The following tweet went out on April 13, 2015, a call for wrestling fans to pat NXT on the back for being less racist than they’ve normally (and rightly so, usually) been accused:
The problem with this kind of tweet is similar to saying, “But I have a black friend!” Whether or not you interact with minorities is not the issue, it’s how you treat them or what you think about them that’s the core of whether or not you are racist.
So, let’s take a look at how NXT treats their diverse recruits. For the most part, it looks really good. From the international perspective, the NXT Championship has been held by three Americans, a British man and two Canadians. Of those Canadians, one is of Arab descent, and one of the Americans is African-American. In contrast, the WWE Championship has changed hands multiple times during the existence of the NXT Championship. With the exception of The Rock, it has only been held white Americans (except Seth Rollins, who has Armenian ancestry). Additionally, the NXT Women’s Championship has had a white-British woman, an white-American woman, and an African-American woman, and the NXT Tag Team Championship has been held by white-British, white-American, Latino, and white-Australian members. Even though there’s a lot of “white” in these above descriptions, compared to the people holding the parallel titles on the main roster, there’s a lot more diversity. But that’s only the visible stuff. To actually consider how minorities are treated, one must look past the visible, i.e. black friend, to the less visible.
Microaggressions are these less visible forms of oppression. According to Wikipedia (ugh, sorry), “[a] microaggression is a form of unintended discrimination… while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.” I’m not here to point fingers at specific people within WWE, but instead to look at how the company, particularly NXT, treats minorities.
Triple H’s tweet positions NXT as an ally to these diverse, international recruits. As an ally, especially a white ally to people of color, one has to be constantly working at being an ally. Visible work towards equality is not enough. There’s also a lot of internal work that must be done. If one finds out that they have unintentionally committed a microaggression, one needs to keep from doing it in the future: “As the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.” Though NXT the product doesn’t have a race, I definitely picture it as a white-ally. It’s done wonderful things to help some of my favorite wrestlers, but to actually continue to be an ally, NXT must do more than sign this talent. The article linked in the above tweet quotes Triple H as claiming: “These individuals will have every opportunity to hone their skills and fulfill their dream of becoming a WWE Superstar or Diva at the WWE Performance Center.”
Hideo Itami debuted at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way on Sept. 11, 2014. Finn Balor debuted in November and Kevin Owens in December. Two out of three of those people are white, and two out three have a t-shirt. One of them was in a Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, and he doesn’t have a t-shirt. Microaggression.
So, will NXT be a real ally to these new diverse recruits, as well as the ones they already have? Or will they just pat themselves on the back for their visible actions while employing less visible forms of discrimination?
I guess we’ll see.
When not contributing to various academic journals and writing about pro wrestling, JH Roberts’ interests include medieval literature and religion, folklore, gender, race, spooky stuff, time travel, comics, animals, and any combination of said things.