Saturday, March 16, 2019

Vince McMahon and The New Day on SmackDown as Allegory of the History of Race Relations In WWE



OK. So. As much as I'm dying to get into parsing this entire segment line-by-line (some of which is cut out of this video but, thankfully, not the important parts--which is especially significant because when WWE edits these videos, they only leave in the specific stuff they want you to focus on and all the best, most layered stuff I'm going to discuss is in it), I should probably start from the beginning...

Stephen and I were there the night The New Day was formed. It wasn't something we thought much of at the time. It did strike a chord but at the time all three of these guys were pretty much meandering, directionless mid-carders whose biggest opportunities were, at best, some stellar matches on Superstars. Even still, something very interesting was happening here. It was veiled but there was absolutely an implication here that Xavier was speaking to Big E and Kofi as black wrestlers who couldn't get ahead no matter what they do and that if they would only stick together, there's no limit to what they could achieve. And that wasn't just a throwaway--it was also the defining theme of the vignettes that introduced The New Day: they could do anything if they could just stick together.

And that is quite possibly the defining characteristic of The New Day: they have stuck together. Every step of their nearly five year journey, they have supported each other and had each other's backs through thick and thin. There legitimately may not be a better example in all of wrestling history (or at least I can't think of one) of consistently mutually supportive friendship than The New Day. This is a reflection of the reality for black folks everywhere. They almost have no choice but to stick together and support and advocate for one another. Their lives depend on it. And this theme has been put front and center in this current Kofi Kingston storyline. Big E and Xavier Woods have been absolutely going to bat for Kofi throughout this entire ordeal, advocating for him at every turn, overcome with joy and celebration every time he seems to get what he wants, only to become enraged when he's treated unfairly. Their promo work this past week on SmackDown appeared to be a climactic moment of their relentless and undying support for their friend and brother as they tore into Vince McMahon for constantly screwing him over.

