Even in moments of crisis, we often don’t expect directness from the world of pro wrestling, especially not from a company as large and generally conservative as WWE. Sure, wrestlers speak up on social media (more than they used to, it seems), and WWE can release a statement that carefully avoids phrases like “police violence” and “black lives matter,” but we don’t expect to hear much on the actual TV shows.
Of course, WWE Backstage is a bit unusual as WWE programs go, because it’s a talk show rather than a wrestling show. And CM Punk’s role on it since the beginning has been to say what nobody else in the company will say.
Still, his frankness last night was pretty surprising. Talking with Renee Young, Booker T, and Mark Henry, Punk was visibly emotional as he addressed his fellow white people about the need to listen to black people, and use white privilege to protect them when possible. He also called out the President directly, which might not have gone over well with Fox TV or WWE.
Well, I think people people talk about the need to have a conversation. And you know, I’m a white guy. I’m not here to pretend to understand how black people feel, and I don’t think it’s my place to tell them how they need to react. This country has a problem, that much I know. I’m here to tell the white people: you need to listen to your black brothers and sisters, and you need to understand where they are coming from. It’s hard to try to walk in somebody’s shoes or try to understand where they come from, but this country — there’s almost two Americas. You know, when I get pulled over, I’m nervous that I’m going to get a ticket. I don’t want to live somewhere where, Mark, if your son gets pulled over, he’s worried he’s going to get murdered. So I’m just here to tell white people, you probably need to shut up more, and you certainly need to listen more. There is a problem, and the paradox is the only way to deal with intolerance is with intolerance. If you are a white person, you more than likely are privileged. Use that privilege and support your black brothers and sisters, especially now because we need it.
We live in a time where hatred is stoked at the highest level, and I don’t like things I see. I do what I can to stop it, and I think I’m hopefully using my voice for good, but fascism and racism cannot win, and if you’re struggling to try to come up with a way that you can help, the easiest way to help is combat that intolerance with intolerance. There’s no room for it. How I relate that all to myself — even though none of this is truly about me — is that the first tattoo that I ever saw in my life was a number on my grandfather’s arm. And he rode a horseback towards Nazi Panzer tanks. And now it’s 2020, and we live in a world where a President says that Nazis are very fine people. You can’t walk that back, and you can’t tell me that you meant something different. If you’re white, use your voice, protect your black brothers and sisters, and protect the people who this country was not built for. They might say it was, but everybody has a different experience. And just listen more.
Punk’s mention of combating intolerance with intolerance is a little confusing since he doesn’t give the line much context, but he seems to be alluding to Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance, which is the idea that a tolerant society can only be achieved by being intolerant of intolerance.