This week we’re joined by two USC colleagues, Zoë Corwin of the Pullias Center for Higher Education and Annenberg’s Neftalie Williams, who share some of what they’ve found studying skateboarding culture and its impact on youth. Spoiler alert: the impact is overwhelmingly positive! From literally creating safer spaces for Black youth to fostering wide-ranging skills like problem-solving, media creation and diplomacy, to the integral roles of skateshops and skateparks in their communities, Zoë and Neftalie talk us through their study, why it matters, and how it links to other theories and disciplines. Along the way, we learn a bit about skating culture in LA and abroad and how that’s been impacted by the COVID pandemic, and discuss the tension that exists between skating and university spaces (USC specifically), and how that could be viewed differently as a way to invite neighborhood youth into privileged academic communities.
See full transcript of this episode at the bottom of this page!
Here are some of the references from this episode, for those who want to dig a little deeper:
University of Colorado-Boulder Energy Skate Park simulation teaches Physics
Skateboarding high school in skate-friendly Malmö, Sweden
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl) – Skateistan
James Paul Gee – Affinity Spaces
“In Time” by Dylan Emmett and “Spaceship” by Lesion X.
In Time (Instrumental) by Dylan Emmet https://soundcloud.com/dylanemmet
Spaceship by Lesion X https://soundcloud.com/lesionxbeats
Creative Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported — CC BY 3.0
Free Download / Stream: https://bit.ly/in-time-instrumental
Free Download / Stream: https://bit.ly/lesion-x-spaceship
Music promoted by Audio Library https://youtu.be/AzYoVrMLa1Q
Neftalie Williams: When I had guests from skateboarding industry come to class, so many of them said, “Neftalie, I cannot believe that you’re here and I cannot tell you and your students how many times I’ve been kicked off this campus.” I own a multimillion dollar business that’s all over the world, but I don’t have a relationship to a school, to any school other than being kicked off the campus. So we have been constantly like that is embedded in skate culture.
Neftalie Williams: So we’re trying to reframe that. We’ve had the head of Vans, the heads of Adidas, the heads of the magazines come because it’s also not just teaching the university and institutions to recognize themselves in the youth, but also those who are no longer in youth but are disconnected in those industries that have been marginalized. Why would they want it? Why would they want to go to the university? They’ve been getting kicked out their whole life. Why would they want to do that?
Colin Maclay: Well, hello and welcome to How Do You Like It So Far? A podcast about popular culture and our changing world. My name is Colin Maclay.
Henry Jenkins: And I’m Henry Jenkins.
Colin Maclay: And we are thrilled to have you with us today and we are joined by two amazing guests and colleagues from USC. Dr. Neftalie Williams known as the first ambassador of skateboarding which is a great title, who is a sociologist and recent PhD. Congratulations.
Neftalie Williams: Thank you.
Colin Maclay: On faculty at Annenberg and working on all kinds of really remarkable stuff that we’ll get into today including global issues of diversity, identity and youth empowerment – like, hello? And Zoë Corwin, research professor at USC Rossier School who directs the digital equity in education project for the Pullias Center for Higher Education who works on also super relevant stuff like college preparation programs and access to financial aid for underserved students, pathways for foster youth and the role of social media and games in post-secondary access and completion.
Colin Maclay: That sounds like a lot and we’re going to get into it today. But first, how are y’all doing in these crazy times? I should acknowledge right now it is the week… Well, the elections are already underway. A week before election day in the pandemic and what’s up? How are you doing?
Neftalie Williams: You want to go first Zoë or you want to-
Zoë Corwin: Go for it, Neftalie.
Neftalie Williams: Well, I’m experiencing all of the pandemic and our voting anxiety here in the Netherlands right now. So I’ve been here doing research and it’s definitely different to watch everything that’s unfolding in the US through CNN and through social media feeds as opposed being in LA where I’m normally at actually getting to see everything firsthand. So of course there’s good things about that and bad things about that. The negatives not being with people you love during these difficult times.
Neftalie Williams: But it does give you the opportunity to really look at everything is going on in the US and actually have some context to really just pull back and say, “What are we doing? Why are we doing this?” And does it need to be this way. So that’s the bright side.
Zoë Corwin: And I’ll pipe in to say that not only is the election rolling down, but in my personal life, it’s super interesting because my oldest daughter is applying to college, which my whole life and career has been dedicated to supporting young people and making that journey to college. Mostly, I’ve been working with first generation students and to help my own child is a very different journey which is really complicated. So that’s been taking up some time.
Zoë Corwin: But I will share in the good news category that over the weekend, I went to the opening of the El Monte Skatepark. I know we’re going to get into this in a moment but that is really super connected to the work that Neftalie and I have been doing. It’s kind of crazy at the opening of a skatepark. They were actually citing a research. So that’s pretty rad.
Colin Maclay: That is amazing. I guess my feeling is we can use any and all the good news we can get right now. But for people who do-
Neftalie Williams: If that’s the case, I do have one more bit of good news to put a smile on us. I did just get married and I just got back from my honeymoon. So I am now Dr. Williams, but also there is Mr. and Mrs. Williams to that.
Colin Maclay: Mr. Doctor.
Zoë Corwin: So good.
Neftalie Williams: Yes. So that just happened. Just in the light of having reason to smile while listening to that. The world is not that bad. We can do this. We’ll do it together.
Colin Maclay: We need more love. That’s it. I’m glad you’re making it happen.
Neftalie Williams: Yes. Thank you.
Colin Maclay: Well, I’m going to guess that that didn’t have as much to do with the research as the opening of the skatepark, which is also another kind of joy. As scholars, you do all this work and you hope that it makes a difference or most of us hope that it makes an actual difference in the world. And you don’t always see it so directly translated. So to have your research and your team and your findings be part of the creation of community resources, that is cause for real celebration.
Colin Maclay: So maybe take us back a step and say like let’s talk about what this research is and beginning with how you got into it. I mean, Neftalie, you’ve been driving this train for quite a while now, right? I mean, as we think about… I want to bring it again into games and play later, but like these are the territory where scholars don’t go because like, “Oh, no. That’s not serious. You’re talking about skateboarding. That’s, whatever.” Tell us like your origin story on that?
Neftalie Williams: I’ll just try to do the the short version, but really I’ve had a career in skateboarding culture. I’ve loved skateboarding since I was a young kid and when I first got into it, one of the first things I saw was that… I’m originally from Massachusetts and where I was in Massachusetts, there was not a lot of reason for people from different backgrounds to get together even our parents at the time were saying like, “Oh, this group stays with this group. This group stays with this group.” What happened was when skateboarding entered the lives of all the kids within the community, no one really knew anything about it, we just knew it was good.
Colin Maclay: You knew it was cool.
Neftalie Williams: Right. We just knew it was cool and we wanted to do it. So what ends up happening is everyone is like, “Oh, did you learn how to do that?” “Oh, yeah. I learned how to do that.” “Did you learn how to do this?” And the next thing you know we were just having these intercultural and interracial relationships developing. And they were developing organically and especially in a context that adults weren’t seeing that it should happen and so we were right there on the front lines just engaging and learning together. I always kept that with me knowing that skateboarding’s been that site for me personally.
Neftalie Williams: I have continued to expand in that. I was working in the skateboarding industry as a photographer, as a writer. I’m then using skateboarding as a tool for cultural diplomacy with the US government as an envoy. So I took those lessons and experiences from being young that seeing that skateboarding could be that common ground for young kids to get involved and just really carried that through my career.
