Kairi Sane

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An encyclopedia of stereotypes, from Virgil khổng lồ Kamala to lớn Mr. Fuji khổng lồ the Mexicools, và many more in between


The following is an excerpt from David “The Masked Man” Shoemaker’s new book, The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. It has been slightly modified for this publication.

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If you tuned in to the WWF on Saturday morning in the late ’80s, or watched an episode of Hulk Hogan’s Roông chồng ‘n’ Wrestling, it was hard not khổng lồ notice the cultural & ethnic diversity the cast of brawlers represented. But despite the diversity, the characters’ vocabulary wasn’t exactly progressive sầu. Thoughhis English was faltering, Mr. Fuji threw around terms like “yard ape” & “lawn jockey” & “honky” in his prime. His protégé Don Muraco called Pedro Morales“a dirtyMexicanpepper belly,” và when it was suggested to hlặng that Morales was actually Puerto Rican, he said, “Who cares? They’re all the same.” (He later attempted a more accurate bit of racism when he called Morales “a Puerlớn Rican hubcap thief.”) He was one of a few wrestlers for whom “Mexican wetback” was a throwaway descriptor of Tito lớn Santamãng cầu. (Here he is calling Santamãng cầu an “ignorant garbage picker.”)

If the acts weren’t always bald-facedly racist, their matches were often peppered with the patently offensive sầu bad-guy shtichồng of legendary color commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura. At various times Ventura reacted lớn a Junkyard Dog interview by saying JYD had “a mouth full of grits,” called his rope-a-dope in-ring routine “a lot of shuckin’ và jivin’.” He commonly referred khổng lồ fan favorite Santana as “Chiteo,” dubbed his finishing move sầu the “flying burrito” finisher, and, when Santana was getting pummeled at WrestleMania IV, Ventura said, “I betcha Chiteo wishes he was bachồng selling tacos in Tijuana right now!” He similarly referred to lớn blachồng wrestler “Birdman” Koko B. Ware as “Buckwheat” until eventually Vince McMahon himself put a stop to it.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper, a Canadian who was billed lớn be from Glasgow, Scotland, was a one-stop shop for racial insensitivity. He became a top-tier villain in California early in his career by insulting the region’s Latino community. He once insisted on making amends by playing the Mexican national anthem on his bagpipes, but he played “La Cucaracha” instead. In the WWF, Piper exhibited a similar false apology when he invited Jimmy Snuka onkhổng lồ his “Piper’s Pit” interview segment khổng lồ apologize for Snuka not getting a chance lớn speak on his previous appearance. Piper decorated the phối with pineapples và coconuts & eventually smashed a coconut over Snuka’s head. (Piper’s indiscretion didn’t over there; he once talked soul food with Tony Atlas, said that Mr. T’s lips looked “like a catcher’s mitt,” called T’s fans “monkeys,” mock-fed bananas khổng lồ a poster of Mr. T, & told hyên that he would “whip hyên ổn like a slave.” At WrestleMania VI, he was wrestling Bad News Brown, who was presented as a blaông xã street thug but who was actually half black; Piper — who, it should be said, was the good guy in this feud — came to the ring with his body toàn thân painted half blachồng, down the middle.) Piper’s racist grunts may have been part of a larger heel character, but it’s likewise a part of a broader history of villains gleefully playing up racist tropes khổng lồ get easy boos from the crowd. There were virulent racist personas lượt thích Colonel DeBeers, the AWA heel known for his pro-apartheid politics, & John Bradshaw Layfield, the conservative Texan in the WWE who briefly railed against illegal Mexican immigrants. Michael “Phường.S.” Hayes, ringleader of the Fabulous Freebirds, often resorted lớn race-baiting lớn intensify feuds: The Freebirds’ feud with Junkyard Dog turned on Hayes calling JYD “boy,” và the Freebirds once came lớn the ring in a major match against the Road Warriors at Comiskey Park with the rebel flag painted on their faces. In 2008, Hayes was suspended from his backstage duties with WWE for supposedly telling African American wrestler Mark Henry, “I’m more of a nigger than you are.” He was said to have used the N-word casually over the years without causing a stir. He is also credited with the notion that black wrestlers don’t need gimmicks because being blaông xã is their gimmiông xã.

