So the Atlantic published an article about how racist the WWE is. Which I think we can all agree that the company and wrestling in general has a long, storied history of having some serious issues with race. Which you have to be sort of blind to not address. However, the Atlantic article addressed it in one of the worst ways possible:
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.
Now, there’s a bit of a technicality here that we should address first: Mark Henry and Booker T each held world titles but they were the holdover from the old WCW title so technically not the WWE title. However, at some points in the company, that title was the company’s most important. Still, okay, they never held the WWE title.
But here’s the most egregious error in the article: it never once mentions Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. You know, arguably the company’s biggest crossover star of all time. The guy who was the face of the company for years and a multiple time champion. You know, the guy who’s half-Samoan and half-African-American. His dad’s wrestling name was “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson for Christ’s sake. Also, The Rock was the leader of the Black Militant group the Nation of Domination but whatevs, right? To discredit The Rock’s contribution as an African-American in wrestling because he’s “not Black enough” is just as problematic as any issue the WWE has perpetuated over its existence. To say the Rock doesn’t count as a Black champion is essentially saying Barack Obama isn’t the first Black president due to his mixed heritage. Even if the writer, Dion Beary, wanted to mention the Rock and say he doesn’t count (which would be wrong, but still), it’s totally inexcusable to not even mention Rock at all in the 2,000 word article.
Of course, since people can read and have brains, they called Beary out on Twitter and his responses have been even more problematic.
Look, as a light-skinned Black guy, I’ve had to deal with people telling me my accomplishments (how ever few they may be) “don’t count” because I’m “barely Black” or I “gotta be mixed somewhere.” It’s demeaning and reductive reasoning that eliminates how hard people in the African Diaspora have to work to accomplish anything in this country. Fact is, if this were 1960, Dwayne Johnson and I would be drinking out of the same water fountain. And that water fountain would have shittier water than the one White people were drinking out of.
The shame here is that there’s a troubling and deep history of racism that should be parsed out in wrestling (which we’ll be doing a lot of here at With Spandex) and the writer’s point could easily be made while including The Rock. A whole book could be written about racism in wrestling. Hell, the company’s owner dropped an N-bomb on a live broadcast. And, honestly, including The Rock might even help his point because I could write thousands of words about how The Rock still had to deal with racism and still does in very subtle and not-so-subtle ways in the industry despite all his success. But omitting him and pretending like he’s not “Black enough” is just insulting.
As much as I question Beary’s exclusion of The Rock I have to wonder how his editor doesn’t even say “hey, what about that Rock guy” at some point. How does this even get published?
So where are we here? WWE is racist because it never had a Black champion (and also, because it’s sort of racist anyway) except for the one Black champion that doesn’t count because he’s only half Black. Got it? Good.
Now, video of The Rock rapping with Busta Rhymes. IS HE BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU NOW?! THEY EVEN DO A SECRET BLACK CONGREGATION HANDSHAKE!
Update: Here’s his addendum on The Rock
“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.*”
Okay. I’m going to use numbers now because my brain is going to explode.
1. In an article chastising WWE for defining wrestlers by their ethnicities, the writer doesn’t think The Rock counts because he was defined by something other than his ethnicity. He didn’t have a narrative that reflected “the mere fact of his race.” Isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want guys who are defined by their athleticism or their ability to win matches or the fact they beat guys and count to five instead of three and not solely by their Blackness? What is your argument, sir?
2. Yes, Rock is a third generation wrestler. But the entire SECOND generation of that bloodline is a Black guy. Rocky Johnson. Wait. SOULMAN Rocky Johnson.
3. When Rocky Maivia debuted in the WWF, the series of vignettes focused on his Samoan grandfather and his dad who they said was “one half of the WWF’s FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS.”
4. The Rock has never solely identified himself as Samoan. That’s just inaccurate and blatantly false.
5. Again, let me reiterate, this isn’t exonerating WWE or wrestling in general of its obvious history of racism. In fact, it’s even more important when considering the history of guys like The Rock and other wrestlers of color because acknowledging their accomplishments as people of color also acknowledges their ability to succeed despite being in the confines of a usually backwards-thinking culture. So instead of celebrating the Rock’s accomplishments, we’re debating on if he passes the one drop rule. That’s about as reductive as it gets.