One hot topic in pro wrestling circles over the past few years is diversity. It’s why AEW promised its roster would look like the country it calls home. And it’s why KofiMania was, well, mania.
It’s interesting watching the big two American wrestling companies find their footing in an increasingly changing America. On the low, WWE is leaps and bounds ahead of where they were just two years ago in this regard.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, WWE is the most diverse it’s ever been when it comes to representing its Black wrestlers week in and week out.
First, let’s acknowledge the elephant sitting in the corner of the room trying not to be seen: wrestling as a whole has a sketchy history with race. No need to spill a lot of digital ink detailing every page of that history, but even instances in the last 30 years raise an eyebrow or two. White wrestlers donning blackface is less than a good look. And outside of a few, i.e. The Rock, Ron Simmons, and Booker T, too many Black WWE wrestlers masqueraded as pimps, thugs, rappers, and hustlers.
TV is one of society’s most excellent empathy machines. The images beamed into our eye holes every week enable us to feel how other people live and put ourselves in their shoes. On the flip side, it can also reinforce negative, sometimes unwarranted, viewpoints.
With so many white wrestlers on the roster, there’s room for someone like Otis. He’s one piece of an incredibly diverse puzzle that includes The Miz, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Charlotte Flair, Drew McIntyre, Cesaro, Riddle... you get the point. It’s a long list. Because there are so many and they’re all different, one narrative can’t take hold and dominate the conversation.
That’s not entirely a problem anymore for their Black counterparts. 2021 is a different landscape than 1991, 2001, or even 2011. Rather than three or four Black wrestlers fighting for the spotlight and, by extension, being WWE’s primary source of representation, multiple wrestlers are in prime positions while showcasing their people’s diversity. New Day isn’t the Hurt Business. One group wears their love of anime, video games, and music on their sleeves, while the other won’t even wear sleeves unless they’re tailored and adequately cuffed.
Every group member is taken seriously and allowed to be fully-dimensional human beings rather than the “angry black man” or an even worse stereotype. It may sound silly, but showing it’s normal for a Black man to love Dragon Ball Z and look good in shirt and tie while being about his business is a big f***ing deal. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Both groups represent facets of Black men without feeling derivative of the other and without the need for comparison.
The same can be said for Sasha Banks, Bianca Belair, Naomi, Ember Moon, and Mia Yim. Long gone are the days of one Black woman on the roster—Jackie—or Black women as eye candy in the form of backup dancers, like the Funkadactyls or the Funkettes. Weird similarities, right?
Anyway, these are all very different Black women in style, presentation, and wrestling technique. They can piss us off as heels and make us cry as faces. They’re allowed to embrace their curves, complexities, strengths, and vulnerabilities as women with agency.
Bianca is Montez Ford’s wife, but her marital status doesn’t define her. Nor does it mean she’s relegated to managing Street Profits, and it’s easy to envision that being her fate many moons ago. Ditto for Naomi and Jimmy Uso. Besides avoiding passé stereotypes, all the women mentioned above are different from what preceded them.
There is no analog woman wrestler for Sasha because women wrestlers of yesterday weren’t allowed to be who Sasha is today. They broke the mold as women and as Black women. That in itself is a testament to how far the company has come and the heights it can still achieve.
As a Black man, I know people like Montez Ford, Angelo Dawkins, Titus O’Neil, Apollo Crews, and even some with a little R-Truth in them. There’s an honesty in every Black wrestler on WWE’s roster today that felt absent in years past. Sometimes, incredibly absent. This isn’t to say we should all sing that catchy tune from The Lego Movie because there’s still work to be done on this front.
But progress should be acknowledged. The Intercontinental Champion, Smackdown Women’s Champion, United States Champion, and Raw Tag Team Champions represent Black excellence without one iota of hesitancy. Those without championships are holding it down just as well. And everyone is doing it on their own terms.
That is diversity and a real sign that it’s a new day.
Yes, it is.