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With the exception of The Junkyard Dog,

To whom an entire chapter is devoted in the book.

">1 whose dog collar,chains, và postmatch shuck-and-jive routine were almost fully subsumed in the triumphant magnetism of his persona, perhaps no gimmichồng is as renowned — or as straightforward — as “The Ugandan Headhunter” Kamala, a ridiculous tribal boogeyman from “Deepest, Darkest Africa,” who was created by Jerry “the King” Lawler based on a reductive sầu Frank Frazetta illustration. (So yes, it’s fair lớn call Kamala a stereotype of a stereotype.) His mannerisms and grunts were inhuman, và his cannibalism was a calling thẻ, & with his face- & chest-paint, his leopard-print loincloth, và his spear, Kamala was such a sensation that he headlined every major promotion during the ’80s & ’90s. He often appeared alongside his “handler,” Kyên Chee, who wore a pith helmet and tung wrestlers mask. Any offense tendered by Chee was lost in the voluminous shadow of denigration Kamala cast.

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When you consider the recent history of African American wrestlers in pro wrestling, to simplify a performer’s character lớn his race isn’t as offensive sầu as what’s come when promoters try khổng lồ give sầu blaông xã wrestlers personas with more, shall we say, idiosyncrasy. In 1987, a small-time wrestler once known as “Soul Train” Jones in Memphis was introduced lớn the world as the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard-cum-manservant, Virgil. (In their debut video clip, he says he owns Virgil, và Virgil responds “Yessuh!”) Over the years, DiBiase bought the services và the souls of numerous wrestlers, but Virgil wasn’t just a sellout; he was a slave sầu, almost unabashedly. His name, purportedly coined by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was a subtle jab at NWA showrunner & star Dusty Rhodes, born Virgil Runnels, who was known for “acting black” in speech & mannerism. Similarly, in 1988, a famous villain named the One Man Gang, who sported a mohawk và denlặng vest và generally looked và acted lượt thích a monstrous Hells Angel, was repackaged with minimal explanation as Akeem the African Dream, a Trắng man of African descent who dressed in a dashiki và spoke in jive sầu while sluicing his forearms through the air like a ’70s-movie pimp. This character too was supposed lớn be a joke aimed at Rhodes, who counts semiforgotten African American Sweet Daddy Siki ahy vọng his greademo influences (Siki’s bleached-blond hair, “Siki strut,” & verbal style are direct precursors of Rhodes’s affect). Rhodes was raised in poverty in Texas và pegged his accent more on socioeconomics than race, but he was nonetheless the subject of racially charged ribbing, though, as with Virgil, targeting Rhodes was more a general shot across the bow at the Crockett promotion than anything. Anyway, Akeem (whose real name was George Gray) suddenly was announced as being from “Deepest, Darkest Africa” và was speaking in a parody of a parody of a “blaông xã accent.” Managed by Sliông chồng — who was known as both the “Jive Soul Bro” and the “Doctor of Style,” dressed in polyester suits and pageboy hats, and later became, in real life & exploited on-screen, a reverkết thúc — the duo seemed khổng lồ emtoàn thân every sketchy African American stereotype in one middling act.

