Everybody loved the movie ‘Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,’ because it was funny. However as a skateboarder I cringed at this movie’s portrayal of skateboarders. They discriminate against an Indian convenient storeowner, were jerks to the protagonists, and really played the part of Neanderthals well. I guarantee in real life the writers of ‘Harold and Kumar’ had bad experiences with skaters. I thought this portrayal of skaters slightly unjust because the activity breaks race, ethnic, and socioeconomic boundaries of the participants perhaps more than other sports that restrict younger participants to the school they go to. I think homophobia is a different issue and sadly is prevalent in skateboarding culture. With each generation homosexuality is going to gain more acceptance, that is the future. I think skaters are the ones that need to change tunes on this issue, or we’ll look like even bigger Neanderthals.
Growing up I heard derogatory words on almost every skate session. I’m choosing not to print them, but the two largely used ones were the racist N-word, and the homophobic F-word. They seemed to be used interchangeably, and for a variety of contexts. I think the words, although inappropriate in most cases were used as imitation of media in particular rap, and attempts at humor. I also had instances that I could tell the words were used with hate.
First I’ll tackle the imitation as a main factor for these behaviors. This country has a history of censorship in print and movies, and really only since the 1960’s has it been anything goes as far as language in books. Florida tried to ban the rap group 2 Live Crew in the early 90’s. To me having access to literature and music of one’s choice is a valuable thing that we should treasure. I am against censorship. But I do realize that for tweens and teens it does have an impact on their choice of words. To me a fifteen year old imitating a phrase from music or film is not the worst thing in the world. But adults need to know how to talk appropriately. I’d love to say that today the only time I hear skaters say derogatory words is the younger kids at the skate parks, but I hear old dudes say the same words too, especially the F-word.
Humor is a big factor with the homophobia in skate culture. Everyone is trying to be funny. And with the counter stoner culture, there is an attempt to be edgy with the humor. Also it is similar to football culture or sport culture in that the overwhelming majority of skaters are male. I think if you put 7 random men from this country in a room for hours eventually someone is going to say something offensive. Another problem with all or nothing humor is it can get mean spirited very quickly. I think in the early 1990’s someone could compare Lord of the Flies to skate culture very easily. Maybe one could say the movie ‘Kids’ had some Lord of the Flies undertones. I enjoy people trying to be funny, but things have changed since the 1990’s. First off there is a nationwide campaign against bullying, and now people make an effort in acknowledging and respecting differences in others.
As far as derogatory words being used in hate, it’s unfortunate, but there are bad people in every sport or lifestyle. I’d like to think there is less of that now, but it still exists. I think for the other two uses I mentioned, imitation and humor most do grow out of that. In the Huck Magazine article I link below, an interviewee states that most young teens are uncomfortable with sexuality because they never knew or had discussions with homosexuals. I can relate to that, probably my first gay friend I had was a college friend of my older sister. I was either a senior in high school, or in early college I’d visit on weekends. I remember he stated that he tried to skate, but the skater kids where he grew up seemed like awful people. After that discussion I really thought a lot about skate humor, and how negative it might be perceived by others. Just making those weekend trips and talking to my sister’s friend opened up my eyes quite a bit. That’s why I don’t think one can blame the kids because they need to have those conversations before they can become tolerant and accepting. I think every generation is getting better at accepting differences, and hopefully skaters can too.
In 1993 if facebook existed I wonder if less people would willingly put their sexual orientation on the site for the world to see. Now many do so proudly. The gay community has overcome a lot of hate, and mistreatment in the world. Only recently has it become accepted that homosexuality is not a choice, and it’s not a disability. The federal law changed recently to allow gay marriage, and many if not all states will follow in the next few years. The future looks bright of people being accepting and tolerant. Skateboarding is becoming known as a healthy activity for people, and I think can adapt to the times. The adults involved with skating will have to lead the way, and set an example by not using derogatory words. Skateboarders can still be goofballs and funny, but really it needs to be in a less mean spirited way. Hopefully in the next stoner blockbuster comedy our portrayal will be something other than Neanderthals like in ‘Harold and Kumar.’
At mallisonwhat I usually do no research. Here are two quality articles on the topic of skateboarding and homophobia I read today. These people did their research!
Huck Magazine discusses pro skaters in the closet and homophobia in skating.
Jenkem Magazine interviews Hillary Thompson, a transgender skateboarder.
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