Talking about racism….again

It’s been a week since the great dragging of Tessa Blanchard began.  If you’re not up to speed Tessa was set to win the Impact World Title at their pay per view Hard to Kill this past Sunday, a historic feat in which a woman would be winning what is considered a men’s title (Impact already has it’s own women’s title, the Knockouts Title).  And then she decided to fire off a passive aggressive tweet lamenting the apparent lack of support from other women she’s gotten over her soon to be accomplishment, which in turn brought on a deluge of fire returned by several of the people she’s been an asshole towards throughout her career.  Given the sheer number of accusers that have come out, and the level of corroboration that several of them have gotten it’s pretty clear that she’s guilty of at least some of this stuff.  As to why all of these folks waited to say something, no they weren’t waiting to rain on her parade when she was about to have the biggest moment of her career.  The reality is that any time someone comes forward to charge anyone of influence with wrongdoing they get attacked by friends and fans of that person, and maybe even from management, so they rightfully get scared off easily and suck it up until such a time when they can tell their story and be believed by the  general public, and maybe succeed in getting some measure of discipline enacted on their tormentor.

Now while Tessa sure appears to be a bad actor all around, the most stinging allegation was that she spat on a black woman (wrestler La Rosa Negra) and called her a nigger.  That’s one of the accusations that was corroborated by other people who were there so it’s not just hearsay.  Yeah……..so here we are again, talking about good old racism in the wrasslin business. And we’re back asking the same questions.  So is there more racism in the business now, or are we just talking about it more? Have things gotten worse, or are they just coming to light more often now? Why does it seem like every few months another thing happens and we’re having this talk again? My honest answer is…..I have no idea. I don’t work in the business, I’m not in the locker room, and I’m not backstage. You have to talk to the people there, particularly people of color and get their stories. And not just one or two, but many. And not just men, but women also because they have an entirely different perspective than a man does. Asking me won’t get you anywhere so don’t bother; I can tell about the experiences I’ve had at my job but that’s about it.

I can tell you one thing, though, and that is that we are more likely to be hit with these stories now because if one big thing has changed over the last ten years it’s participation.  Point blank there are more of us in the business today than any time in my memory.   Which means that there are more opportunities for anyone with prejudices, biases, or full on bigoted tendencies to run into one of us and act on them.  And there are more chances for someone who maybe hasn’t crossed all the way into that territory but is ignorant and tone deaf as hell to open their mouth and insert their foot.  And for management to mishandle these incidents when they happen, and for fans to try and brush them off and move on.  When you had one or two black wrestlers in a company there wasn’t any recourse if someone came at them like that so they had to either take it or get out.  So while there was the appearance of less tension that was really because the offended parties didn’t have any space to bring it up, unless some white person there took up for them.

But now more than ever this fandom is an acknowledged shared space between us (I say acknowledged because Black people have been wrestling fans for a long time like a my Dad who was a huge Bruno Sammartino fan, we just didn’t have any recourse when racist stuff happened), which means that those who have long occupied the largest piece of it are going to need to adapt to the changing times.  In case you’re confused by what I just said let me make it a, little clearer: some white folks are gonna have to change their behavior and a whole lot of y’all need to get some more awareness about what is and isn’t acceptable, and then abide by it.  It would be great if every prejudiced white person had a massive change of heart, but at the end of the day it’s more important that you act right than feel right. This isn’t the movies where if the kindhearted black person can just show you enough warmth and prove just how worthy they are of basic ass human decency maybe they can lead you to enlightenment.  To hell with that; your nonwhite coworkers need you to not act a fool so they can live and do their jobs in peace, not fall in love with them.  It’s not our job to fix your head or your heart, and it’s not our fault if you can’t get over your prejudiced or bigoted feelings about us.  Go fix yourself and you refuse to do that then go f#@! yourself.  Either way when you’re around us act like you’re around equals and not people who can you just behave any old kind of way towards.