Neftalie Williams: Now, of course Henry knows, I’d moved that into my work teaching at USC and that was something where I really was saying, “Listen, this is something that’s popular. It’s a popular sport. It’s a popular activity with all this culture attached to it,” be it looking at the video, in multimedia production and creation, the photography aspect, the nonprofits, the businesses. This is a whole sector that’s not being discussed. And action sports in California as a whole, I mean it’s a multi-billion dollar industry in the world, but we’re in California.
Neftalie Williams: I was lucky to have a great admin staff who was really… Had associates who said like, “Yeah. We see this. This makes a lot of sense. You should be teaching this,” and I developed my course from there and that really laid the groundwork for just developing this new space just focusing on skateboarding and its ability to create bridges between all kids outside of our school, and our students who were not seeing themselves reflected in a curriculum that was talking about this; action sports just wasn’t there. So many students got involved and got excited and we continued from there. Then lo and behold, Zoë came and said, “Hey, I’ve got something going on.” And I’ll let her take it from there.
Colin Maclay: Imagine that, Zoë with something going on.
Zoë Corwin: There’s always something going on. My best friend actually was working for the Tony Hawk Foundation which is now The Skatepark Project. And the Tony Hawk Foundation at the time, they’ve done a phenomenal job building skateparks or helping communities build skateparks across the United States. They wanted to lean into the work even more and figure out what kinds of things were the young people who were using those skateparks what did they need? What were they missing? How could the community better support them?
Zoë Corwin: They had a lot of anecdotal information about the success of their parks, but actually, I have great respect and admiration for them and that they wanted to bring on researchers to do a deep dive. So we developed a study, they gave us leeway to do what we thought was the best and most rigorous approach. My smartest decision, the number one thing I did was reached out to Neftalie to say, “Hey do you want to join this project?” It was a fantastic collaboration because I am not a skateboarder. I was an avid cyclist growing up, so I totally understand the value of being active and learning on the road and tactile learning, but I didn’t know anything about skateboarding.
Zoë Corwin: In fact, I’m a lifelong educator. I might have harbored a few misperceptions about skaters, but I know a lot about the young people who we used to call at-risk youth, were now calling them at-promise youth because they have so much to offer. Young people are often villainized and just stereotyped. So that’s the demographic that I’ve been working with my whole career has been students from minoritized backgrounds, from low-income communities and looking at college pathways for them.
Zoë Corwin: So I came in with this educator perspective and it was really good to be able to bounce back and forth with Neftalie who has such a deep connection to the skate community. Sometimes there would be things where he wasn’t even thinking about it because it’s so natural to him or I might push back on something and in other ways I would say something. He’d go, “Whoa, no you can’t think of it that way. But that’s so helpful that you do because this is how we need to connect the dots and translate for people who aren’t skaters.
Zoë Corwin: I’ll tell you one thing that was… Actually, Neftalie, this was another awesome bit of good news we had yesterday. We got an email from a guy who works with City of Skate in Minnesota. He emailed the skatepark project to say, “We just want to thank you for engaging with that research at USC,” which first of all, how often do researchers get thanked for their work. This is not the first time this has happened with the skate study. He said, “We got our skatepark approved and here’s a clip from the state legislator.
Neftalie Williams: Senator.
Zoë Corwin: Right. The senator is citing data from our research report which then led to money being allocated for the skatepark. So that’s pretty amazing I think.
Colin Maclay: That is awesome. I mean, I’ve seen these happen… there’s a bike park that was just created not so far for me and it took them like a decade or more to get it approved, and then like a weekend to build it. So not to say that a state skatepark takes a bit more than a bike park, but still there’s so much resistance to this thing that nobody understands. So when you go into that territory which is generally not welcomed and you shine a light on actually what’s happening and you bring that out, it allows folks to make more informed decisions. So let’s get into what you found. Let’s hear what was so motivating for these folks and the role of skateparks or where this connects to identity? Let’s get in a little bit.
Neftalie Williams: I can just take one part if you want, Zoë.
Zoë Corwin: Go ahead.
Neftalie Williams: Just saying like one of the one of the main things that going back to what we were saying earlier that I experienced was that we learned from the study that the skatepark becomes a real place of community building, a real place where skaters from all different backgrounds, socioeconomic status, just diverse young people get the opportunity to come together and in truth they are learning together. They are learning from both looking at tricks and seeing things happening, but they also learn the social norms of okay, something as simple as, this is the turns that we take to use the space and that’s something that you will see at a skatepark, you’ll see a five-year-old at a skatepark or a 50-year-old at a skatepark, just that relationship where quickly everyone learns like, “Hey, this is how we do these things. We do them together. We cooperate. We use the space. We speak to each other both seeing each other’s presence, but also in learning and offering suggestions on how to do things.”
Neftalie Williams: That’s something that’s really magical to have a space where all of that is coming together. It hadn’t been discussed in any way that was beyond anecdotal until we worked on this research. And again like Zoë said, that was something that was really beautiful for the Tony Hawk Foundation, now The Skatepark Project, to say we know it’s been great in our lives, but we would really like to understand how skateboarders are thinking about the skatepark, thinking about their future. And as Zoë knows also what is the relationship between them as skateboarders and that skateboarding identity in the community around them.
Neftalie Williams: Does their school understand skateboarding? What does it mean if you have… Like us, if you have scholars or teachers around you who don’t understand the thing that you’re into. Does that present more barriers? What happens and how would they like to see things change or be improved? So that’s just one aspect, but the skatepark delivered, bringing together diverse audiences and getting them to appreciate each other. So that’s just one part.
Zoë Corwin: Neftalie mentioned about the intergenerational connections. That was really surprising to me because it’s just something I hadn’t thought about. But if you think about the spaces where you have… Like maybe, I don’t know, churches, synagogues, mosques, that’s a place where you see like a lot of authentic intergenerational communication, but where else do you see that? Really you see it in the skatepark and through our interviews. We did interviews with over 120 skaters from across the country. We also did a survey, a national survey. And that came up quite a bit.
Zoë Corwin: The other thing that is so like is very, very relevant to this moment in time and Neftalie and I when we designed the study along with, I’ve got to say, with our collaborators, Tattiya Maruca and Maria Romero-Morales who are integral to the study and we had a whole team of researchers. Christine Rocha was one of them as well. But we went in with using a critical race framework. We knew that this was really important to think about the role of race in skateboarding because sometimes what you hear in the skate community is like, “Oh, we all skate. This is like a colorblind activity. Race doesn’t matter.”
Zoë Corwin: So in some regards, we found that actually, that skateparks were often a place where it really didn’t matter your personal background. However, we knew it was more complicated than that. So our survey findings and some of the deeper interviews we did, uncovered some really interesting and compelling things that were happening with regards to race. And this is really important for the skate world to understand because the skate world… And Neftalie’s research goes into this in depth, but I’ll just talk about our study, but the skate world has maybe even like whitewashed skateboarding a little bit.
Zoë Corwin: If you see how the media has represented it over time, which is not the case from the inception which Neftalie will… That’s his dissertation research, but what we found was that skaters of color felt safer within the skate community. So a skateboarder, a Black skateboarder holding a skateboard felt safer walking down a street than not holding a skateboard. That is profound.
Colin Maclay: Wow. That’s incredible.
Zoë Corwin: When I presented this to the skateboard project board, I saw jaws drop because if that’s not your lived experience walking down the street while Black, you’re not going to think of how you feel with regards to safety. And that was really profound. From an education perspective, it’s super important for the skate industry to understand that young people… Well, yes, they’re finding safety and solace and joy in the skatepark, but skateparks don’t operate in vacuums. They operate in very specific socio-historical political contexts. So when a young person walks outside of the skatepark, how are they going to be perceived by police? How are they going to be perceived by business owners?
