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Wrestling’s race debate continues after Miz’s ‘heated’ response to Big E bringing up Kofi’s WWE title run on Talking Smack

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Talking Smack returned over the weekend, but without the hosts WWE announced for the SmackDown post-show less that 24 hours before the first episode hit the Network.

Instead of Xavier Woods, Kayla Braxton anchored with The Miz. Miz is as synonymous with Talking Smack as anyone, mostly thanks to his legendary 2016 promo on Daniel Bryan. The Aug. 22, 2020 episode probably won’t go down in history like that one from almost exactly four years prior, but it is generating a lot of discussion for an exchange Miz was a part of.

Following his win over Sheamus on Friday’s show, Big E was a guest on Talking Smack. The New Day-er entered in his signature style, sneaking up behind Miz for a hands-y hug, giving Braxton a more chaste one, then spreading his legs wide on the desk to start the interview. It was the opening (pun semi-intended) Miz needed to start in on something we’ve heard a lot about since Kofi Kingston’s injury left E without either of his partners - the idea that the eight-time Tag champ will have to “get serious” to be successful as a singles wrestler.

E pressed pause on that topic to address another one, something he said Kingston is “too humble, too do the right thing” to raise himself: how Kofi had “his legs cut out from underneath him” at the end of his WWE championship run last year.

Miz takes exception to that, saying “the same thing” happened to him, but he didn’t make excuses and focused on rebuilding himself. E points out that Miz’s World championship and WrestleMania main event came much earlier in his career than Kingston’s, and he’s had many more high profile opportunities since. The A-Lister sticks to his guns, repeating arguments we’ve heard before from folks like John Cena and Seth Rollins about how Kofi should have done more with whatever screen time he got after losing to Brock Lesnar in seconds last October.

Here’s the clip WWE released of the exchange, during which Miz gets louder and more heated while E is much calmer in questioning the host’s logic:

Now, Miz is a heel, E is a face, and both are almost certainly working to some extent here. I certainly hope the “E needs to get serious” narrative is being used here for storyline purposes, because it’s tired as anything but - and actually a great angle that fits with New Day’s real and kayfabe history of wanting the freedom to be themselves instead of what others think they “should” be.

Either way, it is uncomfortable to watch Miz refuse to acknowledge that he’s been afforded more chances that Kingston, E, and other Black and brown performers (E never comes out and names race as an issue, but he all but does in a moment after the clip when reflecting on his own World title future, “Hopefully very soon, if I’m granted that opportunity. Because I plan on earning it. But it’s very interesting, Kofi & I. 11 years for Kofi; seven years for me”). Or to call himself a “victim” over the last nine years of his career instead of entertaining the possibility there’s a reason other than his hard work and talent that he got to work with The Rock & Cena five years after debuting on television, and has continued to frequently get big angles ever since.

But instead of telling you the issues I noticed in Miz & E’s Talking Smack exchange, let’s do something Miz should have done... listen to someone who’s been dealing with folks not recognizing their privilege their whole life. Here’s The Sporting NewsAndreas Hale, a great writer and combat sports analyst who is also a Black man, tweeting about the above clip:

“Oblivious white privilege exists everywhere...especially in pro wrestling. In this video you’ll find the following:

- The invisible package of advantages
- Victim blaming
- The ‘I went through it too’ and ‘just work hard’ arguments
- Ignoring hurdles

“You don’t have to be a pro wrestling fan to understand this. Apply this conversation to any job and you’ll see just how dangerous it is when white people really cannot see how privilege works despite it being so explicitly outlined.

“What Miz does isn’t mean spirited but it’s alarming because he can’t see what Big E is talking about. The concept of white privilege doesn’t mean Miz was given something or diminishes his work but it is being afforded the opportunities that others of different ethnicities do not.

“Miz, and white people in general, don’t have to ask for these opportunities. He isn’t treated any different in this world because of his skin color nor is he told that he has to be a certain way to combat stereotypes. You HAVE to recognize what you have and what others are denied.”

It’s a conversation we’ve been having and hearing a lot about in 2020. It’s also one we need to continue engaging in.

And, hey. As many people on social media have pointed out, it’s not like Miz hasn’t been here before. Somebody call his Real World/Challenge castmate Coral Smith, of whom Miz once said:

“She wasn’t sure if I was racist, ignorant or just stupid. One thing was for sure: She wasn’t going to let me off the hook. I wasn’t racist. I was just telling how my life was and trying to be as open as possible. Then, it was more of a learning curve for me for being on the show and being around people that I normally wouldn’t hang around because I wasn’t subjected to them [back home].”

We’ll see if anyone reflects and learns as a result of this latest Talking Smack moment. Even if it is 100% a work, it’s an opportunity to do just that. In fact, especially if it’s a work, it would seem to be designed to prompt discussion and, hopefully, growth among the audience.

Whatever the work/shoot percentages, it’s worth watching Big E’s entire appearance on the show for yet another great speech about why he should be allowed to be himself as he pursues singles glory. You can do that on the free version of WWE Network here.