Andrew Jackson - My Perspective As A Black BMX Rider

"I don’t know if you can protest away racism."

26 Jun 2020

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Photo by Suitcase Joe.

Interview by Rob Dolecki

The past few weeks have been tumultuous in all realms of society, to say the least. Just when much of the world was starting to look forward to the easing of restrictions after the last few months of the Covid-19 pandemic and getting back to whatever the new “normal” will be post-‘Rona, viral video footage capturing the horrific death of George Floyd in the U.S. caused by police sparked a firestorm of protests demanding justice and racial equality. This wasn’t just happening in the U.S.; many cities across the globe were the stage for protests by people of all colors and creeds, marching in solidarity.

While racial inequality is by no means a new subject, BMX has for the most part always been perceived as a bubble of sorts from the real world, where creativity, uniqueness, and diversity are always celebrated. One where we all ride together, regardless of political and religious beliefs, class, nationality, or race. BMX has always been the bond that stands above all the labels and divisions the real world can succumb to.

Or has it?

After a few social media posts/ comments by riders expressing their negative experiences due to the color of their skin, they brought to light a discussion that for the most part has been an elephant in the room when it comes to BMX media. We at DIG thought it was as good a time as any to provide a platform to voice their thoughts, experiences, and opinions on the subject by a handful of riders. They may be currently pro, or may be influential and legendary on so many levels, or maybe they don't necessarily ride BMX as much as in their heyday of being sponsored, but they have one thing in common- they are all riders who happen to be black.

Maybe their words will make some uncomfortable. Maybe those words will make some angry. Maybe those words will make some feel like those viewpoints are way off-base. Or maybe they will make some take pause for a moment to listen, and learn about a different perspective they may not have previously ever experienced firsthand, or thought about.

Our goal in doing this will hopefully result in the latter, to whatever degree. It’s not about creating more tension than what is already out there. It’s about bringing awareness, and hopefully it will help our community move in a more positive direction. A community that has never been about divisiveness - it’s a community based on those last five letters of the word = U-N-I-T-Y.

Up next is lifelong Los Angeles resident and all-around shredder Andrew Jackson. Besides repping WeThePeople as a pro in the late 00s into the 2010s, Andrew has also been found behind the video camera documenting the L.A. scene for various projects. While his primary focus has shifted to logging heavy miles on road bikes the last few years, he can still be found ripping his 20" on occasion.

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Classic Andrew Jackson - DIG 75 - Photo by Rob Dolecki

The world as a whole has been dealing with racism of all types for millennia. It’s largely perceived as non-existent in the BMX community, a bubble separate from the real world. What are your thoughts on that?

I remember with Gabe Brooks, he was blowing up and riding with a lot of new people, and it would bother me that some of them would act differently when he was around, almost treating him like he was a circus animal or novelty. I think Gabe realized it was marketable, and used it to his advantage like rappers do. I felt like they were almost exploiting LA Gang culture; I don’t know if they understood those are real things that ultimately ended up taking his life. After he had kind of gotten out of the BMX industry, I remember we had a long conversation about it, and he was like, “You know what, I realized a lot of these white people didn’t really care about me, and they couldn’t understand me. I miss the old days just riding with you and our real friends.” I'm sure most of them meant well and weren’t racists, but these are the types of issues and conversations black people have in BMX.

I remember being on a trip in San Francisco, and there were some gangster black kids down the street from the spot we were riding. I wasn’t worried; they were doing their thing. Everybody was tripping out, and I was feeling really uncomfortable about the situation, “Why are you so scared of these 18 year-old black kids?” One person said, “Hey Andrew, I’m going to stand next to you the whole time, if that’s cool.” I was like, “Really?” (Laughter) Things like that would happen; it would be a normal occurrence.

Me and my brother used to ride these dirt jumps in Simi Valley, which is is about an hour north of L.A. All the people who rider there were skinheads, had Nazi swastikas carved in the back of jumps. It was an openly racist thing, talking shit about black people, Mexicans, everything all the time. But they would always do the thing, “Oh, you guys are cool; you’re one of the good ones.” They would always be cool to us. I think I was too young to know how to handle that, or what to do. I remember feeling super uncomfortable, and almost scared, but those were the dirt jumps, and those were the locals there.

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Scratching the surface in So Cal - 2014. Photo by Andrew White

"I remember feeling super uncomfortable, and almost scared, but those were the dirt jumps, and those were the locals there. "

What’s been your experience both internationally outside of BMX, and in the international BMX communities?

