the Black Roller Derby Network. My favorite/most positive part of roller derby are the friendships, even if they don’t always last after derby. I’ve made some meaningful connections that I would have probably not otherwise made in my adult life.”
Cheap Trick, San Diego Derby United and SoCal Derby
“I have been playing roller derby for 6 years and started playing when I was 45 years old! Roller skating has long been a huge part of the black community. My dad was an awesome skater! I learned at a really young age. As a matter of fact my first pair of skates had metal wheels. Since I did learn to skate so early in life, I think it made the transition into roller derby much easier for me. I’m a very competitive person. Roller derby allows me to channel that energy mentally and physically. I feel a great deal of love and support from my league and the entire roller derby community. I have so many wonderful friends because of derby. I feel so fortunate to have found the sport and the amazing league I am part of.”
Hannibal Lexter, SoCal Derby
“Culture has influenced my time in roller derby because as a person of color who has studied the African American experience throughout history I find that I have been more vocal about the plights of other minority communities in our sport. I want to defend those who feel persecuted for being who they are. I want to fight for the inclusion of everyone. There is a place for everyone in derby. A barrier I am trying to overcome is that I find it hard to hit others. Not because I am not strong enough or don’t know how, I just don’t want to be seen as another ‘aggressive black woman’ and be judged more harshly. I am slowly overcoming this. I keep coming back because the amazing people I have had the pleasure to skate with have made me feel welcome, strong and gave me a sense of belonging. Everyone is so encouraging and I leave every practice and bout with a smile on my face. Can’t say that about my gym workouts.”
Contributing Writer: Nicci Two Skates
Feature Photo: Tristan King
Cheap Trick Photo: Clarence Alford