As for Tessa Blanchard, she obviously has some things she needs to change but for me the most important thing is that she not be allowed to carry on like she reportedly has. I don’t think that blackballing is the answer because that allows everyone to treat this like a one off, and not as if an atmosphere exists that encourages and allows her behavior. You can get rid of her but the next one is out there ready to pick up the torch so if you’re not going to address the environment as a whole then we’re just playing whack a mole.  Which means it’s only a matter of time before we’re back having this same conversation again.  And by time I’m talking days or weeks and not months.  Let me tell you this is exhausting as hell.  We come here for an escape and not to run into more of what happens in our regular lives.  And no matter how much you’ve conditioned yourself to not be surprised when it happens, it still sucks.

Being a nonwhite wrestling fan means every day there’s a chance that someone you’re a fan of might say or do something that ranges from racially tone deaf to all the way racist. And it’s different from other forms of entertainment because the relative close proximity we have means that we’re more likely to see it which adds a layer of hurt to it. And it’s finding out that they have those beliefs plus that they’re stupid enough to put them on display like that which really stings. Seriously, even if it’s for purely cynical career preservation just act right, will you? And getting someone run out of town for being racist isn’t that big of a win in the long run because you’ve still been reminded of the world you live in, and that in turn just makes it harder to live. Trust me, we’d rather you act right than have to go through all this yet another time.  It’s not a fun time and it’s not fun hoping that a white wrestler that you’re a fan of doesn’t turn out the same way.  

So should Impact have changed the booking of Tessa’s big match as punishment?  Who cares?  Seriously, who cares?  If they didn’t know all the details about her history then they at least knew that she had a history (because pretty much everyone who pays serious attention to the non-WWE world knew), and they signed her then ran this angle with her anyway.  You can’t bring in someone with such a problematic track record, even if it was only really known to people deep in the wrestling bubble, and then be surprised if it comes back to bite you, and you don’t get points for cleaning up a mess that you are largely responsible for.  Signing her and pushing her in a big way is a choice.  No one’s hand was forced here.  If you bring her in without any signs she’s changed then you may eventually reap what you sow.  So on that end I’m not ripping Impact for sticking with the original plan, because to me they shouldn’t get credit had they changed their minds.  Here at least I’ll give them a nod for being consistent.  Consistently stupid, but yeah.

And how do I think we all as fans should deal with her?  That’s a personal decision so do what you will.  I was never invested in her as a fan, so it’s all just kinda there for me.  I don’t watch Impact and I’m not deep enough into indie wrestling to see her any other time.  If you’ve been a fan of hers, then as long as you’re not out here trying to defend her behavior I don’t really care one way or the other.  You don’t need to do some performative nonsense where you ‘cancel’ her or whatever.  As for her future employment I expect all of the companies out there to do the same cost benefit analysis they do for everyone else with a checkered past or present, and then act accordingly.  If there’s money in her and they think there won’t be any real blowback and they feel like she’ll behave long enough to make everyone some money before she flames out again, she’ll eventually get signed by someone.  Or she’ll just stay in Impact.  Either way she’s not going to be blackballed.  Not in a business where Teddy Hart still gets booked.

Now since I started working on this she issued one of those lame ‘I’m not perfect but no way I’m a racist’ kind of statements.  Now here’s the thing.  Does she go home and don a white sheet to head to the local Klan meeting?  Is she camping out on 4chan with white supremacists groups?  Probably not, which is all that’s necessary for some people, ok some white people to say that she just messed up and should be given a second chance and all.  Which of course is one of THE big problems when it comes to talking about racism.  For too many people, ok too many white people anything short of Klan robes, burning crosses and someone being assaulted or killed with an announced manifesto or something is not racism.  It’s just being a jerk, or making a mistake, or having a politically incorrect opinion.  And that’s how we end up here with someone thinking that it’s ok to call a black person a nigger because they’re in some heated dispute.  She did reportedly get punched out for it, but still.  No it doesn’t make her the Grand Wizard but that is a racist act, full stop.  Stop trying to dress it up as something else.

So where the hell does this leave us?  One person, Tessa Blanchard, has had some past and maybe more recent behavior exposed.  Her main employer likely is sticking to their guns and standing by her.  Some of her friends have defended her, some fans have defended her, and the rest of us are like ‘really?’  But until more white people in society and not just wrestling change the way they see us and learn what are acceptable ways to talk to us, then there’s going to be more Tessa Blanchards.  So while ‘What is Tessa going to do?’ and ‘what are the wrestling companies going to do? are legitimate questions from this situation I got a more important question:

What are you going to do?