Zoë Corwin: So it’s really, really important to understand just… Not only how the skatepark functions, but how skateboarding functions because as we know, young people and old people don’t skate just in parks, they’re skating on the streets too. So there’s a strong overlap between all these different issues.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah. Just to that too, that was one of the biggest things… As I said, I’ve been a skateboarding for a long time in the industry and as Zoë and I, and the team we’re working through this, we’re really focused on saying like okay, as an African-American skateboarder, I’ve been in this a long time. So some findings that people would want to just sort of gloss over, we knew that that was a key finding and a very important finding. And the truth is for some people we had to explain it like people would say to me and she knows this as we were working on like disseminating the information. “Well, Neftalie was that important?”
Neftalie Williams: Well, it’s important because Black people are dying. These are young Black males saying that they feel safer. And Zoë knows. I was trying to start us on a higher note as I was getting into the data and not be sad, but I was going to give a couple more findings before we got here, but the truth is that is one of the most important findings. In getting people to understand, and I can say that in February, early February, March, Zoë knows this people, did not get it. They did not get it. Zoë and I… Black men are dying in the streets and I’m saying Black men, because in this particular that was the most at-risk in the way that I was looking at it saying like, “Zoë, we’ve got something huge,” and she’s like, “No, this is amazing.
Neftalie Williams: But people even when picking up the story were not seeing that.” That wasn’t important, and I just have to really go on record that we were saying that this is important because people were thinking you were in a post-racial space and there was also deliberations during my PhD like working on the thesis, looking at the history and experiences of skaters of color from the 1970s to now.
Neftalie Williams: So I was straddling both worlds, both writing the history of skateboarding through the lens of people of color, but with Zoë and the team like what’s going on the ground right now and what’s happening. I’d say there was a tension because we’re always reflective as we’re doing our research right, but there was a there was a tension in looking at people saying, “Well, we’re getting ready to go the Olympics. Is it important to talk about race? Do we even need to do that?”
Neftalie Williams: “If anything, let’s just focus on gender.” And Zoë knows this too like, “Let’s do that. Race? We already figured that.” So we’re there going like, “No, we are not.” This is not true. People are dying in the streets and this is important. I want people to understand particularly because as you know and can hear, I’m passionate about skateboarding. But I understand what this means for communities of color, right? I understand that parents and communities of color are looking for ways to have their children safe, be active and make it through life, right? Make it through the world.
Neftalie Williams: So to have skaters say, and Black skaters say that they feel safer and that they’re less threatening to, really less threatening to white people, this is huge and I want to make sure that all these communities know that because we need as many avenues to survive as possible. So this is key. So back to what we’re saying is that it didn’t seem that it was that important at the time, but we were really trumpeting it. However, with the Black Lives Matter movement, the murder of George Floyd with the pandemic, with all those things happening, all of a sudden, it made so much more sense.
Neftalie Williams: It’s okay, and I know as researchers it goes like sometimes you’re at the moment on the cusp, but even… It was just exciting for us to see that people were now getting it. It was sad that it took that for them to get it, but then they really understood like, “Oh, what you were talking about is the safety, the safety.” And yes, the building the bridges between communities, oh, that’s super important. But even at a baseline to just be able to walk through a neighborhood and come home like parents need that. That was just a huge finding. Sorry, I get a little passionate.
Colin Maclay: No, no. I mean, that’s great. I mean, so what I hear there is that… I mean, it’s not… I don’t know if a ceiling and a floor is the right thing, but on one hand, you’re talking about basic security like survival, right? All that, one, is you’re alive and two, it enables you to live, to actually make something of your life, right? So you have on that hand, a bit of… I don’t know if it’s protection, but de-risking and a little more freedom of like psycho emotionally. And on the other hand, all these findings that you also revealed of things that it actually allows you to grow, whether it’s intergenerational or mentorship or that social connectedness that otherwise… I mean, I lived in Massachusetts too.
Neftalie Williams: Ah, yes.
Colin Maclay: I didn’t experience it as racist. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve read it. We’ve heard the stories, but as segregated on a million different lines. I’ve never been in a place that was more segregated than Massachusetts on economic lines or where you went to school or where you lived. It really is just divided. It felt to me very divided.
Henry Jenkins: I always thought Henry Higgins could ride the red line and determine who got off at which stop with absolute certainty.
Colin Maclay: Totally.
Henry Jenkins: So segregated by so many axes there.
Colin Maclay: So bringing in things that shake that up and create opportunities, that’s amazing. It’s the practices of what it takes to learn something, how you are mentored and how you mentor others. These are life skills that we are all dying to see in our kids and in ourselves in many instances. So I love the range of insights that you offer here from just basic security, the most fundamental stuff all the way to lots of real value creation in people’s lives.
Neftalie Williams: In particular that mentorship like Zoë was saying, seeing the intergenerational mentorship happening is just something I see here at the skatepark in the Netherlands. It doesn’t matter what country we’re in, that’s something that goes on and that community building is something that I came here to the Netherlands and literally walked into the neighborhood skate shop and they’ve treated me like family since I’ve rolled in. That’s just how it’s been, introduced me to everyone and it’s been like that.
Colin Maclay: And that’s another insight. So skateparks are one religious gathering spot like in the way that Varun Soni talks about religion like this is clearly in that religion zone. And it seems like skate shops are the other. That’s another of the outposts.
Zoë Corwin: You know what’s funny, Colin is we had a really big debate at the beginning of the study is where do we go to recruit skateboarders.
Colin Maclay: Right, right.
Zoë Corwin: And we actually landed on the skate shops. Instead of a skatepark, because you’re moving around everywhere, we work with seven skate shops across the United States. One in Gallup, New Mexico, Enchantment Skate Shop that is predominantly Native American skaters. We had The Garage Board Shop in East LA, which is an amazing place. Serves mostly LatinX skaters. They have a food pantry on Fridays at the skate shop. They have an after school program that runs out of the skate shop.
Zoë Corwin: And actually, I think Henry would really dig this, but we’re really trying to get like what skills do skateboarders believe that they learn from skateboarding? This for me as an educator was really exciting. So they’re saying like tenacity, you’re going to try a trick a thousand times until you land it. That actually from some of the work that Henry and I have talked about with video games.
Zoë Corwin: There was a big strong connection there like just trying and trying until you figure it out. Skateboarders, they’re problem solvers, so they see a space they want to skate, they have like this really strong do-it-yourself ethic. So they’ll find a space and make it work. Neftalie, what are some of the other skills that we documented. There were so many cool… Like thinking out of the box. We’ve already talked about communication.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah. And we’ve been in the practical skills like that media and content creation has been part of this since day one. So we’re at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The fact is these skaters have been immersed in media, but not in the way that we’re thinking now, because of course the world is immersed in all social media. It’s on your phone. It’s available. But skateboarding and skaters have been early adopters of every new media, from eight millimeter to high eights, or the early VHSC to three chip.
Neftalie Williams: I can list them all because it’s the world that we live in, right? So that has been something that they’ve always been the first early adopters of the media and content, or in content creators. Just riding a skateboard, and once you assume that constructed identity of like I am a skateboarder… All the other things that go along with that is that also you gain a basic understanding of that media and content creation and that’s just a legacy part of skateboarding culture.
