Paul Dillett looks back and explains the systemic racism in bodybuilding.
Earlier this year, we spoke with Robby Robinson about his experiences with racism in bodybuilding. Later, Kevin Levrone shares his thoughts from his perspective (and from a different era of the sport). During our conversation with Paul Dillett, racism in bodybuilding was brought up. Did he experience any struggles during his prime years of competing? In our latest GI Exclusive interview, Paul Dillett details the struggles he faced as a black bodybuilder.
When speaking with Paul Dillett, we got into the topic of him leaving the IFBB and starting his own bodybuilding league. There was some perception that Dillett left with bad blood for the IFBB. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Dillett explains how he couldn’t have accomplished what he did without the IFBB. He holds the league, Jim Manion, and other key players in the highest regard.
He does admit that there was a false narrative spun making him to look like the bad guy. He recalls receiving many nasty comments after he started being a promoter of his own league. So why was there such a misconception?
Paul Dillett believes it has to do with systemic racism. That during his time, it was rare for a black bodybuilder to promote his own shows or appear on magazine covers. He makes a point to refute Robbie Robinson’s specific claims though. Dillett has no bad blood with Joe Weider. He didn’t experience any form of direct racism via Weider. Instead, he places the blame on the bigger picture. That society has set up an expectation (and in many ways still does) for what a black person can and can’t accomplish.
Paul Dillet explains in our interview:
“There’s so many things about it that I question… In today’s society there’s so much that’s going on… the race card always gets comes up. People ask me, ‘Paul if you weren’t a person of color do you think you would have been treated differently?’ That part I would have to say yes.”
He continues to go into more detail about what it was like during his prime years competing:
“As a man of color, doing what I’m doing, that’s the thing in that’s in fitness world that’s never talked about, you know? Like, in my era, blacks didn’t really go and grace the covers very often because we didn’t sell covers, you know? We didn’t get to promote shows… You’d find maybe one or two black judges. Everyone else was white. And for me to own my own organization, it’s not supposed to – I’m not supposed to do that.”
No names are given. No specific encounters are exposed. Instead, Paul Dillett explains a problem that is still very much prevalent in today’s society. There are overall cultural attitudes and systems in place that put black people at a disadvantage. This is true in bodybuilding as it was in any other area of the country and even the world.
There’s no doubt that Paul Dillett has had much success in his life – but looking back he can’t help but feel he was still compromised. He knows his experience was different purely based on the color of his skin. That being said, he had nothing but kind words for Joe Weider, Jim Manion, and the IFBB organization as a whole. It was the bigger picture that set him and many other black bodybuilders apart during his time.
You can watch Paul Dillet’s comments in our latest GI Exclusive interview segment above.