"Everything I do," Vince proclaims after showing a video package recapping every which way he has yanked Kofi around, "is what I call a teachable moment." This draws out The New Day, who begin with this glorious exchange...
Big E: "If I'm being honest, we're not in the mood for you to teach us a damn thing."
Vince: "You watch your mouth."
Xavier: "We're done watching what we say."
Big E: "You see, we have jumped through every single hoop. We show up for every business appearance, every meet-and-greet, every signing. Hell, we flew halfway across the world to India for you."
Xavier: "We never buck the system. We never complain. We never threaten to leave if we don't get what we want and you still treat us like garbage."
It would be easy to say there's nothing more going on here than Big E and Xavier lashing out about their own personal treatment but anyone who understands the history of the treatment of black wrestlers in WWE can hardly help reading more into it. If you're not seeing it, just try reading that exchange again but instead of assuming that when Big E and Xavier say "we" they mean "The New Day," imagine that "we" is actually referring to "black wrestlers throughout WWE history." Jumping through hoops, never complaining, still treated like garbage. Meanwhile, this white billionaire has the audacity to stand here and tell these black men with extremely valid complaints to "watch their mouths" while he drags them through a "teachable moment." But they're sick and tired of watching what they say. They've stood by long enough allowing themselves to be treated this way. They demand to finally be heard. And if you think this is a stretch, I turn your attention to the next few lines of this exchange...
Big E: "And this man, Kofi Kingston, has been here for eleven years. Eleven years grinding. This man deserves better. This man deserves more."
Vince: "This man doesn't deserve a damn thing. You don't deserve a damn thing and you people sure don't deserve a damn thing. You don't deserve to breathe in and breathe out. I don't deserve anything. And I created SmackDown, I created Raw, I created WrestleMania--it's almost as if I created Heaven and Earth--but I don't deserve anything either. No one deserves anything."
Big E: "Nah, nah, nah, you see this is bigger than just our opinion. This is bigger than The New Day. Hell, this is bigger than your damn ego."
It couldn't be any clearer to me that they are begging people to read between the lines here. "This is bigger than The New Day." This story isn't about this one man or these three men. This is bigger than all of them. This is about every black wrestler who got passed up for opportunities time and time again because they "didn't have 'the look'" or "didn't fit the idea of a champion" or, that old mainstay, "weren't championship material." And that's exactly what we hear from Vince moments later...
Vince: "Kofi, if you were worthy of being in a championship match, it would have happened a long time ago. I mean, you're impressive--come on, some of the things you do, you're an extraordinary athlete. Some of the things you do in the Royal Rumble and, as of late, you know, your performance at the Chamber and your performance in the gauntlet match, I mean, awesome, incredible. You're an extraordinary representative of our product. Absolutely, I agree with you....Kofi, you have a lot of qualities. Believe me I wish you were up to par. You're just not championship material...."
This is spelled out beautifully. Vince goes down the list of all of Kofi's many qualifications (highlighted with italics) to be a great WWE champion--including, significantly, one that has been constantly used against other wrestlers that both real-life Vince/WWE and kayfabe Vince/The Corporation/The Authority did not want to be champion: being an "extraordinary representative" of WWE--only to shitcan them all in favor of some amorphous x-factor that very intentionally can't be explained because it's actually just racism--or, in a broader sense, plainly and simply just not wanting this person to be champion. And if you're STILL not convinced of the glaring subtext of all of this, let's take a look at Kofi's response, presented in full because it's just too good for me to cut anything out of it, regardless of whether or not it's relevant to the larger point I'm making...
Kofi: "No, no, no, hold up, y'all. No need for y'all to get fired because of me, hold on. I got it. Mr. McMahon, I'm not asking for a free ride, I'm not asking for a handout, I'm not demanding a title match at WrestleMania for the WWE championship....Look, eleven years ago, I was just a kid with a dream and that dream has damn near come true. I provide a great life for my family, I get to travel the world doing what I love to do, entertaining the WWE universe, I love it. My life is blessed. And I would like to think at some point over this eleven year period, that I've proven to you beyond a shadow of a doubt, many times over, that I am worthy. But you don't see it that way. I don't complain about anything around here, man. I don't complain about the fact that I show up here, in this ring, week in week out, and bust my ass. I bust my ass, Vince. While other people are given opportunities because you consider those other people to be more worthy than me. I don't complain about that. I don't complain about the fact that you require me to be in this ring instead of at home with my family--missing weddings, missing birthdays, missing so many special moments. Do you know I've never been trick-or-treating with my kids? Because I've always been here. Two days ago, my son lost his first tooth and I wasn't there to see the excitement on his face, the happiness on his face when he reached under the pillow and saw the money that the Tooth Fairy left for him. I wasn't there because I was here. I've never complained about the people that you put ahead of me. I've never complained about the time I spend away. I've never complained about the fact that you have never allowed someone like me to compete or contend for the WWE title. I have never complained and I'm not gonna start complaining now. What I need from you, right here, right now, face to face, man to man, is for you to tell me what I need to do so that I can do it. These people believe in me."
And there it is. This is about as overt as they can possibly get without invoking a tsunami of backlash from fragile white folks about "playing the race card" or whatever. If you're still not convinced of the stark racial undertones or you think "someone like me" simply must have some other non-racial connotation, then there's really not much I can do for you. Not when the entire premise of The New Day from the beginning has been that black folks can't catch a break in WWE and need to stick together if they want to accomplish anything. Not when that premise is backed up by decades of WWE history. Not when the only black man to ever hold the WWE Championship is a light-skinned, half-Samoan member of an insanely prominent Samoan wrestling family, impossibly attractive, and impossibly charismatic while every dark-skinned black wrestler has been relegated to secondary titles such as the World Heavyweight Championship. Kofi Kingston's story is bigger than him, it's bigger than The New Day, it's bigger than wrestling. It's about black folks sticking together through thick and thin out of necessity to achieve justice and equity. It's about representation. It's about the little black boy in the crowd sitting on his dad's shoulders and watching Kofi Kingston, a dark-skinned black man with dreadlocks, hold up the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and thinking to himself: "Maybe that could be me one day."

No comments: