We reached out to our friends to understand more about the lack of diversity in Snowboarding and how we can learn from and encourage diversity in snowboarding. Third up, is Switzerland’s David Djite, who is one of the most stylish and popular people to base themselves out of Laax.
Is snowboarding racist?
I think that’s a question not many have asked themselves before the recent events in the USA and the following global protests against racism. Honestly, neither did I. As a person of color that snowboards, I have experienced all kinds of racism. But I’ve never asked myself or even thought about this question before. So, before I start answering this question, I want to talk about racism as itself and in the end, I think everyone can answer the question for themselves.
To have a better understanding of racism, keep in mind, that the categorization of humans into ‘race’ is a made-up construction to morally justify the economical slave trade of humans and the systematic oppression of Black, Indigenous and People Of Color (BIPOC). There is no scientific evidence for this categorization. From a biological perspective, we are all the same race: human.
Today the term “person of color” (plural: people of color, persons of color; sometimes abbreviated POC) is primarily used to describe any person who is not considered white. It’s an umbrella term and emphasizes common experiences of systemic racism.
The following is addressed directly to all my fellow white snowboarders. This is my way of perceiving the world and I talk about racism in the way I experience it. You can agree or disagree, but I want you all to actively deal with racism even if you think you are not a racist. I know that there are tons of other reasons people get discriminated for and I also know that every individual has its own fate to struggle with, but this article is about racism.
Getting called a racist is the one thing every white person gets uncomfortable with. For some reason our society associates racism only with far-right people that openly use racist aggression or police brutality. Racism is considered bad and you as a decent human being for sure don’t want to be part of that. You vote liberal, you donate money to some help organization for Africa, you probably have a black friend and you are a free spirit. In your head, you for sure aren’t a racist. But it ain’t that easy. Racism happens in all areas of our society. Not dealing with the systematic oppression through colonization and the history that almost every white dominating society in this world has, doesn’t make the problem go away. Just ignoring it, doesn’t help. It’s like cheating on your girl- or boyfriend. Not thinking about it, doesn’t make the bad feelings go away. And attributing racism only to the far-right wing, also doesn’t make it disappear. Racism exists in all forms and not only in the visible ones. And trust me, it hurts every single time you have to experience it.
The problem with racism is that it is so deeply anchored in our society that it became part of us. It’s accepted. Not the open discrimination, but the way we function as a society. Nobody gets born as a racist but while we are growing up, we get racist socialized. As a young kid you already learn that the different looking people are ‘the others’ and ‘we’, the white people are the standard. I give you an example I experience very often, that starts with the question “where are you from?”. My usual answer is Zürich, Switzerland. But that doesn’t feel right for my fellow white opposite. He or she always continues with “no, but where are you originally from?”. “Well, I was born at Anwandstrasse, that’s a side street of Langstrasse (the party street of Zürich) in the district 4.” And that’s when I get a weird look and another “no, but where are your roots?”. I often answer a bit annoyed “Well, my mum is from Switzerland and my dad from Senegal, but I was born in Zürich”. My opposite usually feels very satisfied with that and says something like “ah, I thought you look exotic” or some other crap. It’s crap because that way of categorizing people, gives us people of color the feeling of `we are the others’ and even if we are born in the same country as you, speak the same language as you, went through the same school system as you, have the same passport as you and in my case, even did snowboard contests under the same flag that you are so proud of — in this society, people of color are still ‘the others’. The right of being ‘from here’ doesn’t belong to us. And you as a white person don’t grow up being mostly the ‘only’ one. You are always part of the majority. Everything from commercials to toys for kids exactly fits you. Most people from a white dominated society, like here in Switzerland, have that stereotype of a ‘real’ swiss person in their heads: in short, you need to be white. We, ‘the others’, simply can’t be ‘originally from here’. And I can’t blame you for that way of thinking. You just don’t know it any better. You are not a bad person because of that but it is time to start thinking anti-racist. You might still be more worried about not to be seen as a racist than actually have a talk with a person of color about racism. You rather try to find a way to justify your view with something like “I’m not a racist but..” or “racism happens to me too” than listen to the people that are actually confronted with it and believe their words.
About racism and snowboarding:
We, as the snowboard community, always had to fight for our right just to be on the mountain. At the beginning, no ski-resort wanted us. We were looked at as some “rebel-kids” that don’t fit into the world of winter sports. But now we travel the world and we learn a lot about different cultures. We have friends all over the globe. So why should we do the same to anyone who wants to be part of our community? Then again, as I said before, racism isn’t only open aggression. It comes in all forms. You don’t need to actually call someone the n-word to make her or him feel bad. Simply by treating people of color differently, you’re contributing to racism.
In snowboarding we have a lot of influence from the black culture. From music to cloth styles, we’ve adapted it all. Have you ever asked yourself why there aren’t more people of color in the snowboard scene? As most of you know, snowboarding isn’t a cheap lifestyle (or sport) to do and live. Already getting all the gear is pretty costly and the accommodation and lift tickets doesn’t make it easier. Now guess who’s in the lowest socio-economic environment of literally every white dominated society? That’s right, people of color. And it’s not that they are dumber or lazier. Life for a person of color simply puts more barriers along the way. Not only from education to jobs do people of color get systematically disadvantaged. In sports generally, we often get stigmatized as those athletes who are good in ball sports or at track and fields. But when it comes to ‘more expensive sports’ like snowboarding, a person of color is supposed to feel as an exception, because everyone around us keeps saying stuff like “wow, didn’t know that there are people like you snowboarding”.
During my contest time, I travelled a lot with members of the Swiss national team. At one point someone came up with the idea of calling me “P-Zero”. That’s a car tire model from Pirelli. Everyone thought it was funny but is it though? Is it funny to give someone a nickname based on their inherent looks/color of skin? Also, I’ve heard stuff like “you are not welcome here” or “you are just sponsored because you are black”. When I was on a trip in Valais, the locals were celebrating carnival and a group of ‘Fassnächtler’ was dressed as `bush people’ which keeps the stereotype of black people being dumb and wild animals alive. When I fly somewhere by myself to meet up with the crew, I can be sure to get taken out by the boarder control. When I went to the ISPO the last couple years, I’ve been pulled over by the police every single time I arrived in Munich. They always check me for drugs. The list of racist incidents I’ve experienced during snowboarding goes on and on.
To get away from this closed-minded thinking, we should get away from all those stereotypes we have towards people of color and other discriminated people. Let’s start supporting each and every one who wants to be part of the snowboard community. Especially those who don’t feel like they are welcome or can’t afford it.
What I appreciate the most about Snowboarding is that it has always been a place where you can escape from everyday struggles and just have the most of fun with all your homies and feel free. But at the same time, we keep up a bubble of not really seeing the bigger picture of what’s happening around us. It’s like we are kind of living in a parallel society, where nothing else but having a good time matters. But I think it’s time that we get out of this and start contributing to a better world. Not only while it’s trending on the social medias.
So, is it too much to ask to fight your unconscious discrimination and actually deal with racism and all its forms? I don’t think so. Let’s stop being ignorant and give back to those we take so much from. It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend warrior, a brand representative, brand owner or a professional, let’s make sure everyone feels and is welcome, so everyone gets to experience the beautiful feeling you get on a perfect pow day.