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Race and Wrestling: Tessa Blanchard Opens Real Discussion on Identities and Pro Wrestling


And here we are, at the crossroads of race, gender, age, and all that is identity and oppression in the world of professional wrestling. Yes, here we are in this whirlwind where the real world has broken through into this world of good people, bad people, heroes, villains, and forgotten histories of all merits and doings on either side of morality.

Tessa Blanchard, a female, a woman, a non-male, is your new Impact World Heavyweight Champion. As far as I know, this has NEVER been done in the history of a major wrestling promotion.



Of course, just 24-hours prior to the much-anticipated match between Blanchard and then champion, Sami Callahan, prior to the Hard to Kill pay-per-view-event, Blanchard was outed, exposed, accused, shamed - whichever adjective you prefer - but, most of all, publicly sentenced in the supreme court circuit of Twitter, as being a racist, or guilty of acts of racism.





The outcry has been interesting as the continued topic of race has made its way into professional wrestling as of late. We've bared witness to Kofi Kingston defeating Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania to become the WWE Heavyweight Champion. While it rarely was mentioned overtly, the storyline was dipped in a racial touch of rooting for Kingston - a black superstar in a world where such faces rarely hold the top prize - vying to do just that - and he did.

Not too long ago, an NWA episode of Powerr was pulled after being published on YouTube which included a racially insensitive remark from Jim Cornette. Again, after Twitter exploded, the show was then not only pulled and replaced, but Cornette has since been removed from the company.

We've also seen interesting cases in the likes of Jordan Myles (currently using his previous name of ACH once again), a black wrestler then in the WWE, raising issues over his generated merchandise from the company. The image on an approved t-shirt became controversial after ACH himself took on the mighty WWE via Twitter (what else, right?) for his merchandised t-shirt resembling that of white teeth and huge red lips looking eerily close to minstrel shows of the early 19th century. ACH has since left the company, has had a questionable public presence thereafter, and well, the WWE machine continues as it always does.

And now this.

Tessa Blanchard,  white woman, is now holding a company's top championship while under fire for spitting in a black woman's face (a fellow wrestler) and calling her a nigger several years ago. Impact Wrestling, no stranger to community distress and vocal criticism, is also waning in the background, awaiting its turn of a beating once the masses grow tired of debating Blanchard.

As wrestling fans grapple with handling these situations pertaining to a world that should be removing us from reality, rather than running the course of "canceling Blanchard", outright boycotting Impact, or calling names, some perspective ought to be brought to light here.

PRO WRESTLING HAS BEEN RACIST

As a person of color who has been a fan of pro wrestling for a long time, this is not new. While the sub-heading seems a bit strong and direct,  I'm sure many other people of color can fill you in as well. From stereotypical gimmicks, racial representation (or lack thereof), and various microaggressions in promos and storylines, this has always been the case. This has always been my experience.

I'm pretty sure women also, can give an interesting perspective on pro wrestling as well.

Nonetheless, I've cringed as a life-long fan throughout the years in watching Virgil, The Headshrinkers, Cryme Tyme, and of course, Triple H's infamous words of "people like you are supposed to entertain people like me...with your nappy hair", and so on and so on. There are also thousands of hours of television consumed where faces, unlike mine, were represented on television.

Of course, there are so many more examples that escape me as I write this. However, only as of recently, as a now thirty-four year old, have I felt like pro wrestling 's presentation included me. That in itself is crazy to think about. Because like many other forms, pro wrestling has been excluded from this conversation of inclusion. At least from the on-camera side of things.

And this doesn't include the reality and the access to the people - the real people - who brought this world to my television screen. The internet's role in pro wrestling has exposed plenty to fans, however, from various pro wrestling autobiographies, it's very apparent - and hinted at through many of them - that racism (intentional or not) has been a part of the business for as long as history can tell.

But for some reason, people of color, especially fans like me, have persisted and continued on. Because quite frankly, it's easy to adapt when such a reality in your everyday life. It's just another space where you're not represented. Racism and dealing with it is indeed normal. It doesn't mean we have to forgive acts or words said by talent who appear on your screen, it just means we've accepted it as part of the deal that comes with your passion for this form of entertainment. Just like we do with Hollywood.

Being concerned about talent and these stories that occur in their private lives, or behind the scenes, is not overly shocking. Rather, it's more so disappointing.

HULK HOGAN SYNDROME

The comparisons between Hulk Hogan's situation of using the N-word and Blanchard's are similar. Albeit, their use of the word are in very different stages of their lives. However, their stardom or your fandom toward them is NOT a vehicle to drive defenses or penalties. I've seen this too many times in the discussion.

