Tag Archives: NWA

Confronting Anti-Blackness In Wrestling

Outside interference! This was originally a cross-post on DoubleCakes’ personal site. You can support her on Patreon here

In the wake of the fragments of anti-black violence that make national news, like the atrocity in Charleston that cut short 9 lives, white writers and public figures like myself do our little turn on the catwalk to castigate racism. It’s bad! It hurts people! Like, really hurts them! We should stop!

Black activists wrote the book and we get a standing ovation for reading the opening paragraph.

It’s exploitative, shoves black voices back into the margins, and may haps worst of all: it doesn’t actually do anything. We treat racism like it’s Monsanto or Procter & Gamble: a faceless entity beyond our scope that we can debate over all the live long day without fear of tangible repercussion.

We can look as long and hard within our hearts as we want. We won’t gain the clairvoyance needed to undo or prevent the deaths caused by white supremacy and anti-blackness, operating under cover of us tapping our chins going “how could we allow this in a civilized society?”

Racism is a concept. It has no direct agents. White supremacy has movements, behaviors, and means that are well understood by those who opposite it—and it can be opposed because there exists agency. A white person who commits violent acts against people of color does not identify themselves a subordinate to racism; they are doing what they feel they must for the prosperity of the white race.

Sometimes this violence is carried out by people who don’t identify with that ideology, committed seemingly ignorant of its advancement of whiteness. We in a white-dominated society are made passive agents. Not every victory for white supremacy requires the fire department. In fact, we “well meaning” whites who go about our days not questioning why we say certain things and why we have certain reactions towards certain power are their most reliable source of labor.

To disrupt this agenda we must, as those who strive to be allies, call out anti-blackness wherever we see it. This includes subcultures, niches, and “nerd pursuits”.

30 years ago—within many fan’s lifetimes—a wrestler named Col. DeBeers went on AWA Television flashing the flag of Apartheid, disparaging “the black people” and refusing to get in the ring with non-whites.

Ed Wiskoski might not identify as a white supremacist (though his previous run as a terrorist Indian guru doesn’t speak to his defense on the account), but he and the promoters he wrestled for profited from the indiscriminate murder and incarceration of black South Africans by his “real life” counterparts, the same anti-black political force that mass murderer Dylan Roof idolized and sought to emulate.

We can all agree the angle was “controversial” or even inappropriate—but that alone is not enough to hold the industry and community accountable. To accept that people take offense to something is, as we would say in roleplaying games, a “free action”. It’s a well-laid path without resistance. Yup, a guy did a thing and it made some people upset. Case closed.

How did this angle, and the exploitation of a brutal government’s violence towards marginalized people, alienate black fans?

How did Colonel DeBeers attacking a black referee at a UWF show remind any black fans in the crowd of the violence they have experienced from white people, verbal and physical, while doing the degrading service jobs they or their parents were confined to performing under a white supremacist socio-economic system?

DeBeers counted on the bleeding of those visceral wounds left by history every time he performed. And there has been no accountability, for him, his promoters, our the fans who paid tickets or tuned in their televisions to watch African politics spill out into our sports arenas.

Wrestling is an endless feudal warfare. When promotions fold, their history and that of their performers fold with them, scavenged at the whim of the companies that muscled them out.

WWE will tell you that black wrestlers were often not permitted to wrestle white wrestlers, and that black fans had to sit in separate sections of the venue in the 50’s, and that there was this territory ran by Verne Gangne called AWA, it seems to escape them and their fan base how the history of that racial enmity created the demand of a character of Col. DeBeers.

Permitting white people to profit from capitalizing on the spectacle of anti-black violence is white supremacy.

Wrestling fans are notoriously defensive about claims of racism, or homophobia. There is a pride there, a manufactured notion that muscle-bound men in tights acting out characters drawn up by professional writers, improvising complex facsimiles of combat and posing when their appropriate music comes on is somehow a “simple man’s” interest that need not be subject to criticism like other art forms.

