“People Like You Don’t Deserve It": Professional Wrestling as a Reflection of Domestic Racial Tensions

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM
Logan Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Kevin Hogg, Mount Baker Secondary School
Although World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the world’s largest professional wrestling promotion, has claimed to be “committed to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds,” they have played a significant role in perpetuating racial segregation and discrimination. Professional wrestling’s focus on scripted feuds and predetermined match results allows companies to manipulate fans’ emotions and wrestlers’ careers. WWE and other promotions have frequently used racial tensions within the United States to develop storylines and increase their business.

The characters portrayed by African Americans have often been offensive stereotypes and demonstrated a lack of awareness and sensitivity toward a large segment of the American population. Further, they have not been given the same opportunities as white employees. Paralleling the struggle of Native Americans to gain rights and respect in the United States, wrestlers have often been given stereotypical and inaccurate Aboriginal gimmicks. In some cases, Native American characters have been portrayed by people of other races altogether. WWE also attempted to respond to domestic concerns about Arab-Americans, but a poorly designed storyline caused the cancellation of the character. In an effort to illustrate the difficulties faced by immigrants from the Middle East, the company instead made him appear to be a terrorist.

The insensitive treatment and portrayal of minorities in professional wrestling is a reflection of, and an influence on, society at large. Companies with the ability to influence fans have an obligation to embrace equal treatment for all employees. In the wake of Hulk Hogan’s racist comments, WWE severed ties with their former flagship star. This comes during a time of renewed racial tension in the United States and will hopefully serve as the impetus for wrestling organizations to work toward more sensitive portrayal and increased opportunities for races who have faced historical mistreatment in the United States and in the sport.

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