While the WWE has been prominent in mainstream news recently due to racist comments in a leaked sex tape featuring Hulk Hogan, the entertainer who helped the WWE survive and attain mainstream success in the 1980s, and because of Nazi imagery in the social media accounts of former NXT diva and partner of WWE champion Seth Rollins, Zahra Schreiber, accusations of racism are nothing new. While the firings of Hogan and Schreiber included scrubbing the WWE website of each individual, accusations of racism in the company persist. For example, stories surfaced last year after the unexpected release of Mexican wrestler Alberto Del Rio that claimed that Del Rio was fired for slapping an employee of the company who made anti-Mexican statements.
While the company has publicly distanced itself and rightfully condemned Hogan and Schreiber, there remains a great deal of blatant and inferential racism in the past and present WWE. Many would argue that the company still relies on racist and sexist stereotypes when creating personas for their performers. For example, are the New Day and R-Truth at times performing a modern day minstrel show?
However, what continues to be more alarming particularly in light of recent controversies is the uncritical celebration of the 1990s Attitude Era, which not only featured performances of blackface, but homophobia, sexism, and misogyny. With the launch of the WWE Network the company introduced new programming including countdown shows celebrating top ten moments thematically. Referenced many times on the network as a touchstone moment is the infamous sketch featuring D-Generation X, fronted by Triple H who remains an on air character and current Executive Vice President of the company in blackface mocking the Nation of Domination headed by the Rock. Members of DX performed caricatures of the Nation including X-Pac mocking former Olympian and Nation member Mark Henry by donning dark face paint, a jheri curl wig, and a shirt that read Mizark. This incident of blackface is not alone, others including superstars, such as Goldust, donned blackface to perform racist stereotypes. While the WWE includes a disclaimer before all of its network content that these are performers and not meant to be representative of the company’s ideological positions, we have to question the company’s shifting “line in the sand” and regarding acts of racism and symbolic scapegoating as well as its continual celebration of its own racist histories.