by Antonio Cooper
Racism has been stitched into the fabric of professional-wrestling, so when news broke that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) elected to have Bianca Belair, a Black woman, win The Royal Rumble, it sparked the conversation of racial change because a Black woman has become the face of an industry littered with historically racist actions, performers, and ideologies.
Pro-wrestling, for lack of better words, is both fake and racist. It’s a predetermined form of sports. According to wrestler John Cena, “it’s the red-headed step-child of sports and entertainment,” which he stated at the ESPY Awards (ESPN).
While the fake-fighting nature of pro-wrestling is displayed openly, its culture of racism is even more apparent. The WWE has led this racist charge. From the company Chairman, Vince McMahon, proudly saying the N-word during a live televised show. To uncomfortable in-ring segments featuring a white wrestler telling a Black wrestler, “People like you don’t deserve to be World Champion.” Racist moments are overtly-displayed throughout the industry’s history.
The racism extends far beyond the entertainment industry, with the WWE openly donating to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Vince McMahon’s wife, Linda McMahon, briefly working as one of Trump’s Cabinet officials. Pro-wrestling and racism are nearly synonymous as the industry openly supports those with racist ideologies.
These racist mishaps have impacted its Black audience numerous times. As the WWE has come under fire for things such as their statement on Black Lives Matter, where the company refused to actually say, “Black lives matter.”
The company has also come under fire for openly re-hiring athletes with racist beliefs, such as Hulk Hogan, who infamously stated, “I guess we’re all a little bit racist,” while spewing several racial obscenities on a video that surfaced from 2012.
WWE’s history with racism is well documented and has been a call of great concern, especially for its Black audience.
So why should you care about Bianca Belair’s scripted win in a racist industry?
Simple, because her win marks the first time a Black woman potentially headlines WrestleMania. According to Forbes, WrestleMania has ranked as one of the most valuable sports brands for the past seven years.
The winner of Royal Rumble traditionally goes on to headline WrestleMania, with women and men alternating the headliner position.
According to Statista, WrestleMania earned $245 million for its single event in 2019. With Belair headlining this financial juggernaut, she could become the first Black woman to headline one of America’s top 10 sporting events.
For those unfamiliar with Belair, she calls herself “The EST of WWE.” She radiates her Black Girl Magic energy, and she is one of the industry’s best. In an interview with Sportskeeda.com, Belair explained her persona with more clarity.
“The ‘EST of WWE’ just means that I am a hybrid athlete. I’m not just good in one area, I’m not just good at one thing, I’m not just strong, I’m not just someone who can go in there and do flips and be a showcase athlete I’m someone who can do it all,” said Belair in an interview with WWE UK.
“I’m not just average in different areas, I’m the best in every single area. So, I’m the strongEST, I’m the fastEST, the quickEST, the roughEST, the greatEST, the smartEST, I’m the bEST. All those ends in EST. So, I just see myself as being the absolute best in every single area that you can think of,” she continued.
Belair became the first Black woman to win the WWE yearly event. This accomplishment is rare, only done by one other Black WWE athlete, The Rock. The Rock has also been the only Black athlete to ever headline WrestleMania’s main-event.
Outside of notable names like The Rock, Black athletes, in general, have struggled in pro-wrestling. There are exceptions to the norm, such as The Hurt Business, or the current Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks. However historically, Black athletes are often portrayed as comedy-acts, thugs, and untalented athletes who are predetermined by WWE showrunners to lose more often than not.
Even outside the ring, Black athletes in WWE are treated far worse than white athletes, often criticized far more than their white counterparts. An example of this is former WWE-performer ACH, who faced mass criticism and severe backlash for speaking out against a T-shirt design that resembled a black-face caricature.
ACH, known as Jordan Myles at the time, called the shirt design a “slap in the face to EVERY African American performer, fan, and supporter,” Sports Illustrated reported.
This backlash resulted in many Black athletes standing in solidarity with Myles. The public outcome was both Myles and the WWE mutually agreeing to part ways.
The pattern of Black voices being shut out or silenced within WWE has been consistent, the organization often taking one step forward and two steps back in its relationship with both Black athletes and the Black community.
We could very well see a Black woman headlining WrestleMania’s main event for the first time. With Belair’s Royal Rumble win and her position within the company’s biggest event, one can only wonder if this is a sign of impending change. Belair could be a catalyst to help bring about the needed change to an industry that was never designed for people like her.