Tag Archives: Racism

HulkaRacism: When It Came Crashing Down

Today millions of wrestling fans around the world have received a monumental, unavoidable surprise: their fave is problematic.

As you may have seen on our front page, we at Femmezuigiri promote a Hulkamania-free space to grapple with the nasty -isms rampant in professional wrestling. So when the hot button issue of the day is the icing on the red and yellow cake which sent Hulk Hogan abruptly out of WWE, it brought up a lot of different feelings.

If you’ve been anywhere on social media since yesterday evening when warnings of a breaking story — as well as the removal of the Hulkster from WWE’s website — first got out, you’ll probably find most everyone else is at varying stages of processing the information, and are there ever levels to process.

It started last night when a thread on forum site thecoli warned of an audio recording that would be published so full of racial slurs it would lead to WWE severing all ties with Hogan. Several hours later WWE.com had removed as much Hogan-related content from its site. His profile was removed from the Superstars roster, he was no longer listed as a judge on the Tough Enough reality series already in progress, Hulk Hogan merchandise was removed from WWE Shop and Curtis Axel who had been running wild with Axelmania as of late returned to his pre-Royal Rumble incarnation.

Hogan’s first statement on the matter was a brace for impact tweet at 1:00 am EST suggesting what was to come was in the hands of God.

Even before the Enquirer’s article was published word had spread of Hogan’s potential wrongdoing through a misleading article which cited a podcast where Hogan uttered a racial slur. The Enquirer would then publish the content of the recording, thoroughly demonstrating the degree of trouble the Hulkster had gotten himself into.

WWE would soon follow up the story with a statement confirming the termination of Hogan’s contract stating they are “committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of [their] employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

The termination also includes Hogan’s removal from the WWE’s Hall of Fame which he was inducted to in 2005.

Hogan has since apologized, expressing disappointment in using language “inconsistent” with his beliefs. Hogan has also selectively replied on Twitter to fans pledging their continued solidarity to Hulkamania, and standout members of society have been at ready to have Hogan’s back such as MMA fighter and domestic violence enthusiast Tito Ortiz as well as Dennis Rodman.

In a situation where the largest professional wrestling company in the world unsanctimoniously excommunicates the biggest star wrestling has ever seen — and the one who arguably put said company on the map — it comes as a surprise to no one that the news has garnered attention from out there in the real world, and it hasn’t all been pats on the back for WWE removing a racist from its payroll.

Articles from several well known publications’ online platforms have made ample light of the numerous occasions where WWE’s characters, storylines and Chairman of the Board have far from celebrated and embraced cultural diversity. Many of you reading right now can probably count at least five of these occurrences off the top of your head, onscreen and off (take your time, I’ll wait it should only take you a few seconds). On top of that, it is an open secret that POC wrestlers are rarely if ever granted the opportunity to propel themselves to the main event. With the extensive (and The Rock means EXTENSIVE) laundry list of terrible race representation in the WWE, it’s incredibly suspect that only now and in this moment they’ve decided to rise above racism. After all, Michael P.S. Hayes is still employed.

For WWE, this was a case of the receipts being so good they couldn’t not do something. It’s conclusive evidence of one of the most recognizable names in wrestling and greater pop culture being overtly racist. An offensive storyline, gimmick etc. is only a problem when the negative backlash goes beyond the fanbase eg. that fucked up Muhammad Hassan bit on Smackdown (interesting to think about whether WWE would have even backtracked were there no timely real life terrorist attack). If D-Generation X puts on blackface to impersonate the Nation of Domination or another POC wrestler debuts with a painfully stereotypical gimmick a few of the overly-sensitive lefties may go up in arms but WWE figures they’ll be back next week tuning into Monday Night RAW anyway. Once the outer reaches of society uncharacteristically pay attention to professional wrestling for once, then it’s an issue. Then a McMahon has to actually be accountable to someone who has no shares or any ownership of the company.

Because of this, 90% of fans remain incredulous, a little bit puzzled and definitely skeptical that this is a sign of WWE trying to leave the blackface, racist caricatures and glaring inequality on the roster behind. For all we know JBL will be back on commentary saying black wrestlers lack intellect, the Prime Time Players could end up returning to their old spot being a charismatic tag team that’s overlooked by creative and Team BAD may only ever see themselves wrestling on Main Event or Superstars. It’s a horrifying stretch but some would be neither shocked nor appalled, it’s something fans come to expect from WWE.

