Every person who’s ever wrestled has been given a terrible gimmick. It’s part of the business. Steve Austin got to the WWE and became the Ringmaster (after barely missing out on Otto Von Freeze). Kevin Nash was some sort of genie. Dusty Rhodes wore polka dots. Every person has sat across from a booker and had to gulp through pretending like he or she loves the idea being presented. For the wrestler, this horrible idea can be career-ruining.
But for people of color and women, it’s a whole different experience.
For Shelton Benjamin, he had to sit across from Vince McMahon while he pitched the idea of a stereotypical “Mammy” character to play his mother — a move that degraded the mother and infantilized the wrestler. For Juventud Guerrera, he had to pretend he was enthused that he’d be part of a lawnmower-riding trio. For the NXT divas, they had to grin while they were told to “wrestle like divas.” For subjugated people, bad gimmicks carry heavier burdens than just being “lame” or hard to get over. The bad gimmicks challenge their moral fiber and make them go against the people they represent on-screen. Black wrestlers aren’t given bad gimmicks that represent them as individuals. They’re given gimmicks that represent stereotypes about the overall black population. The same goes for any minority group.
Most wrestlers, though, don’t dare challenge an idea handed to them from on high for fear of losing a push or pissing off the people in charge. So they just shuffle off without saying anything — trying to make the best of their gimmicks. This is just how wrestling works. Women and wrestlers of color, though, especially can’t voice their hesitations because that action carries an added risk to their job security and how they’re perceived. On Monday night Naomi — in a move that I’m not totally convinced wasn’t at least partially storyline motivated — retweeted a ton of fans who wondered why she wasn’t on RAW. She was engaging with fans and using them to voice her frustration. Plenty of wrestlers have used Twitter in this fashion. However, when Naomi did it, she was characterized as throwing a “tantrum.”
Look, I’m not going to run down the author of the post that appeared on this site because if he didn’t write a title like that, someone else somewhere else would have — and if they didn’t about Naomi on Monday, they would have about another woman of color some other time. But that’s what happens: when people of color — especially women — voice their opinions, they’re labeled as aggressive or childlike or violent.
Just look at this Salon tweet about Nicki Minaj’s comments on Miley Cyrus:
She’s called “savage” and “expletive-laden” when she really only uttered one curse word. This is just how we treat black women. Stereotypes are used to diminish their feelings and silence their real-life concerns. The fact remains, though: Naomi was 100 percent right. She’s always been one of the most talented divas — putting on dope matches and actually cutting really great promos when she was a heel. And she’s never really come close to winning the Divas championship — which is insane considering how that title used to be passed around. Now, she’s in a faction with the most over woman in wrestling, carrying her own weight and adding to the group’s chemistry. And she’s nowhere on RAW. Even I’m guilty of overlooking Naomi. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the emergence of great black characters on wrestling and how we’re in a Black revolution whether the WWE is actively pushing it or not. And I totally forgot about Naomi. I didn’t mention her anywhere in the article because I had a brain fart. Still, I left her out of an article about a movement she’s actively a part of and helping to popularize. It’s a slight to her work and achievements in the ring and another way she’s being erased. But when she tried to use her fans to express herself, her very real issues got dismissed.
Naomi wasn’t being childish. She wasn’t being petulant. She wasn’t being aggressive or a brat. She was being a grown woman who deserved to be recognized for her great work. I know that some people reading this are thinking that there’s no big deal and it’s an overreaction to speak on behalf of Naomi, but the “angry black woman” narrative has serious consequences. Just look at Sandra Bland — who was found dead in her jail cell after being arrested for “appearing combative” toward police officers by simply being a black woman asking questions. Look at the reactions to the high-school girl who got tossed around by the cop in South Carolina and the people assuming she did something to deserve the violence. This is what happens when there’s an assumption that black women are speaking from a place of anger. So for a wrestler, speaking out against booking or a push comes with more dire consequences than when white counterparts do it.
Naomi is one of the only main roster Divas who can hang with the Four Horsewomen and is probably the best non-Horsewoman wrestler on the roster. She absolutely has an it-factor that can make her a top woman in wrestling. She deserves TV time and she’s way more than Sasha Banks’ pal because I guarantee that when she and Sasha eventually break up, their match will steal the show.
Naomi deserves our attention. And we shouldn’t blame her for wanting it.