We’re possessive and we’re guilty. Every one of us who laughed at D-X doing blackface, who bought a ticket to boo black wrestlers win on a 2 count because of “Affirmative Action” at Smokey Mountain Wrestling, who popped at John Cena’s rapping when so many black performers failed to get over with the same gimmick—we have all been complicit in the anti-blackness of professional wrestling.

A black wrestler has never won the Money in the Bank. 15% of MitB competitors have been black; they made up 50% of the competitors in the 2009 match. Of 29 Royal Rumbles, only one has been won by a black performer: The Rock, whose blackness was immediately downplayed once we left The Nation of Domination (a heel stable intended to evoke fears of a militant black uprising) and turned face. Conversely, black performers have featured in the main event of WrestleMania 12 of 32 times. The labor is there, and utilized. It’s just never allowed to prosper.

At the last Money in the Bank PPV, The Prime Time Players challenged New Day for the tag team titles. The last time a tag team title match was contested between two all-black teams on television was in 2012. This is with a year-long schedule, with multiple weekly TV viewings, and at least 12 monthly Pay Per Views a year.

Because we’re focusing a little too much on WWE: There has been one recognized black NWA World Champion, Ron Killings; Bobo Brazil’s 73 day reign was overturned by the board and credited back to defending champion Buddy Rogers. A black wrestler never main-evented Starrcade. Of 31 title reigns, a black wrestler was TNA World champ once, for 24 days. Of 63 WCW Title Reigns (including storyline vacancies) black performers have claim to 8 of those reigns. The famous five time holder of that title, Booker T, started his career with a “plantation slave” gimmick, complete with chains and a man dressed in white named “The Colonel.”

Anti-blackness by the numbers.

It would not be enough for me to point out that Kamala The Ugandan Giant, a suspicious savage who lost because he couldn’t remember how to pin his opponents despite wrestling for decades, or Mark Henry beating his chest and screaming, is a racist pantomime of colonialist attitudes towards black folk. Or that Kurt Angle forcing himself on a black woman and telling her he’ll own her reflects white rapist’s attitudes and motivations toward women of color.

Wrestling is resplendent in radicalized violence. It’s not hard to find, and easily dismissed as it is found. “It’s wrestling, it doesn’t hurt anybody, it’s fun.”

For who, though?

Who is relied upon to find blackface, rape threats, and accusations that black women are actually men fun?

And what message does our uncritical consumption say to those who come to wrestling for entertainment or even respite from a cruel and uncaring world, only to find a glib mirror of their injustice?

And how many times did you sing along to the line “I fight for the rights of every man?”

It is imperative—to fight for what’s right, to aid others fighting for their lives—that we call out white supremacy in our sport. Whether it’s on a WWE hashtag or in an email to an indie promotion that performed for 35 people. Share the content of wrestling fans of color, whether it’s live tweeting an event or reviewing an old one. If we have podcasts and blogs, we must make space for non-white voices to speak up on the sport. Especially if they aren’t hardcore fans who can list every iteration of the 4 Horsemen.

We, as white fans, cannot be trusted to overturn anti-blackness in our community alone. After publishing this, I hope to exit through the crowd, or be a lumberjack—insert your wrestling inside joke here. I am not an expert. I am not a leader. I put this forth in the hopes that other white wrestling writers who share my politics will recognize the racism in this thing we love and burn it to death with X-Pac Heat.

I’m trying to reach you here. I’m really, really trying.

The confrontation must ultimately be led and centered around black voices and actions. Sometimes this means once-outsiders need to come into our fandom, whether it’s wrestling or video games or comics, and call out the ways in which our community and our commodity do them lasting, systemic harm. In doing so, by holding our art accountable for the violence it has propagated, it will make it better, and bigger.

Wrestling is for everyone.

It is time to bury the anti-blackness in wrestling. It is time to give The Colonel his demerits.