Neftalie Williams: Now, that being said, that gives you skills, right? The kids are learning to film each other to make the videos. Now, they post them online but they didn’t do that then. They just filmed each other and that was the homie video is what it was called. That’s just them, you’re making that video and creating teams and doing that. Also, it was part of the skateboarding business model too. But to get a macro… Excuse me. Yeah, just a sort of a larger view on that is this is also… Remember, this is unstructured.
Neftalie Williams: So part of what requires the filming, and the media, and content creation is because you are from a marginalized community. Now, that is the other part. You’re not on television. It’s not Monday night football, Sunday football like all the football’s in between. We’re recognizing that like, “Oh, this thing that we pursue, we are marginalized,” and you just know because you’re not seen. You’re not visible. And when you are visible, it’s often via stereotypes or via different ways that are kind of disparaging.
Neftalie Williams: So one, the fact that all skaters adopt into skateboarding, it’s not like your parents just push you and go like, “Okay, you’re going to skateboarding camp and I’ll pick you up at 4:00.” Yes, those things are, or may be coming with the Olympics, but this is the adoption of an identity of a set of values that go, “This is what I’m going to do. Even though, I recognize if I do this, I’m marginalized because I’m not going to play basketball or I’m not doing football or these things that would actually give me a scholarship to go to USC.
Neftalie Williams: I have to decide that I’m going to do this thing. There has to be something intrinsic in that has enough value for me to see it to try to explain to people that I’m going to do it and even if they don’t get it, well, luckily there are other people there along with me. So that’s the beauty in that.
Henry Jenkins: So some of the research that Sangita Shresthova and I’ve been doing on young activists, we’re consistently hearing young activists who are now recording the protest and putting that up online or live streaming protest acquired those skills by recording themselves skateboarding. It’s this expanded capacity at production. We’re probably at the point where it’s young activists now. The next step up from that is likely to be young media producers more generally who are entering the entertainment industry as we’re fighting for representation and inclusion there. So it’s not just that we’re expanding production capacity for skateboarding, it goes well beyond that.
Neftalie Williams: And that’s something I wanted to help, I guess usher that conversation along in building my class at USC was the point was seeing all these other avenues that are part of skateboarding culture like long before being activists in this way, I was trying to show students that this is the capacity for the jobs you want to be, that person that’s working at NBC or working in these media fields, but also here skateboarding is a tool for cultural diplomacy and getting people to understand that there’s a global culture to tap into and that’s something that we as adults need to recognize, and support, and create those pathways for kids to see whatever they like… For me, in particular, whatever they like in skateboarding culture, but seeing that there’s a home in the university for those skills, for that vision, and also to have a faculty that is responsive and understands that we need to create those avenues and those opportunities for them to see themselves in the teachers within the institution. We learn, they learn and we all get better.
Zoë Corwin: Yeah, that’s something that Neftalie and I’ve spoken about a lot too is how do we now put our research in front of people who have never considered skateboarders before, and how do we… It’s like two things. We’ve actually thought a lot about how to get the research in front of skateboarders and we just worked with a young woman who’s an undergraduate, Brittany Min, undergraduate at USC Thornton School. She developed a zine, which is like a little magazine that takes one of our findings and translates it into a very skater friendly way to look at it.
Zoë Corwin: Part of the thing is like, “Hey, you’re a creative thinker. You’re really good with your hands and making things. Have you considered this career or that career or this career? Have you considered going to college?” Because I think a lot of times, you have these young people with a lot of passion and skills, but they don’t understand how to connect the dots or they don’t understand the different career options they might have.
Zoë Corwin: And then on the flip side, you have educators and industry not thinking about what skateboarders could bring to the mix. So that’s our next thing. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to figure out how to translate. And then if I may, I just want to make sure we get on one of our other core findings, which was like the first thing that came through, which was we did our big survey and we asked young people why they skateboarded. And the number one reason was to have fun.
Zoë Corwin: So as a research team, we kind of went, “Oh shit, this is not earth shattering.” How are we going to go to the foundation and say, “Guess what? Thank you for investing in this study. Skateboarders skate because they like to have fun.” It was like a very anxiety inducing moment. That’s not news. But then when we started to go deeper and unpack it, we realized this was kind of revolutionary. Especially now, especially now with the pandemic and the racial trauma that young people are facing, the act of having fun is critical.
Zoë Corwin: We actually have a new study that was funded by the USC’s Provost Office that’s going to dig deeper into that. So we’re hoping to learn from young people who have been through their fair share of challenges, but who are finding ways to take care of themselves, to find joy, to build community. We can talk at depth about some of the nuances of that, but I just wanted to make sure we got that on the podcast table here to have fun and to bring joy is a very important part of what we found.
Colin Maclay: Totally. That makes me think of Cathy Cohen and her work and challenging us to say, “Let’s not just look at people who appear to be paragons of virtue, but that it’s okay and indeed especially for marginalized communities to be seeking joy, right?” And that’s like part of life. It doesn’t mean that there are not all kinds of other great things that come from that very human desire to seek joy and fun, but just to acknowledge that’s good. As you said like that’s a win!
Neftalie Williams: When the team were thinking through that, that really was a big deal because we look at it, it’s fun and exciting but really going like let’s actually stop for a second. Remember, Zoë like thinking through like what’s the amount of stress that young people are actually dealing with in their lives and particularly communities of color understanding like I know because I’ve been there. That’s where I’m from. So understanding that there are so many stresses, the ability to go to the park or just go out and go skating to ultimately, I think we talk about is to be able to push.
Neftalie Williams: That’s what it is. That’s the quintessential bit of skateboarding, to be able to push away faster than the people who are around you. Think about that for a moment. The world is around you. There’s people on the streets that are… Well, when it’s not COVID, but normally there’s all this movement. But you have the sole ability to move faster than those things around you. And there’s peace in that and there’s there’s ability to really try to just clear your head.
Neftalie Williams: So that fun meant something and also to what Zoë was saying, when the skateparks closed during COVID when that first happened like in particular when they dumped sand into the Venice park so that skaters couldn’t go… My thing was, I got texts from skaters all over the world. Everyone was like, “What is happening? What is going on?” But I also understood of course we didn’t know what was happening. We didn’t know what to do. COVID was just hitting. I understood that we were taking emergency actions.
Neftalie Williams: But what I was excited about is how quickly they went, “Oh, actually, people are fine at the skatepark because now we know they already self-regulate anyways, so they know to be six feet away. Because they’re skating, so they’re kind of away. It’s not a team sport. So quickly the parks were opened and there was like a benefit. The LA mayor, I know in particular was like, “Oh, we need to shut these down,” until he realized like, “Oh, actually. No, no, no, that’s fine.” I watched that transformation and got texts from people on those teams and were saying like, “Okay, this is actually something really good.”
Neftalie Williams: And to just give you a little bit of other evidence across the pond, both in the UK with my friends who work for the BBC, all of their children in their neighborhoods, that’s just anecdotal. They’re like, “Everyone is starting to skate. All of their kids are like they’re looking for something they can do because all team sports are stopped.” And here in the Netherlands, the skate shop never closed.
Neftalie Williams: I got here, everything shut down. The owner was like, “Oh, I’m just going to go in and do some work because we’re in lockdown.” And then someone showed up and someone showed up. He literally has done better than he’s done in years because every single day, there’s a new parent that shows up and says, “All the other sports are banned. My kid can do it in the driveway. They can do it on the street. They’re fine.” They’re literally just buying skateboards in droves and there’s a skateboarding component shortage in the world right now. I just got off the phone with the with the skatepark foundation and you can’t get components, because everyone’s skating.
Zoë Corwin: I heard that at the El Monte Skatepark too.
Neftalie Williams: There’s no completes.
Zoë Corwin: Neftalie, I feel like what I learned from you when we were starting this study is that like around the age of 12 and 13, a lot of young boys, that was when they were stopping out of organized sports. So here you have these kids that have done organized sports their whole life at this critical moment where they’re going through adolescence and now they don’t have a way to be active. So that’s why a lot of young people take up skateboarding at that moment.
Henry Jenkins: To nudge us back toward education for a moment, being at USC, all day long, you see kids of color being led around by various departments to break down the barrier between town and gown. And at about 5:00 in the afternoon, 6:00 in the afternoon, the campus starts to depopulate. You suddenly see kids on skateboards running around the USC campus, and the campus police throwing them off.
Henry Jenkins: Listening to your research, there’s a huge lost opportunity there. There’s a lack of understanding of the potential connection a university like USC or any other urban university has at that moment in the day when kids are voluntarily coming onto campus, not dragged by their teachers, and are there to explore the space of USC and to excel at something.
Zoë Corwin: And feel at home, right? Feel like it’s their place.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah, and I agree because I’ve skated USC for a long time and actually just so… So you know and Zoë knows this, but one of the most famous spots in Los Angeles is what is dubbed the USC Ledges. It’s across the street on Hoover. They have been filmed all over the world and they’ve even been replicated. Converse sent architects to come make models and bring those and actually put those at the show in Brighton, the replication of the USC ledges for those to be used during the week while they were having their events.
Neftalie Williams: So the fact that young people are on the campus, just like you said is that it can be a missed opportunity, but that was the benefit of developing the class and me to actually be able to say to young skaters and go, “Actually, hey, you’re skating here. Have you thought about going to college? What’s high school looking like for you right now?” And build that bridge and I have to give a shoutout to Gordon Stables because Gordon had always been mentoring me in thinking through that he recognized early on that that was something that why are we not always working with them?
Neftalie Williams: They’re literally here kicking them off in their community, in their neighborhood. Why would we do that? Then there’s also just thinking through the have and have not’s and what is does it mean even besides throwing them off? Those same skaters who are being stopped by like say DPS are watching these privileged kids. You’re privileged, because you’re going to USC, watching them skate by to go to class. So there’s the disconnect, right?
Neftalie Williams: They’re not understanding like, “Wait, but you just said I can’t skate here, but they’re skating.” I’m not blaming DPS, but I’m just saying any structure in any place it goes, “Well, why are they there?” “Oh, well because they belong here. They’re students here.” And all of us trying to build that bridge where kids go like, “Oh, so if I go to school here, you’re not going to throw me off?” “Well, the only place I can tell you to go is go to your dorm and since you’ve got an ID, I can’t really do much.”
Neftalie Williams: So that also will retrain both you know our patrols and DPS in our institutions to recognize who’s supposed to be there. When I had guests from the skateboarding industry come to class, so many of them said, “Neftalie, I cannot believe that you’re here and I cannot tell you and your students how many times I’ve been kicked off this campus. I own a multimillion dollar business that’s all over the world, but I don’t have a relationship to school, to any school, other than being kicked off the campus.”
Neftalie Williams: So we have been constantly like that is embedded in skate culture. So we’re trying to reframe that and we’ve had the head of Vans, the heads of Adidas, the heads of the magazines come because it’s also not just teaching the university and institutions to recognize themselves in the youth, but also those who are no longer youth, but are disconnected and in those industries that have been marginalized. Why would they want it? Why would they want to go to the university? They’ve been getting kicked out their whole life. Why would they want to do that?
Neftalie Williams: I specifically focus on getting those industries, excuse me, to say, “Listen, if you want to continue your industry, the talent that you need is actually at the university.” And they don’t see that until they get to come to school and the only time in skateboarding companies, surfing companies, the only time they get those who have degrees is they joke that that’s who either their attorney is or their accountant is. So this is the first time where they’re looking for interns, looking for people specifically from the universities to come and fulfill that.
Neftalie Williams: And I look at that as a bit of my legacy to continue to grow skateboarding even in that way is to put our students in those positions which again goes to better representation, moving marginalized communities and placing them in positions of power. So we’re really trying to do a lot, but we’re getting it done. We’re getting it done.
Colin Maclay: Can I see how this bridges to your other work, Zoë? Because we’re talking about university reforms and different ways that we deal with campus and people who are visiting and so on, how we deal with it as an institution ourselves. But it seems like this is… I mean, in a moment in the pandemic to the extent that we were not aware of the incredible and inexcusable differences in equity, in education, well settings, now it’s like, whoa, it’s so… As with everything, it’s so stark, the opportunities that some folks get, and that many folks don’t.
Colin Maclay: So I wonder as we think about digital access and what it’s like in your community, even right now with athletics, where there’s research out saying rich kids are still getting served in different ways and poorer kids are having a really hard time. So skateboarding, there another opportunity. But I’m curious to Zoë as you’re thinking about college preparation and young people growing up and the findings that you all have come up with, what does this tell us about education like grade school and high school? Does it offer some suggestions, insights, on things that we should be doing differently or things to lean into?
Zoë Corwin: With the skateboarding study?
Colin Maclay: Yeah.
Zoë Corwin: Well, I think it’s all about meeting students where they’re at, right? So as adults, we think we know the right ways to do things and we make a mistake when we don’t center students or we don’t listen to students. Right now is really interesting because… Oh, Henry knows this. I’ve been a huge advocate for using smart technology to supplement the work that people are doing within schools. People would look at us and go, “What, games in the serious world of college access? Or social media? No, that doesn’t make sense.” And now people are going, “Oh, technology is the solution. This is what’s going to save everyone.”
Zoë Corwin: That’s not the case. It’s so much more complicated than that. So adults are investing a lot of money into all these tech tools, but not really thinking through like the interface between how are you implementing the tools? How are you using them so they resonate best with young people? So I think that the skate study illustrates is that we have to stop and listen and observe, and see what works for skateboarders? Same thing with the young people that we’re working with in the digital tools.
Zoë Corwin: Number one, do they have access to the tools that we’re creating? Do they have access to broadband? Do they have people who are willing to support them in learning how to use the tools? What’s really working with them? So I am deeply concerned, like deeply, deeply concerned about how the young people, across the country really, are both the learning that’s happening or not happening and then as importantly, their socio-emotional well-being, this point about mental wellness and mental health. I think there are some ways that technology can actually be a really cool tool and then other ways it can be distancing. What do we need to do? We need to really look at the young people and see where they’re leading us.
Colin Maclay: Yeah. Our organizations tend to not necessarily center the folks – there’s an irony in there of like we tend to center our own interests or teachers’ interests or institutional concerns rather than putting ourselves in that perspective.
Zoë Corwin: Yeah. And also we’d like to suck the fun out of something. I don’t know if-
Colin Maclay: That’s the motto, right, on the T-shirt? “We suck the fun out of learning.”
Zoë Corwin: Yeah. Technology can be really fun. Why don’t we put more games? That’s why I think the skate community is so innovative. How can we be innovative and bring the joy back. I don’t know if you all saw AOC on Twitch the other day playing Among Us.
Colin Maclay: Yeah.
Zoë Corwin: That was rad.
Henry Jenkins: She knows how to bring the education in without sucking the fun out.
