It would be easy to say that with Hulk Hogan gone, the WWE can put this racist debacle behind it. That would be both wrong and naive.
It was with a heavy heart, and very keen sense of betrayal that we reported about the WWE cutting ties with Hulk Hogan last Friday. Apparently our suspicions that Hulk Hogan’s rumored (now confirmed) racist rants were from his sex tape were spot on. I’m not going to lie, I really hoped it was something, anything else, other than something racist, homophobic, or ultra sexist, but alas… It was two out of those three things, and then some other problematic bullshit.
The WWE officially cut ties with Hogan, real name Terry Bollea, on Friday, setting the internet ablaze for most of the weekend, with public statements made by everyone from Booker T to Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Dennis Rodman to Mark Henry. WWE stocks plummeted, TMZ had a field day, Twitter collectively poked fun, and grieved at the very public fall from grace of a beloved childhood hero, and Hogan gave a routine apology that was arguably sincere at best.
The reality is Hulk Hogan’s racism is symptomatic of the racism long said to be plaguing the WWE for years. To be honest, looking back over several decades, Hogan’s racist tirade pales in comparison to some of the other shit his former employer did in the past, and still does to its minority stars to this day.
It would be nice to look back and think that those problematic days are over, and that Hogan is just a remnant of the last vestiges of that kitschy, campy, and offensive time, but the way current superstars like R-Truth (Ron Killings), and WWE Diva Naomi (Trinity Fatu), are relegated to being supporting actors is an indicator that something is still not right, and hasn’t been for far too long.
Cutting ties with Hulk Hogan was the easy part, and to be frank, more than a little hypocritical considering Triple H, Vince McMahon, and Michael Hayes–to name a few offenders–are still working and thriving at the WWE. Cutting Hogan, while absolutely the right thing to do, only brought attention to some of the discriminatory and racist practices by the WWE for decades.
For example, the aforementioned R-Truth is portraying a character that is like something out of the race films of the 20s through 50s, and Amos ‘n’ Andy. Truth’s character is always dangerously straddling the line between slapstick comedy, and a racist Sambo-like caricature. It’s cringeworthy to watch, because by many accounts, Killings is a better wrestler than he’s allowed to show. Truth has held several title within the WWE and TNA, among others. Why he’s consistently booked for forgettable matches, and is portraying a silly, child-like, wide-eyed thief, or a fake King of the Ring–Bad News Barrett is currently the champ, and his rival for the moment–complete with a plunger for a scepter, and a kid’s Burger King crown, is beyond me. This might not seem all that bad to people who don’t bother too much with American history, but to those of us who are American history buffs, the message is quite clear. It doesn’t help that I know what I’m watching isn’t really in good fun when I can find dozens of characters like R-Truth’s in abominable media.
The definition of a Sambo caricature is:
THE COON CARICATURE IS ONE OF THE MOST INSULTING OF ALL ANTI-BLACK CARICATURES. THE NAME ITSELF, AN ABBREVIATION OF RACCOON, IS DEHUMANIZING. AS WITH SAMBO, THE COON WAS PORTRAYED AS A LAZY, EASILY FRIGHTENED, CHRONICALLY IDLE, INARTICULATE, BUFFOON. THE COON DIFFERED FROM THE SAMBO IN SUBTLE BUT IMPORTANT WAYS. SAMBO WAS DEPICTED AS A PERPETUAL CHILD, NOT CAPABLE OF LIVING AS AN INDEPENDENT ADULT. THE COON ACTED CHILDISH, BUT HE WAS AN ADULT; ALBEIT A GOOD-FOR-LITTLE ADULT. SAMBO WAS PORTRAYED AS A LOYAL AND CONTENTED SERVANT.
R-Truth’s current quagmire is one of the most blatantly mean-spirited and racist, openly stereotypical characters in recent memory. Who can forget Papa Shango, Kamala the Ugandan Giant, Tatanka, Muhammad Hassan, Virgil, Jimmy Snuka, Chief Jay Strongbow, and Akeem the African Dream? These were just a few of the many highly problematic characters the WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) had on its roster over the past few decades. Unfortunately, R-Truth will join that cadre, albeit as a more subtly executed racist caricature.
While creating characters based on old, tired ass racist caricatures are gross, D-Generation X marching out with several members in blackface and brownface was just vile, and one of the WWE’s lowest points.
I remember watching this on TV as a teen. I remember feeling terribly grossed out, shocked, but finding some sort of humor in it. Black wrestlers are great for all sorts of buffoonery, mocking, and clowning, but they’re still not good enough to hold the top title in the WWE. Knowing what we know now about Mark Henry’s trials and tribulations at the ‘E, this skit is even more revolting.
While this was just an impersonation–a tacky one at that–Vince McMahon actually called John Cenathe N-word in front of Booker T and his wife Sharmell, two African-American superstars, on national television in 2005:
And this type of ridicule doesn’t stop with the men. For months wrestling fans have been wanting for Naomi to get her chance to reign as Divas Champ. She had the physicality, the attitude, and personality, and she was constantly improving in the ring. She’s one of the most beloved Divas on the roster right now, and while Nikki Bella will be the champ for a while yet, Naomi’s feud with her made sense after A.J. Lee left. But in typical WWE form, they let Naomi get just close enough to get the fans’ hopes up, only to have Paige, a former Divas Champ, become a contender again. And Sasha Banks being the NXT Women’s Champ doesn’t rectify this problem, especially when her chances of winning before Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Paige (or at all) are dubious at best should her NXT reign come to an end so she can pursue the Divas Championship title.
Don’t get me wrong, Paige is a good wrestler, and she’s been doing it for awhile. But when you have another capable female wrestler, even more capable than the current champ, it would make sense to move things along, and create organic feuds and rivalries. Two top dogs eliminate the weaker one, and then fight it out. Wrestling is supposed to be entertaining, but when the same people keep winning, it becomes tedious to support the product. And when the same people that keep winning all fit a certain look, it becomes questionable.
The tragedy here isn’t just the fact that Hogan dismantled his entire legacy in one fell swoop with his racist and misogynistic tirade. That’s just unfortunate, and dreadful. The tragedy is that we’ve been hit with far more racist antics on for years, and we’ve done nothing as fans. We’ve bitched on social media, but we haven’t really acted, making us complicit in this bullshit.
Firing Hogan is not enough. And the WWE cannot erase the past either. If they want to make things right, truly right, they will hold everyone responsible for their actions, not just Hogan, and they will fix their broken approach to how they cultivate their minority wrestlers. No fake apologies, just action.