The word used is wrong, especially when used to weaponize. End of discussion. Fandom of a said wrestler (or even non-fandom) is not leverage.

Hulk Hogan was caught on tape, was in his 60's, and received a punishment that was nothing more than an extended time-out - or non-existence in the WWE Universe. I still don't recall a statement from Hogan on the matter. And it doesn't seem like many in the industry have come to his support.

The tweets that came from multiple other women throughout the industry were eerily similar in dissatisfaction. Blanchard has plenty of smoke around her, and there is surely plenty of fire (albeit past fire) from her response tweet to it all. She seems to have owned up to it, sort of, kind of, but has she?

Which leads me to...


BLANCHARD NEEDS TO TALK 

I was a huge Tessa Blanchard fan. I really was. This very situation has pulled me away from her. That's just the honest truth. The swag, the in-ring work, the persona, and the story behind the build to her becoming the first woman to capture the Impact World Heavyweight Championship is indeed undeniable - pun intended.

This latest saga surely knocked plenty off the Blanchard support shelf. It's hard to root for someone that used that word without ownership or apology, or evidence of change. Time too can heal. But it's just not there yet. However, as is the case in any PR nightmare scenario, communicating is the key to freedom.

And of course, in a current hyper-politicized world, and the over-abundance of rationale that can be Twitter (that is sarcasm), bouts of racism, dealing with racism, discussing its existence and getting rid of it in specific spaces, are met with canceling culture, more rage, and continued banter.

Impact pulling Blanchard from the presser prior to Hard to Kill was a slight misstep, but her time to deliver was the moment following her big win. The one thing about racism is that it does indeed allow for change. Admitting one's wrongdoings and efforts of change is part of the process of seeing the world through other perspectives and the privileges that are apparent.

Blanchard's speech sort of gave us that...
Nobody—nobody—in this life is perfect. We're all human. And it doesn't matter what you say about me, it doesn't matter what you call me.
And then, gave us a touch of what the rumor mill has alluded to...
I have one of the strongest minds that I've ever known.
I'm not sure what to make of it. Let's not forget, Blanchard not only now sits as Impact's only Women's World Heavyweight Champion, but she now is the youngest champion as well. We've all done and said dumb things prior to 24 years of age. I know I have.

Change can indeed happen. And too often, whether we're discussing race and Blanchard, race and Hogan, or racism in many of the various spaces and spectrums that life presents itself to us - while a vicious act that is not tolerable, we have to present that opportunity of change. To right one's wrong from the depths of ignorance.

I'm not looking to levy an excuse or an out, but if we're going to have these conversations regarding intersection of identity and pro wrestling - a place that is becoming much more prevalent in the realm, we have to be able to discuss with saliency and perspective. We've given others (Vince McMahon, anyone?) far more chances (more like a lifelong pass) within pro wrestling. And as noted, marginalized populations who are wrestling fans (i.e. people of color and women) have put up with far more than we realize or claim to reflect on within our fandom.

Nonetheless, something of change, redemption, or remorse is needed toward fans from Tessa Blanchard. Anything else comes up short.

UNDENIABLY POLARIZING

And of course, with that said, Impact now has its most polarizing star in as long as one can remember. There is a buzzing section that is in support of her and her talent. And there is an opposition, furious that the racism often seen in the real world is being rewarded on a stage often sought out for escape and enjoyment. Sadly, the attention has created a buzz. And in pro wrestling, any buzz is good buzz.

With that said, Impact is treading interesting water here as it moves forward. But for all the criticism often thrown at the company, especially in its past forms, Impact has lead the way when it comes to these social forays of identities and pro wrestling colliding. We've seen it with black champions (Ron Killings aka The Truth and Bobby Lashley) and also in giving women's wrestling a real opportunity on the national stage, long before there was a WWE women's revolution.

Of course, that doesn't give them an out. What it does give them is an opportunity. An opportunity to develop a mega wrestling star, as well as another chance to push forward issues such as race, gender, and age in pro wrestling.

---

From this pro wrestling fan - and a person of color - it's about time pro wrestling as an industry - and fans alike - find a way to properly discuss race, gender, age, and oppression within the scope of its fandom.

Twitter trolls will always be there to incite hundreds of characters into a burning pit of debate. But just like pro wrestling, in real life there are faces who do heel-ish things, and heels who can surprise you with a good deed. When it comes to racism, oppression, and the rules of engagement and presentation in wrestling, the rules are changing.

Our discussions and demands should unwaveringly reflect that as well.

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