Zoë Corwin: Yeah. Well the funny thing is I… Oh, I follow her on Instagram so I sent that to my 14-year-old son and I said, “Hey, check this out.” And his text was, “Mom, you’re late on this.” I just… “You’re late on this. I’m following her at 4,” and then I went and my daughter who had some crazy math test to study for, she couldn’t pull herself away from the Twitch feed of… Is that how you say it, the Twitch feed of the game. I’m like, “Okay, this is good. This is where we need to be.”
Colin Maclay: There’s a lesson in there for skating too, which is to say if you introduce skateboarding into school as like a learning opportunity, then you could just see them sucking all the fun out and taking away the joy motivation as opposed to just sort of recog… I mean, what I hear you saying, Neftalie is just like let’s recognize and celebrate that stuff. It’s not like a class in terms of you’re going to learn tenacity and problem solving and working outside the box. It’s just recognize that this these suite of activities and the community around it, the practices and our culture have value.
Zoë Corwin: But you can learn physics.
Colin Maclay: Yes, you can.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah.
Zoë Corwin: We’ve seen like really cool examples of teachers being really creative and integrating skateboarding. Remember, Neftalie that school in Colorado that has a skate ramp and there’s a physics teacher that does all this stuff on the skate ramp? We got to look through this spot.
Neftalie Williams: And the same thing like Malmö in Sweden is now the most skate-friendly city where they’re designing the city for skaters to be there. It’s part of the recreation at the high schools and elementary schools. The same is happening over in Australia. There is in the curriculum. Some places within the US. But to what you’re saying, Colin, and I know Zoë just was saying it too is like it also depends… The fun will be sucked out when you are not hiring the right people, right?
Neftalie Williams: That’s also a key thing like my class is fun. I’ll be honest with you, when we start. the first thing I say is, “Although, this is a class. I’m sure you came to this because you want to learn about skateboarding culture.” But what I say is I’m actually teaching you is how to recognize the problems and opportunities that are available in any ecosystem, how to solve them and how to bring people together in order to accomplish that task. And students’ mouths, they’re all dropping and go like, “Wait what? I thought we were-“
Colin Maclay: “I didn’t sign up for that!”
Neftalie Williams: “What is happening?” But they get the opportunity to see because I just used skateboarding as a lens of all of the issues, all the things that we’re trying to deal with in the world, they get to see people who are running companies, people who are athletes, advocates. They get the opportunity to see from different backgrounds LGBT community. They get to see all of these different things and actually see who they… They get a really good lesson in power. And who has power, who has it and actually is not using it because maybe they don’t know of how to advocate, but they get an example of a huge ecosystem.
Neftalie Williams: And literally in class they go, “Okay, this person visited. Where do they sit and where do they sit within the ecosystem? What changes could be made to influence what’s happening there?” And then most importantly in their midterms and finals, where is the problem in the outside world? Where is that beyond skateboarding culture? Who’s not connecting? And so their finals and their midterms is designing projects that actually go we’re going to partner with this group and we need to talk about adaptive sports or an adaptive world and what to do. So that happens via all of those things in the class. I haven’t had one student say it wasn’t fun yet. So I have to say like my shit is cool. I don’t know what you think.
Colin Maclay: That’s going to be the pull quote for the day.
Henry Jenkins: So having seen “Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (if You’re a Girl)”, that’s a very powerful illustration of even a very traditional school system incorporating skateboarding in, in a way that audiences when they see it, it’s always a crowd pleaser. That moment of recognition of these girls’ smiles as they’re learning to move for the first time in that way, and yet I wonder how many of those people who see that film from a western perspective even crosses their mind that this is something that could be brought into the schools here.
Neftalie Williams: It’s funny. I’m on the advisory board with Skateistan. So I just was in three days of meetings with Skateistan this week. So that is also their goal is making sure to translate what’s happening for all audiences. There’s Skateistan in Kabul but also Skateistan in Cambodia, which I was there before and in South Africa. So they’re really trying to translate amongst a lot of different audiences to get people to understand that skateboarding can still be that bridge to education, but the way that I use it is more to higher ed as well. But those basic building blocks of accomplishment and creating community and then using that to open the doors towards all forms of education.
Neftalie Williams: So you’re right. I don’t know necessarily that everyone sees it, but that’s our job is to to make those connections. And that’s all of ours on this call. All the job of all educators to see that and go like, “That’s happening there in that age group, but actually how is that going to continue up? It’s our job to find that goal and to be really espousing that.
Colin Maclay: Can I also ask about… We’ve talked a lot about folks of color and marginalized communities, but we haven’t spoken specifically about girls and women or about alternatively-abled folks. I’m just curious on those kinds of dimensions what… Like Zoë noting that you went into this being interested in girls, and at least from my reading of it, it seemed like that the benefits weren’t… There was a little more gendering. There may have been less of a race consideration than in some spots, but a fair amount of gender concerns that are still there.
Colin Maclay: I’m just curious for those folks or for communities of people who are physically not able to do all this stuff, are their pathways for inclusion? Or what do you see happening in those spaces?
Neftalie Williams: You can take it first, Zoë and I’ve got some stuff to add.
Zoë Corwin: Okay. And also for the LGBTQ community as well. We definitely incorporated questions pertaining to gender and sexual orientation in the survey. We definitely had more people who identify as male take the survey, and we had about 2,500 survey respondents in our age demographic which was 13 to 25. So unfortunately our sample of people who identified as female and also LGBTQ was not as large as we had hoped. What we did find is of female-identified skaters, that group does feel like there’s the most growth that needs to happen in the skate community.
Zoë Corwin: While our skaters of color including female skaters of color felt safer and more included in the skate population, we saw a discrepancy with gender. So that is definitely a place where there’s room for improvement. That said, we also documented a lot of really cool things going on through… There’s a ton of non-profits. There’s a lot of social media like incredible stuff going on social media for skaters who identify as girls, girl skaters, female-identified skaters, LGBTQ. There’s really cool stuff going on. Would we love to do a deeper dive into gender? Yes, we would.
Colin Maclay: For the funders out there, have at it.
Zoë Corwin: Hopefully, that’s coming. And we also, through our interviews, the young women that we interviewed had really cool things to say about how they’ve been integrated into their local skate communities. So it’s complex and definitely a to be continued.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah. I was just going to go back to support what Zoë said is one of the things that we’ve talked about is skateboarding is still of the world, right? It’s not on its own place. It’s not on the moon and it’s just this utopian space. It’s like, no, it has all the same issues and problems that we have that the US is facing and that the world is facing. So this was actually one of the things that was really important to get to see like here’s where the disparity and discrepancy.
Neftalie Williams: What I would say that has been good in skateboarding culture, in the skateboarding industry is that, now, in this current moment when thinking through that data and those feelings of an area of opportunity, we’ve seen not just in the study, but because I’ve been in skateboarding for a while, we’ve seen the steady progress happening going like that is our area of opportunity and it often comes down to when we talk about what marginalization means.
Neftalie Williams: Part of it is in particular, I know people in the industry going, “Hey, we’ve been marginalizing women in this way for a long time. Why have we been doing this? And is that who we want to be?” The market is really going like, “It’s not punk rock to marginalize anybody. It’s punk rock to bring everybody in.” So anytime we’re doing something that devalues anyone, I always look at it that, “Well, then that’s not skateboarding.” For me, that’s not skateboarding. If you’re excluding anybody, then that’s not skateboarding. That’s your own hang up. That’s your own bias, your own things.
