I’m not much of a skatepark rider, as a matter of fact, I can count on my two hands the number times I ridden a skatepark. But, one of the most intriguing examples of human behavior I’ve ever encountered, transpired in a skatepark. It had nothing to do with ridding, but everything to do with the larger culture that BMX is surrounded by and, for the sake of this story, a part of. On the occasion in question, a four person group of diverse riders, diverse on several levels including riding styles as well as “Race”, were venturing outside of their usual collection of riding locales. Given that I don’t have permission from the riders themselves to include their names in this recounting of their experience, I’m going to change their names in the interest of respecting everyones privacy. So their little collection of misfits included Eric, Jack, Marcus and Jose. Jose had piled the motley crew into his dad’s minivan and driven them all the hour and a half it took to get to the suburban indoor skatepark that looked like some wooden incarnation of what Eric imagined heaven would look like, had he believed in such a Place. As they rolled around the park slowly and began to simultaneously “Blend-in” and learn the etiquette of the place, they all began to feel a little less foreign as they noticed the sizable number of furtive glances being shot in their direction. While the riders outside their crew were all white, that beautiful capacity that BMX has to transcend “some” obstacles that can impede impede new friendships was working its magic. When you encounter someone for the first time who has obviously poured over the same magazines and videos you have for so many hours and days that they know the intricacies of appropriate sticker placement and seat height, an immediate bond can initiate that has the potential to lead to long time connections.
That said, BMX doesn’t operate in a vacuum and many of the unfortunate bias’ that operate in the outside world can interrupt the development of the otherwise awesome bond that these little bikes can facilitate. Just as Eric was getting comfortable doing his ubiquitous backward nose wheelies down one of a number of quater-pipes populating the space, he noticed a bit of a commotion to his right as some riders began to circle around one of the younger, taller regulars who had his gloved hands on his appropriately stickered helmet and a look of grief all over his quickly reddening face. As he walked back and forth across the collection of riders that were close to now surrounding him, Eric could here the kid saying, “My Fuckin’ bike, My bike, its gone! I can’t believe someone took my fuckin’ bike!” Now, having had a bike stolen ,himself, including having had a number of parts stolen from bikes that were locked up as he was in a movie or a store, Eric realized how disheartening this can be. It is a shit feeling to have something you have worked so hard to piece together just right, investing time and money in its creation, to only have it completely taken or pulled apart so quickly.
Well, as almost as quickly as the tension started to mount, E noticed one of the kids pointing at Marcus and saying, “those shady guys aren’t from here and they drove up in a mini-van”. This initial statement was then followed by a chorus of voices using words like “city kids” “ghetto guys” “the shady crew”, etc. Jose was the first to respond the thinly veiled accusations by saying, “Hey, we have been in hear ridding the whole time, we didn’t take shit!” At the same time, the circle was beginning to disperse as the riders all started branch out and look around the inside of the park, behind the ramps and next to the sizable stack of sheets of ply wood at the back of the park by the concession stand. By now, Eric, Jack, Marcus and Jose were standing side by side and insisting that they had been inside the park and visible the whole time and hadn’t even left ridding area to use the bathroom. Well, their testimony and the local rider’s own experience, many of the riders acknowledged that the four riders had never been anywhere but in plain site since the park opened, wasn’t enough to over rule their bias as the locals elected one of the older, burlier, tattooed riders to come over and ask the four man crew to let them look inside Jose’s Father’s minivan. Eric quickly lost his cool and said ” fuck you, we don’t have to let you look in the van, we didn’t do shit!”, but Marcus, always quicker on his feet then the rest said, “Fuck it, we will let you look in the van, if you agree to look in every other truck and minivan out there”. Quickly, all of the locals agreed that everyone of the vans and trucks should be checked, but, of course, they wanted to start with Jose’s.
It was quickly revealed that there was nothing in Jose’s pop’s van but Burger King rappers, a copy of Moby Dick and several used cans of house paint. And as the crew continued to look in all of the vans and trucks that were in the parking lot, one of the unclaimed trucks had a tarp in the back of it along with some construction tools had became the focus. When the burly dude pulls up the tarp in the truck’s bed, the beautiful stolen T1 is laying right underneath. As everyone looks around to see who the truck belongs to, and no one steps up claim ownership, the burly dude says, “we are going to call the cops if the owner of the truck doesn’t come into the park’s main office and man up in the next half hour.” Not a single person who had pointed the finger at the four man group offered anything close to an apology for pointing the heat in their direction. And, while they were newbies to the park, to suggest that is the reason they were singled out, would be to ignore the fact that there were LOTS of first timers at the park that night , all of the others just happened to be white.
As it turned out, the owner of the truck clandestinely made his way to the park office, and, as I heard it, he was a white substitute teacher who had been one of the first to point the finger. I’m going to refer to the scenario being described here as the “Charles Lebron” phenomenon”, given that that is the name of the Philosopher/Afro- Americn studies Professor whose writing brought this episode back to the forefront of my memory. According to Professor Lebron and the research he is amassing, Instances like the aforementioned happen because a lot of what we see and hear and then expect is the product of the disproportionate/inaccurate representations we encounter that portray Blacks and non-whites as criminals, thieves, evil-doers, lazy, underhanded, etc. And the disproportionality of these representations is so pervasive, that we start to generalize in ways that prevent us from seeing people as individuals who deserve the right to be judged on the basis of THEIR actions and the character these actions make manifest. Everyone should be granted the right to the self-determination that we are supposed to prize and protect here.
BMX is an amazing pursuit that can offer us so much freedom and space for individuality. This, however, can’t happen if we don’t make sure that it is represented in a way that includes the fantastic diversity that has always been there, even if it hasn’t always been captured and portrayed. In the interest of doing something to that end, in the near future I will be completing my first interview with the owner of Weird Brand, Andy Gregory, the proprietor of one of BMX’s few Black owned and operated brands that has always made it a part of it’s mission to represent the under represented in the world of BMX. Oh, and before I forget, Big Shout out to Matt Berringer for being real in the face of so much pressure not to!!!! A hero, for sure!