SOFA TALK: Maz Mayassi - Melanin Gals & pals

Maz Mayassi, the founder of Melanin Gals & pals popped by the shop the other day to do a little interview. 

Melanin Gals & Pals is a collective created to empower and uplift voices of marginalised communities within our very white-straight-cis-male skateboarding world, and so far they seem like they having the most fun!

How are you today? 

I am happy, I am high, I am tired! Life is great

How did you come up with melanin gals & pals?

I started in Leeds with “Leeds Skate Gals & Pals” because when I started skating there were no girls at all. That was cool. When I moved to London I wanted to join a community. But I couldn’t find a community where people looked like me. At the same time this rising of consciousness about racism, the death of George Floyd, everything going on with anti-Asian hate were taking place. I thought it would be cool to create a space fo skaters of colour that wanted to come and talk about the experience of being marginalised, skate together and a space for adults to start skating - it is pretty hard to start skating when you are an adult.

Do you feel it's important for people that feel marginalised to join other groups of marginalised people? Because sometimes it is getting to white boys vs. everyone else

I think it is very important to have subgroups of marginalised people just because I feel that if you put all marginalised people together it's just like the championship of marginalisation, of who is more marginalised? With Leeds Skate Gals & Pals it was a lot of trying to cater for the feelings of white women. This resulted in a lot of messages not being heard or not being taken into account. For a black queer woman this was a very heteronormative white space to be in. That is why creating Melanin Gals & Pals was super important. It created a space that didn’t exist before. The aim is to empower people to go skating in open spaces with other people. The aim is to raise visibility and representation within different marginalised groups whilst making everyone aware of others’ marginalisation. People can coexist in the skate community together.

Where do you want to take it? Are there any plans for the near future?

With Melanin Skate Gals & Pals we really want to start holding biannual events for all the marginalised skate crews as well as an annual event where we can invite everyone from the skate community and raise awareness about different causes. But it all starts with empowering people to skate together. 

How has it grown since you started about a year ago? As an outsider the growth seems to have accelerated so fast. Is it true that you had 1000 people attending your sessions last summer?

Yes, 1080 people came to skate sessions last summer. It has grown a lot. 

Baring in mind that was in between lockdowns that is very impressive. 

Yes I feel like it grew a lot very fast because people really needed a space like this. As adults it is very hard to find the time to play. It's so nice to have a crew where people just come to have fun together. On a second level we can have conversations that can be light, without making a big deal out of the marginalisation. A lot because people from outside our group realised that there was a big gap within the skateboard community and that also help to accelerate our growth. Now we can all see a lot of melanin and we want to spot it, so I think that is really cool. 

What I really like about what you created is that you don't seem to feel skateboarding owes you anything. In contrast to other attempts throughout the history of skateboarding where this entitlement, this feeling of skateboarding owing something, is there. For example when we demand as girls to be more visible in mainstream skateboarding media, it certainly is fair enough but is also an approval of that said media. But you seem to have ignored that completely and just created your own space to have fun. Instead of feeling you owed something by a group of people that are irrelevant to you, you just created your own thing that stands at its own right. Naturally these types of things do grow organically and ironically then the mainstream industry does want to give them a piece as well as take from them. It doesn't feel like you guys are moving around expecting things from people, it just looks like it organically just happens. 

Yaaassss. I think at the beginning another reason I created Melanin Gals & Pals was because I dint feel you could see a lot of non-white queer people in skateboarding community. In some girls groups it seemed like the idea of a non binary skater would be a fem looking person. If a masc non binary looking person was to turn up I don't think they would be accepted the same. So I just wanted to create a space for queer people too. And queer people of color. Last time we met we watched a play together were it depicted how it can be difficult to be a non-white queer person.

Foxes written by Dexter Flanders, best play I watched in years

We need to go to the theatre again. 

What has been the best way to get support from the industry? 

I think people are just really interested, people wanna be diverse, people want to look good. There is a lot of tokenism in the skateboarding industry like in any industry. People wnat to be involved in non-white staff because they have given so many opportunities to white people over the years and they really want to make it more diverse. People are actually contacting us not only to collaborate but to just support us with prizes. Without creating Melanin Gals & Pals it wouldn't have been the same. Especially in the skateboarding community where access to these types of insert staff is only granted as a pro/semi pro skater. My frame of mind is that all you need is a skateboard that you ride to be a skater. Maybe that is how the industry can see us as more accessible and wants to work with us. The tokenism is definitely there but the more people want to work with us, maybe tokenize us maye not, the more is gonna become the norm to work with people of colour. 

Yes, I have found myself doing the same with the woman-owned as this is the only female owned skate shop in London if not in the UK. As in sometimes I will get out of my way to stress this enough because it does matter, if it didn't I wouldn't be an exemption. 

Exactly, capitalise what you got. You have to know your worth and tell them, saying it is woman owned completely shuts down the expectation of what a skateshop is and what a woman is. I went beyond the barrier of society to create something by myself and I'll stand by it. I always tell people got Brixton’s Baddest to get their boards haha

Favourite skater?

Felicia the skater (Anika Gibbs). She is so good! And Cece is one of my favourite skaters!

Yeaaas, team Cece <3. Favourite Melanin Gals & Pals session/ moments so far?

The first time we manage to get the whole collective paid for jobs! And these jobs that provide loads of free food haha

Last question: Ass or Titties? 

Definitely titties! 

Last thing you do before bed?

Get high, brush my teeth, pray!

I love "praying"! Always count your blessings :)