Neftalie Williams: So there’s been a really big push both within the industry and the skate community to make sure that we are creating space for more women and more girls to be involved. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect at all, like the data shows, but that has been something that everyone’s been actively engaging with. But as Zoë and I have discussed, the thing that was really important to us is to go remember, these things are intersectional. People are marginalized in so many different ways – race, gender, sexual orientation. So we want to make sure that there’s a space to look at what we’re doing and grow in all those capacities so that we’re not forgetting one thing.
Neftalie Williams: We’re going like, “Oh.” As I was saying like, “Hey, the focus is we’re going to focus on women and young girls. Women and young girls. Yeah, but where is race playing in this? These women of color. Where does this sit at?” “Oh, we’re not going to do that right now.” Then the shit hits the fan and everyone is like, “Oh my gosh. Well, we forgot that. We were focused on this.”
Neftalie Williams: Our job is to make sure that people understand and focus on all those nexus that all of them are important. No one should be marginalized in this thing that we love and care about. And that’s just as a skateboarding advocate. I’ll just tell you one, there’s the first modern African-American female skateboarding professional is Samarria Brevard and I just interviewed her again yesterday, because I’m working on this magazine called Skatism. Skatism is the first magazine that has focused on the LGBTQ, on that community.
Neftalie Williams: So even in looking through how is skateboarding evolving, the fact that there is the creating that space because people are like, “We need it, we demand it, and we want it.” so I’m just helping work on that, but I was interviewing her because even looking from that lens, they called me and said, “Neftalie, we’ve been focused on queer skaters and the LGBTQ community and we’ve had lots of skaters of color. But we’ve only looked at them through the lens of their sexual orientation or their gender identities and we totally forgot about race.”
Neftalie Williams: So that shows everyone really got a little bit of a blinders on and we could all do better by investigating how everyone is oppressed or has the ability to support them through multiple, multiple sectors. I was proud of them for that. That’s a big deal to go like, “Hey, we’ve had 20 different people of color and never asked them what their experience was as a person of color. We’ve only focused on this,” which is okay, but we can always try to do better.
Colin Maclay: Well, as we see so much in the world right now, kind of the the movement against anti-blackness and systemic racism led by people of, queer folks of color, in particular, and young people. It’s like precisely the community you’re talking about who are… And in my conversations often says if you take the most marginalized folks and make sure that they are included, then everyone gets included. It’s the punk rock and skate vibe that you described.
Colin Maclay: So in that sense, the fact that your sample is really Gen Z here and you’re bringing in all these different aspects of identity and a shared identity as skaters, that to me seems like just a tremendous amount of power to realize and indeed precisely along the kinds of things where I would argue the nation needs to go, so it seems really promising in that way.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah. Just your act of recognizing people for who they are in that respect. If we just do that like, woo, that’s pretty much the game right there and then we can create strategies. That’s all to continue to do that, to continue to provide access and things. Hopefully things continue to get better. Well, I guess we’ll know in a few days, right? Sorry, maybe cut that. Maybe that was a grim bit. Sorry.
Colin Maclay: To a close as we invoke the cliff that we’re about to come in-
Neftalie Williams: To go vote. Go vote. Please go vote.
Colin Maclay: … either swim, fly or jump…
Henry Jenkins: Most people will hear this after the election.
Zoë Corwin: Oh, wow.
Henry Jenkins: Multiple versions of this depending on what the outcome is.
Neftalie Williams: Okay, okay, okay, okay.
Colin Maclay: No, no, no. Let’s think positive.
Neftalie Williams: It’s going to be great. Everybody please go vote. Please go vote. If this is after then, we’re glad you voted. Hurray.
Zoë Corwin: It is exciting to see… I’ve seen a lot of… It’s funny. I have two Instagram accounts. I actually have three. One is my family one. One is one that I create specifically when I teach qualitative research methods, and the other is we joint run the skate study site. Oh, by the way, it’s @USCSkateStudy. I feel like it gives me a really good lens into what’s going on in the skate world, and I’m seeing a lot of people saying, “Go vote, go vote, go vote.”
Zoë Corwin: There’s a lot of you know initiatives out there. It goes back to what Henry was saying, I think the young people are trying to engage people in civic work, in a variety of different ways. So that actually gives me a lot of hope both in the skate world and calling back to your question about what’s going on in the digital world that I’m looking at. I’m seeing some really cool innovative and engaging things happening generated by young people and that gives me a profound, profound hope for our future.
Neftalie Williams: Skate To The Polls, Skate To The Polls. That has been going on. That is an initiative that’s been happening in San Diego, and LA like it’s an actual real initiative and it’s been happening. I see it both in San Diego and LA, the Skate To The Poll initiative has been something that you’ll see on Instagram, you’ll see everywhere is that’s a real thing where skaters are going, “This is what we need to do to make the change that we want to see in the world.”
Neftalie Williams: Also, I would just say when we look at the history of skate culture, it sometimes gets like as we know, it’s been whitewashed and marginalized. There’s just been that way where I always recognize that it’s still a new… I mean, it’s only 50 years old. Arguably, it’s 60 years old. To watch that level of change occur, to the fact that there is Skatism magazine that there is Skate To The Polls, to watch all these things go on when we’re still… I mean Colin Kaepernick is still not playing, right?
Neftalie Williams: That’s the stuff that I document when I really looked, doing the dissertation, the history and experiences of skaters of color, I’ve watched them gain agency and have voices in ways that are not happening in traditional sports. And that’s its own thing, but that’s the data to bring to communities of color and go, “Listen, why are we playing football? Why are we doing this? Why are we doing these things when those structures do not want to be responsive to us?”
Neftalie Williams: So if they don’t want to be responsive, why don’t we do something else? Now of course there’s economics and these other factors that are in, but it also has to do with what’s the information going to the community of what are the ways to aspire? What are the ways to survive within the US, right? Because we’re coming from that perspective. We have to find a way to make a life in the US.
Neftalie Williams: So when I’m talking to leaders in communities of color going, “These are alternative ways for your kids to have agency, to create, be it to push them to go to school, to start their own business to even just be involved in recreation in a way that’s not going to channel them or funnel them into a system that they have no power in.” So that’s all.
Colin Maclay: Well, that seems like a fitting place to end with the promise for the future and where my greatest hope is. So I just want to thank you both so much for sharing this with us today. It’s just been a great conversation and I appreciate you.
Neftalie Williams: Oh, thank you.
Zoë Corwin: Thank you for having us. It’s always good to to be amongst creative thinkers like you all. I appreciate it.
Neftalie Williams: Yeah, it’s amazing. Thanks.
Henry Jenkins: Thank you. The breathless joy and passion we heard from those two guests, the sense of excitement of making a discovery about something you care about and being able to demonstrate to the world that it’s valuable. And it was not long after that we recorded the podcast that I was walking down Broadway in front of my house and suddenly this young man of color was propelled toward me at high speed and collided into me. And instead of having the cranky old man “get off my lawn, kid” response, my immediate thought is too bad these guys don’t have a skatepark downtown. And that shows what a convert I am as someone who’s often been fairly grouchy about people on wheels heading straight toward me.
Colin Maclay: Totally. I mean, as you say that enthusiasm and the promise, and I love that it connected to real world outcomes, right? As scholars, we don’t always get that kind of like a straight line where in legislation someone is pointing to your work or something is physically built based on what you said. So I think that was amazing. For me, the part that resonated was just what happens when you have a subculture that defines itself as being not the opposite of mainstream culture, but outside so many aspects of mainstream culture and the way that this subculture has defined itself as being multi-generational as being generally supportive as being still gendered, but perhaps a little bit less so, definitely more race agnostic or inclusive.