In China, everyone would go out at night, and people would be talking to girls, and it would always be like, “He’s cool, but he’s black." In Croatia, I got surrounded for being black. There was a party after a contest in 2012, it was a weekend festival. I was dating a Croatian girl at the time, and we went to a Coachella kind of thing by a lake. People in Eastern Croatia are super racist anyway; it’s not OK for a black guy to be walking down the street with a white Croatian girl. So we are out there, and our tent is set up next to the punk stage, which are the Neo-Nazis out there; I didn’t know this. These dudes were looking at me the whole time. They sent this drunk guy to open our tent and get in when it was nighttime and we were trying to sleep. He unzips it, tries to fall in on top of us. I’m holding him up with my hand trying to get him out. He’s belligerent, and I push him and he falls on his back, and I see probably 10 big Neo-Nazis in leather jackets looking crazy, and they all stand up immediately and start walking over to the tent. I just zipped it back up, and sat there waiting, and planning how I’m going to get out of this situation. They come over, unzip the tent, start yelling at my girl in Croatian- I could speak a little bit back then. They’re saying why would you bring this (n-word) here, you’re disgusting, look at yourself, all this stuff. They were telling me to get up and fight. If they had hit her, I was getting up to defend her. It was probably one of the craziest situations I’ve ever been in. It kept escalating. I’ve been in a lot of altercations with people wanting to fight or gangsters checking me and stuff, but this felt different. I could see how serious they were about really wanting to hurt me or worse. So they all just post up and start drinking beers by my tent. They stayed there until 3AM. As soon as first light came around, I wake up, and they are passed out on the ground. I tip-toed around them and got out of there. I got back to the contest the next day, and Brad Simms was there, and I told him the story. He was like, “Bro, I was at the strip club, I got into it with people there, they tried to set me up.” They left his homie there and brought him to the ATM. When he didn’t have money in the ATM, his homie told him that they called and told the two guys that walked Brad out to take him out in the field and kill him. I was like, “I need get out of this country.” Brad was like, “It’s not that bad.” (Laughter)

I think it’s always a little different, culturally. Most places are cool.

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Jerusalem circa 2010. Photo by Jeff Allen

Have you ever experienced issues in relation to sponsors and the industry as a whole?

I’m doing the road bike thing now, and getting sponsors. I feel kind of uncomfortable sometimes, because it’s so new for me. I don’t know where I fit in. I don’t want to be the token black guy just because they need diversity. They definitely do, but it should come from a place of you being a good rider and you fit what they want to accomplish as a brand. Not in a random DM or something like, “We need black faces to look diverse, you’ll do." I never really felt like that in BMX, because I had a bunch of good sponsors and it’s a super-diverse sport from a financial standpoint, as well as race, so I knew I belonged. I do think being black was a positive thing for me in BMX, and now in road bikes because I am different and do stand out, but I would never want to sell out like other people have done. I feel like there are some black people that WANT to be the token black guy or have pushed that narrative. They will be like, “I’m the only one doing this.” But we got our own issues and this isn’t about that. (laughs)

How about with certain law enforcement, both in relation to street riding and outside of BMX?

I have so many stories. I do think it was really interesting when I was riding with Gabe and my other black friends, and when I’m the only black person there. One time we were riding a school, and we were all black. The cops come to the school, and I never seen them come in so crazy. They surrounded the school with SWAT, came in guns drawn, made us all lay on the ground face down. We were like, “What’s going on?” They got a call that we were stealing computers from the school. We’re riding, why would we be stealing computers? That was a crazy one. It was the person who called them; it wasn’t even the police’s fault. They weren’t cool, but they let us go and everything afterwards.

Another time I was riding down the street with my homegirl, who is Asian. The cop ran his car up the curb and pinched me into a building, jumped out, grabbed my arms had me bent over the front of the car searching me. I was asking what happened and they said it was because I had no lights on my bike. My homegirl rode up behind me and they were like, "Ma’am, can you move along?” “What are you talking about, I’m with him.” She also had no lights on her bike. They were like, “Oh, you’re with him?” They completely switched up their whole narrative, and eased up on me. She was mind-blown, since she had never been in a situation like that.

How do you see the bike industry, and community as a whole could improve in relation to race issues?

Some companies are doing it right. One way could be just being authentic. They don’t need to do a diversity outreach program. (Laughter) Maybe get to know other people of other races as friends and just hang out with them before putting them on the team.

What do you think there are any solutions to all the angst gripping the U.S. at the moment?

I don’t know if there is one. I feel like this had been going on for so long. I don’t know if you can protest away racism. A lot of people are saying vote to change laws. Awareness is really good, but actual change, I don’t know. I hope it does, but I’m scared that when quarantine is over, and it’s back to normal day-to-day, a lot of people will move on to the next. We’ll see; hopefully it changes.

"I do think being black was a positive thing for me in BMX..."

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Andrew back in 2010 - Photo by Rob Dolecki

Millions of people worldwide have now protested to demand #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd and the countless other innocent black lives lost to racial violence everywhere, and here at DIG we wish to express our continued solidarity for those demanding a better world. We ride together - we stand together - Black Lives Matter.