Tyler Wright won the Tweed Coast Pro surfing event in Australia this weekend, but it’s her actions beforehand that are really making waves. Wright, a two-time World Surf League champion from Australia, took a knee before the start of her opening heat and propped up her surfboard to show the message on the bottom: “Black Lives Matter.”
In an Instagram post, Wright expanded on her decision while acknowledging her privilege, both as a white woman and a professional athlete. “These are divisive times and I’m a long way from perfect, but I deeply believe in the pursuit of racial justice and equality for everyone,” she wrote. “I understand my white privilege and having this platform within the surfing community means I have the choice to say something and do something . . . and that many don’t have that opportunity. I need to say more and do more with mine and I’m committed to challenging and changing the systems that continue to discriminate and oppress people of different backgrounds.”
Wright also explained the symbolism behind the length of time she took to kneel: 439 seconds. “One second for every First Nations person in Australia who has lost their life in police custody since 1991,” she wrote. In Australia, Indigenous people are incarcerated at four times the rate of Black people in the US, according to the BBC, and while they make up less than three percent of the nation, Indigenous people comprise a full 30 percent of the incarcerated population. The inaccessibility of data makes it difficult to pinpoint the number of Indigenous deaths in custody, but an analysis by The Guardian sets it at over 400 since 1991. The lack of consequences — no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Indigenous death in custody in Australia — has led to outrage and protests across the country this summer.
As Wright adds her voice to the fight, she’s already faced backlash from the surfing community, which is historically exclusionary. At the same time, her decision has also prompted strong support. Black Girls Surf, an organization that trains Black women to become pro surfers, came to Wright’s defense, stating, “This is the defining moment for the future of surfing . . . We’re going to hold [Wright’s] allyship high and dear, but also recognizing that this is only one step in a long road of true equality within the professional surf community.”
Read Wright’s full statement, and see photos of her powerful moment of support at the competition.
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