Rasslin And Political Correctness

There's a part early in my memoir where my older brother (Big Bill) and I are debating with my Pops over whether wrestling is "real." At the time, we were watching Kamala the Ugandan Giant walk into the ring. As I recall, we were arguing for the veracity of Kamala. My Dad, amused at the idea that Kamala was from Africa incredulously responded, "That nigger's from Alabama."

Heh. That's Dad for you. Anyway, I've been going back through old wrestling clips, as is my style, and I've actually been shocked at how much the whole business was built on stereotypes. More precisely, I'm shocked that, given that I grew up in a "conscious" house, how the stereotypes never bothered me.  In retrospect, I'm can't believe that Slick's entire career didn't spark an NAACP boycott--dig him here transforming the One Man Gang into "Akeem." My favorite, of course, was The Nation Of Domination--an NOI rip-off fronted by none other than The Rock. 

Truthfully, it doesn't bother me now and I see it as a kind of vaudeville. The key is that pro wrestling made gimmicks and employed stereotypes fairly equally. I'll leave to others to speak on how they felt. I think smacking Jimmy Snuka with a coconut was pretty ignorant, but the context of having, say, Roddy Piper as a hot-blooded Scottsman, Hillbilly Jim as an Appalachian hick, Nikita Koloff as "The Russian Nightmare," The Iron Sheik as the tool of Iranian tyrants, Hacksaw Jim Duggan as a redneck, and Brother Love as a Jimmy Swaggart made it hard to be angry. That said, I've always wondered how gay wrestling fans felt about Adrian Adonis, who went from a biker to "Adorable" Adrian Adonis, hosting a show called "The Flower Shop" and dressing Cowboy Bob Orton in a pink hat. Here's Adonis.

After the jump is the infamous "street-fight" match between Ron Simmons and Butch Reed vs Arn Aderson and Barry Windham. This is one of my favorites. But the scenes where they're beating each other with belts make me wince. I think that's on me, though. Arn Anderson is classic.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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