Colin Maclay: So lots of really positive values including the ones around learning and sharing skills, and tips, and engaging with each other. The idea, as someone with kids, the idea that there are spaces that some of us might think of as like dangerous spaces where trouble happens that are actually remarkably supportive in many respects the kinds of spaces that we would like our kids to be in happening on their own is pretty remarkable.
Colin Maclay: That really jazzed me and I think as you were pointing out, Henry and Neftalie and Zoë pointed out of course, the role of the skate shops and all this is really a trip. This is like the unseen church. This is another of these community things that most of us would never give a second look to, but that is really a powerful place.
Henry Jenkins: Yeah. As I was speaking, I was thinking about my comic shop. I was deeply loyal in Boston, to The Million Year Picnic for 20 years. I’m deeply loyal to Comics Factory in Pasadena since I’ve moved to LA and these are places I can go on a Saturday afternoon and start up a conversation with pretty much anyone in the shop. The clerks know who I am when I walk through the door. The people I bump into there are eager to discuss comics and what they like and what they don’t like in a way that most shopping today is relatively anonymous.
Henry Jenkins: So I feel what it must be like to be in a skate shop even though I’m never someone who’s going to strap wheels to the bottom of my feet or simply stand on a skateboard. That’s not my world, but I’m excited that people are finding that there.
Henry Jenkins: I’m reminded of this long-standing debate I have with the educator, James Paul Gee who around his use of the term affinity space and my use of the term participatory culture because Gee is insistent that for this learning to take place, there doesn’t have to be this intense sense of community. There simply has to be shared resources and knowledge. But I’ve always had trouble finding a space that has shared resources and knowledge that doesn’t have passion, doesn’t have a sense of connection between people.
Henry Jenkins: So it’s an interesting theoretical debate. Gee partially wins me over from time to time, but at the end of the day it’s that excitement we heard from our guest that convinces me that that to me is what drives learning in a space like this.
Colin Maclay: Well, and that I guess in some ways connects to the last thought I had which was how rich this was in terms of the research, the findings. And let’s just name one particular finding like this idea that a young man of color is safer carrying a skateboard in a moment where for the last many years that person is at risk, like physical risk. So that kind of finding, for instance among the other great sort of insights that they generated is so powerful and the irony that there is resistance in the academy to doing work like this on “non-serious topics” like games or play or skateboarding and that people will critique it and be like, “That’s not real scholarship. That’s not serious stuff.”
Colin Maclay: It just means that these really powerful forces that are often driven as they observed by joy, by wanting to have fun, that doesn’t mean that they’re not really powerful and worthy of study. And we in the academy all too often disregard them as objects of study and of places that can really tell us a lot about ourselves and our community. I guess I really appreciated their commitment to pushing forward into the space and to doing this great work.
Henry Jenkins: Well, as we’re recording, this is the Saturday afternoon that Biden has been declared the winner of the presidential race. I just heard Van Jones on CNN talking about the politics.
Colin Maclay: It’s amazing.
Henry Jenkins: The politics of joy was part of what he talked about today, and the way in which the younger generation of activists especially in the black community have seized on the category of joy as a transformative force for change, and the kind of desire for a better future motivating so much of the participation of young voters and young activists over the last year.
Colin Maclay: It’s absolutely like among our fellows community joy, and black joy in particular is a constant theme and statement, and affirmation, and source of power. It’s not my place to speak to, but just observing that that… And I feel like it connects to the dancing that we’re seeing in the celebrations, right?
Henry Jenkins: Yes.
Colin Maclay: It’s a release and it’s sort of an embrace of joy and recognizing with that joy comes power and comes the unity and community and all these things that are resources to begin the journeys of change that we need to embark on now, or to take the next steps as the case may be.
Henry Jenkins: Well, I wanted to share a story that’s giving me joy today and it’s not tied to skateboarding, but is tied to the politics of the election. So there’s a place just outside Atlanta called Forsyth County and it’s one of those counties that kept popping up on the map over the last four days as we watched election results come in. So the turn of the 20th century there was an aggressive purge in which all of the Black residents were rousted out of their bed in the middle of night and forced from their homes and many of them were lynched and executed. By the mid 20th century, by, I guess, the late 20th century, the ’80s, it was still a sundown county and there was not a single Black person who lived in Forsyth County.
Colin Maclay: Wow.
Henry Jenkins: And Jesse Jackson came in there as a protest and was calling attention to the conditions of this all-white county. And Oprah who was at the beginning of her career, came into Forsyth County and said, “I only want to have in my studio the people who live in this county.” Jesse Jackson at the time was very upset by the exclusion of the protesters. But she as a Black woman walked into this all-white room and faced all kinds of racism. And I mean from liberal racism to reactionary racism from that community. Today, that community is approaching 40% people of color.
Colin Maclay: Wow.
Henry Jenkins: And we’re watching the votes for Biden come in for Forsyth County. I don’t know what the final tally will be at this point, but there were significant numbers of those late votes coming in for Forsyth County for Biden. And as a Georgian who grew up not far from Forsyth County, this is just such a sense of joy and pride at the transformation of my state. So we add Jesse Jackson, Oprah, Stacey Abrams, the number of people of color who contributed to the shift in that county and the reclaiming of that county. It is one of the major political success stories that led to Georgia’s role in this election.
Colin Maclay: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think we’re we’re going to be looking… I mean, obviously, for the next two plus months all eyes are on Georgia and hopefully lots of wallets are opening and activity happening as they organize for these two senate races. But I think there’s a tremendous amount to learn for all of us, from the work that the organizers have done in the last years in Georgia.
Colin Maclay: I realize they’ve been in conversation with organizers across the country and influential in so many ways in registering folks to vote, getting out the vote, protecting against voter suppression, getting folks engaged. It feels like it’s among the more sophisticated thoughtful places that are confronting so many painful legacies and making incredible progress.
Colin Maclay: So I couldn’t be more appreciative of the work that they have all done, all those different organizers and it’s so great to see them getting credit. I hope that going forward, the other powers that be, the Democratic Party and others listen to the folks who did the work, who made all this happen and not go back to politics as usual and business as usual and forget who made the difference in this election. So I think this is a time for us to be truly more inclusive, more empowering and engage that wider range of voices, which has for so long been left outside of mainstream… The actual political debate and the policies that are made.
Henry Jenkins: So say we all.
Colin Maclay: Woo. Well, we’re starting, so I’m so happy to be releasing this really positive episode into very positive ether and as we roll up our sleeves and hope, and batten down the hatches for the next couple months. I’m excited to see where we go from here.
Henry Jenkins: As Bette Davis would say, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.” But I like that as a metaphor because it’s a bumpy ride that’s taking off and is going to the sky.
Colin Maclay: Well, I’m happy to be on that ride with you, Henry.
Henry Jenkins: Likewise, likewise.
Colin Maclay: Well, we are normally hosted by the University of Southern California here in Los Angeles, although we’re at home right now. USC and our homes in Los Angeles sit on the traditional lands of the Tongva people.
Henry Jenkins: We are ably assisted by our wonderful producers, Sophie Madej and Josh Chang.
Colin Maclay: We’re so appreciative of the unwavering support of the MacArthur Foundation in the production of this podcast.
Colin Maclay: You can find us online at howdyoulikeitsofar.org or on Instagram and twitter at H… Whatever the acronym is underscore pod. HDYLISF_pod.
Henry Jenkins: That’s easy for you to say.