Well, hello there again. It’s like I just wrote for you guys yesterday. Despite a general laziness that dictates how much work I like to do in a week, I find it impossible not to comment on The Atlantic’s new article: Pro Wrestling Is Fake, but Its Race Problem Isn't by Dion Beary. At the heart of the article, which chastises the WWE for having its minority performers play racist caricatures, is one loud, outrage inducing statement - in all its history, the WWE has NEVER had a black Champion! Dammit, it’s 2014, that’s just ridiculous, the WWE should be ashamed of themselves!
Of course, the journalist who wrote this piece is incorrect, the WWE has had a number of black Champions. Tag Team Champions, Intercontinental Champions, European Champions, ECW (WWE’s version of) Champions, and World Heavyweight Champions. Now, you can argue that none of those Titles matter as much as the overall WWE Championship, and that’s exactly what said journalist does.
Here are his exact words on the matter:
“In the fictional WWE storylines, being the world champion means you are the best wrestler. But in real life, it means you are the best performer. The decision of who gets to be the titleholder simply comes from a team of creative writers with the final call going to WWE owner Vince McMahon himself: Who do we want to be the face of our company? Who do we think is good enough?
In its 62 year history, WWE has never chosen a black wrestler to hold its world championship.” (The Atlantic)
Of course, being the crazy pro-wrestling fans that we are, it’s hard not to see the flaws in his logic. The argument that in real life, the WWE Champion is the best performer in the company is somewhat ridiculous if you merely look at a list of past Champions. Seriously, I’ll even do the work for you, here’s Wikipedia’s LIST. I love John Cena, but very few outside of the under 13 years old group would consider him the “best performer”. Same goes for Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio, and freaking Miz. Sometimes, the belt is on whoever best fits a current storyline.
It could even be argued that historically, the Intercontinental Champion is the true “best performer” in the WWE. That belt has a history of going to a workhorse who can best entertain fans at a live show. In the last decade the Intercontinental Title has been diminished greatly, but that’s because it was effectively replaced by the World Heavyweight Championship.
Although The Atlantic and Dion Beary would like to dismiss the title as secondary, the WWE never did the same. As tedious as brand extension could be, it made sense in splitting live shows. And at those shows, the World Heavyweight Championship was sold as THE REASON to buy a ticket. But it doesn’t fit The Atlantic’s narrative, so let’s just dismiss the reigns of Booker T and Mark Henry.
Fine, no Championship Title besides the WWE World Championship matters. As Mr. Beary argues, the WWE World Champion is the face of the company, and chosen personally by Vince McMahon. And with no black WWE World Champs in its history, WWE is therefore racist. Except, you know, The Rock.
When the article was originally published, Beary completely ignored The Rock. Didn’t mention him once in the entire article. That’s kind of nutty, right? I mean, Dwayne Johnson is only the biggest star the WWE has ever produced. That’s not an exaggeration, although you can argue that Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin were bigger draws in the WWE, The Rock took home a cool $52 million in the last year. (Forbes) He was also 2013’s highest grossing actor. (The Guardian)
The Rock also happens to be black. His father was famed professional wrestler Rocky Johnson. You know, the same man who was billed as “one half of the first African American (he’s actually African Canadian, but whatevs) Tag Team Champions” when inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. That guy.
So yeah, kind of batty that Beary made no mention of The Rock. Maybe holding the Championship eight times isn’t enough? Is nine the cutoff? Commenters on the website and Twitter blasted Beary for the obvious oversight, and rightly so. In response, Beary amended the article, adding this little gem:
“The only person of African descent ever named world champion was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a special case. Half Samoan and half African-Canadian, Johnson identifies as Samoan and comes from a line of famous wrestlers. As WWE's first third-generation fighter, he was allowed a narrative that reflected his specific family history, not the mere fact of his race.”
Wow. It’s funny that Beary uses the word “narrative” in that paragraph, as I’d argue that dismissing The Rock’s Championships is merely done to support his own narrative.
The Rock isn’t the first black WWE Champion because, according to Beary, he’s half Samoan, a third generation professional wrestler, and… famous? Later, on Twitter, Beary also gave this reasoning:
@davidbix Article wasn't about whether or not Rock is black. Article was about WWE, and WWE does not acknowledge him as 1st black champ.— Dion (@hashtagdion) July 11, 2014
If your bullshit meter just went through the roof, don’t fret, so did mine. It’s because Beary has lost all credibility.
Here’s the problem with Beary’s argument: The Rock is black and he has won the WWE Championship, several times. That’s not up for debate, it is a fact. You can’t argue with facts, lest you want to be compared to the crazy guy on the corner raving about the coming alien apocalypse of July 19th.
Stating that the Rock is half Samoan irrelevant. Barack Obama is half white, do we not consider him the first black President? Also, while Dwayne Johnson may embrace that part of his cultural heritage, that DOES NOT mean that he rejects the other. I’m half Portuguese and half Mexican. While Portuguese culture is a larger part of my life than Mexican culture, that’s because of my upbringing and family around me. In no way do I reject the idea that I am also Mexican.
Beary argues that The Rock’s narrative in professional wrestling was that he was a third generation superstar who was able to surpass the heights of his ancestors. But anyone who watched The Rock’s progression in professional wrestling knows that isn’t true. He was brought in as a third generation star, mixing the identities of his father and grandfather (hence Rocky Maivia) but that was quickly abandoned when he failed to get over. When did the Rock finally come into his own and get over with crowds? When he was in the Nation of Domination, a black power faction.
Ultimately, Beary’s argument is reduced to “Well… even though he totally was the first black champion, and totally presented himself as such… the WWE never officially celebrated that fact! Yeah! Now I don’t have to admit that I was wrong!”
Although I’m fairly sure that WWE made multiple mentions of his race in regards to its historical importance back then, because unlike the author in question, I was actually watching WWE at the time, my time-machine is unfortunately broken and I’m unable to prove that fact. Regardless, why should it matter that WWE failed to celebrate The Rock as first black champion? If anything, not doing so says more about the WWE not being as race focussed as Mr. Beary himself.
Has the WWE been racist? Of course. But I’m someone who thinks that racism is everywhere. WWE, and Vince McMahon specifically, put the WWE Championship on guys that they think can draw the biggest crowds. If The Rock wasn’t currently a mega-star, and still wrestling regularly, Vince wouldn’t hesitate to put the title on him. It’s as simple as that, they are not holding certain guys back because of race, they’re holding guys back because they think they have limited appeal.
Do African Americans have less appeal than white Americans? Possibly, which goes to show the racism that still exists in our world. The primary goal in the World Cup this year was to stamp out racism, but that didn’t stop fans from showing up to Ghana games in blackface. Racism is still very real, and it’s terrible. Is the WWE wrong for conforming to it? Absolutely.
And Beary is absolutely right about the negative stereotypes that WWE enforces with their minority characters. Cryme Tyme was awful, as was the Mexicools, and even Goldust (when speaking of sexuality, as opposed to race). The WWE has a history of exploiting stereotypes. They like to fashion themselves as satirists. But often they’re less South Park and more Carlos Mencia.
But is modern day WWE inherently racist because they refused to celebrate The Rock as their first black Champion? No. That’s ridiculously stupid.
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