For years, wrestling fans have had the same reaction whenever two or more black superstars find themselves in the same place at the same time. Speaking with a mouth full of Cheetos, we choke out the words “new Nation,” our words followed by an orange cloud that immediately invalidates our strong, ever-accurate IWC opinions.
But this time around, the crowd seems to be getting exactly what it’s asked for. Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods have been taken off TV for an extended test run of a new stable. They’ve worked as both faces and heels, with the office reportedly preferring their work as faces. But if they show up on TV as heels, there’s a strong chance that the entirety of their gimmick will be based on their race, rather than their skill in the ring. Even Xavier’s tweets, which insist the group will be based on talent and intelligence, lead me to believe this is just going to be a group of “pissed-off black guys.”
And when it comes to promoting a stable of talented-but-angry young black guys, I have one simple piece of advice for WWE.
Don’t do it.
20 years ago, this would fly. That’s when you ran a privately-owned company, owned by one man, and run at his whim. Those days are long gone. Today, you have to answer to Wall Street. You have to answer to your shareholders. To your partners, like Mattel, Susan G Komen and the United States Military. And do not forget the American public, who you expect to sit and watch your program. They’re a pretty important part of your puzzle.
I imagine it may be pretty tough for the folks in the WWE writers’ room to keep up on current events, so let me remind you of a few things going on in the world. The US is at war with most of the Middle East. Russia is very quietly expanding its borders back to where they were in the Soviet days. Israel and Palestine are waiting on bated breath, to blow each other off the map. An entire continent is battling one of the most deadly diseases mankind has ever known.
Oh, and entire American cities and states are sitting on the edge of a full-scale race war.
Cell phone video of a (white) Florida police officer tasing a 61-year-old (black) grandmother went viral last week. You may remember that’s the same state where an overzealous community watch volunteer got away with murdering an unarmed black teen.
In the suburbs of St. Louis, a (white) police officer shot and killed a (black) teen, who witnesses say had his hands up at the time. The shooting sparked more than a month of protests from angry residents, and a near-military response (and often illegal) from the local police force.
The list goes on and on. If you need more examples, Google is your friend. I can’t make you watch or read the news, but I can make you understand this very simple point: nobody wants this very real race war brought into the kayfabe world of professional wrestling. It’s the wrong kind of heat. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for WWE’s relationships with its sponsors and the community at large.
And it could be a career killer for each of the talented young men involved.
Kofi Kingston’s legacy may very well be written already. As I wrote about a year ago, the former Jamaican from Ghana, West Africa has fallen far in the last few years, but there’s still time to save him. An errant heel turn, coupled with the very worst kind of “go away” heat would kill him, dead. It’d turn a maybe, could-be Hall-of-Fame career into something we just try our best not to talk about, like a less upsetting Chris Benoit.
Big E’s career took a nosedive when he lost the Intercontinental championship, and WWE has yet to right the course. He had some good matches with Rusev, but fans stopped taking him seriously when he cut promos in that bizarre southern preacher voice. Some time away may help the Universe forget that debacle, but a new nation? Race-baiting the world, at a time of heightened racial tensions, may be pretty tough to wash away.
Xavier Woods hasn’t done much on the main roster…yet. His brief feud with Brodus Clay was a half-assed way to introduce him to the WWE roster, before forgetting that he is still on the payroll. There’s still time to make him something the world believes is worth watching…something that any former TNA fan already knows to be true. But WWE has already taught fans that they don’t really need to care about the talented young man, who’s on his way to a Ph.D. A quick (or prolonged) angle based on racism will only serve to ensure he never gets over. It will guarantee that the investment WWE has made in his career was for nothing.
WWE has something special with Kofi, Big E and Xavier Woods. They are three talented young men, who shine in three very different ways, all of which the crowd has responded to at one point or another. All three could still be big stars for the company. All three could be used in a way to generate real money, for a company that desperately needs to discover new revenue streams. You can’t screw that up. You just can’t.
That said, it would not surprise me for a minute if WWE defied all logic, and good taste, by going out of their way to fan the flames of racial hatred…and not just because Michael Hayes is still holding the pen. History has shown time and time again that professional wrestling and good taste/common sense can be mutually-exclusive concepts. This may be no different. With that, I bring you my top ten reasons to be angry – when WWE (and pro wrestling at large) play the race card. You’ll understand why I expect WWE to parody “Do The Right Thing,” instead of actually doing the right thing.
10. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper…in Blackface
The image above should be pretty self-explanatory. Roddy Piper in half-black face, for the sake of selling a feud. Today, the image above is nothing short of disgraceful. Back then? It was just crazy ol’ Roddy being Roddy. Look it up on the WWE Network. For just $9.99, you can be as offended now as you should have been then.