Despite skepticism on WWE’s policies regarding POC talent, we are still left with the reality that the biggest star in wrestling history has been not only axed, but wiped clean from the records. It’s incredibly difficult to wrap your head around, isn’t it, considering this is someone who main evented seven of the first nine Wrestlemanias, (eight if you count the whole Bret/Yokozuna/Hogan thing at WM IX) consistently drew crowds and admiration, and up until today was praised by WWE for his legacy (read: he got them a buck or two more when he showed up).

Ignoring how weird it’s going to be for WWE to overlook many iconic moments in professional wrestling history, some won’t find it too difficult to adapt to Hulkamania not running wild in the company: the late Lou Thesz did say Hogan “couldn’t tell a wristlock from a wristwatch” and that his “grandmother could do a better leg drop.”

There are still of course, the countless fans who regarded Hogan as a hero, looking up to him during childhood, appreciative of the fond memories his work in wrestling brought to their lives. While the past can’t be erased regardless of WWE redactions, the reframing of what Hulk Hogan means and represents can happen. Remember when you found out that Hogan loved the backstage politics and had a tendency of making it all about him? Similar process, only racism.

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.

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Slam Dunk

Character is collaborative. You can write every intended spoken line and weeks worth of kayfabe tweets, but you can’t move their mouths or blink their pretty eyes for them. At some point, the wrestler enacts agency.

David McLane’s women-based wrestling promotions GLOW and Women of Wrestling were plagued with setbacks by the bucketful, the least of which was a racist run rampant, practically sprinting.

It’s easy, or rather it has been societally programmed as such, to look at women of color playing out race-baiting pantomimes and fall back on the either/or: they must have full agency over their decision to take the part, or they lack all agency in their participation. The truth is stuck in the mud along the border of the rival states. There is room for enjoyment, satisfaction, coercion, and frustration, for working with the system and being exploited by it, simultaneously–the scenario is universal, but the reaction is case by case.

All this to say that WoW’s Slam Dunk made the most out of a preposterly offensive gimmick. She was set up as a (then) heel inversion of Mt. Fiji–the giant undefeated woman. Supposedly banned from the WNBA for being too violent, Slam Dunk compensated a weak knack for grappling with heel ring psychology and the sort of trash-talking swagger of self-love and confident that white America had come to resent so immensely in young black athletes.

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As a face, Bret Hart insisted he was “the best there ever will be”–he wasn’t even the best wrestler on the roster at time. But when Ali called himself the greatest, the soap boxes lined the streets. People begged and pleaded that someone, out there, would be able to teach Ali some manners and his place in society. Babe Ruth calling his shots is now endearing nostalgia–would we tolerate this from a black athlete?

One positive (of many) in building wrestling shows around non-wrestlers who are trained and learn how to be wrestlers as they go: you can actually sell a leg drop. The roughshod choreography of spots, and Slam Dunk’s imposing size difference over her opponents, makes her leg drop look at the very least unpleasant, if not legitimately painful.

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Most women who get into wrestling are taught how to work the crowd as managers–when they finally get a chance to compete in the ring, it’s hard to translate that manager heat into sustaining the audience’s attention. So they try to stick more moves and repeat botched spots and fall apart into a frenzy of awkward half-bumps when the match isn’t working.

Slam Dunk, wisely, spends more time working the crowd than she does her opponent who is, like her, a wrestler by happenstance. You do the best you can with what you have, and many of the women David McLane wrangled for his schemes weren’t given much in the way of respect or concern for safety.

A towering and obnoxious villainess like Slam Dunk is a staple of a successful fledging roster. You can feed them smaller, less experienced wrestlers for heat, then blow it off with an underdog fan favorite with a convincing half-crab (like Slam Dunk’s rival, Roxy Powers).

She may not have a believable big leaguer, but Slam Dunk had the puckered-lip cockiness and stage presence of a reliable heel menace that could have helped WoW cultivate an acceptable product. At least until they could have afforded to give her a less obvious temporary tattoo. Of a basketball.

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David McLane does not have an entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database and frankly this vexes me.