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If one perhaps thought that the introduction of a Trắng African nationadanh sách signaled some sort of postracial era of racial insensitivity, one would be wrong. When late–Territorial Era megastar “Blaông chồng Superman” Tony Atlas came to the WWF in 1991, he was recast as tribal headhunter Sacha Simcha. (Atlas credited the Sacha Simtía character for rescuing hyên ổn from poverty and saving his life, for whatever that’s worth.) The year 1992 saw the WWF debut of Papa Shango (real name: Charles Wright), a voodoo witch doctor who cast diabolical black-magic spells on his opponents. (Wright would later become even more famous as the Godfather, a wrestling pimp who came khổng lồ the ring with a bevy of hookers và who implored everyone to take a ride on the “ho train.”) When the famous WCW tag team Harlem Heat (made up of brothers Booker T và Stevie Ray), who had previously gone by the moniker the “Ebony Experience” in the GWF, came to lớn WCW in 1993, they were originally presented as a pair of convicts who had been won in a card game by Col. Robert Parker, a Mark Twain villain of a wrestling manager, who came khổng lồ the ring as if straight off the plantation, in off-trắng three-piece suits & a cowboy hat, chomping a cigar and demeaning his foes in a syrupy drawl. They tried out the gimmiông chồng at a couple of house shows, with Booker and Stevie in jumpsuits and leg shackles before it was determined that this might be slightly offensive. In the over, Harlem Heat was presented sans Parker và sans chains(though in their earliest appearances they were still clad in prison-issue tops), và the team became incredibly popular. Booker T went on to lớn be a world champion in both WCW và WWE, which is a long way from cartoon slavery. Nonetheless, in 2003, while feuding with Booker T, Triple H called out Booker’s (legitimate) criminal past, referenced his “nappy” hair, và said that “people lượt thích ” couldn’t win championships in WWE and that they were just there khổng lồ “dance” và “entertain” people.

Even in the modern WWE, where the Rock’s numerous championship reigns were seen as evidence of a postracial wrestling world, there have sầu been plentiful steps backward for every step forward. The first African American champion, Ron Simmons, was feuding with Vader & his manager, the legendary Harley Race, when Race said to lớn hyên, “When I was World Champion, I had a boy lượt thích you to lớn carry my bags!” Simmons would later over up in the WWF, repackaged as a bad-guy blaông chồng nationacác mục as the leader of the Nation of Domination. Blaông xã gangsta and rapper personalities persist, from R-Truth to lớn the tag team Cryme Tyme. When blaông xã wrestlers weren’t broad stereotypes, they were subtle ones, playing ominous thugs with hip-hop entrance music or slam poets with hip-hop entrance music or comic relief with hip-hop entrance music — or, in the case of Mark Henry at various points, all of the above.

There’s enough material for another whole chapter on the Latino experience in the modern wrestling world. The luchadors of those early days of WCW Monday Nitro were simplistic, but their portrayal was only offensive sầu in its oddity. Once the dam opened, though, offensiveness poured out. As the wrestling promotions tried lớn integrate their Latino hires more fullyby giving them characters — and, often, by removing their masks — they followed the rest of the history of racial identity in the wrestling world down the rabbithole of straightforwardracialstereotype.Before long, Konnan, a superstar in his trang chủ country, traded in his colorful tights for Dickies, a wifebeater, sunglasses, & a bandanna: the superhero devolving intoa common thug. It was a caricature wewere unfortunately comfortable with. And that became the norm: A team of unmasked luchadores called the Mexicools were ferried to ringside ona ridinglawnmower. Los Guerreros, twoscions of a proud wrestling family, garnered their greatest fame by“lying, cheating, & stealing” and riding around in hydraulics-boosted cars.

The Asian contingent followed a similar trajectory, as the line between ethnicslur and Hollywood stereotype became increasinglyindecipherable: Mr. Fuji’sbow tie & bowler begat a million deadly karate chops & juvị kicks. In the late ’90s, a stable of established Japanese wrestlers called Kai En Tai,ledbya flashycaricaturenamed Yamaguchi-San,were embroiled in a feud with a wrestling porn star named Val Venis; their beef culminated in a scene where Yamagubỏ ra attempted a castrationvia samurai sword while shouting “I choppy-choppy your pee-pee!” If the treatment of Latinos in modern pro wrestling has been driven by the perceptions of fearmongering news reports, the depictionofAsianshas followed an out-of-date Hollywood template. It says a lot when youcan look at such storylines và say, “At least the blachồng wrestlers aren’t suffering this sort of indignity.”

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