WWE and wrestling as a whole has never been the most socially conscious form of entertainment. For years Black, Asian and Latino performers have had to play up stereotypes to get TV time. Longtime wrestling fans can remember Cryme Tyme, a black tag team who wore tank tops, baggy pants and boots. Their gimmick was that they were always breaking the law and robbing other superstars. This is a real tag team that fans cheered for in the mid 2000s.
Though the product has changed with the times, there are still some storylines that are considered evergreen.
One of the most well-known is the arrogant foreigner who bashes America.
This role has been played by everyone from the Iron Sheik to Bret Hart to Rusev.
This plot has made a comeback recently during the feud between new WWE Champion Jinder Mahal (the first of Indian descent) and Randy Orton.
The troubling part this time around is that Mahal’s promos often have blatant racial and religious undertones.
He says the dumb American fans hate him because of what he looks like, who he is and where he’s from.
The problem is in the current political climate, this storyline sends a very dangerous message to young WWE fans.
On a recent episode of SmackDown Live, Mahal immortalized his surprise win with a Punjabi celebration. There were dancers and music honoring his culture. So the fans boo, as they’re supposed to because he’s the bad guy, and it just comes off as ugly Americans booing an Indian celebration.
The whole thing was uncomfortable and awkward to watch.
In all his promos, Orton makes a point of saying everyone hates Jinder because he’s a jerk, but the damage is done and the message is clear. Americans should boo the evil Indian wrestler and all his weird customs.
By the way, these constant disclaimers in Orton’s speeches make it clear WWE knows what they’re doing is wrong and will cause backlash.
One look at any WWE live event will show a large number of the fans are children. These kids don’t know yet that the performers are playing characters, so to them they simply see another person who looks different getting booed and everyone happy about it.
This storyline has just started so there’s plenty of time to course correct.
Have Jinder stop the racial references and just play the arrogant, rich cheater who will do anything to stay champ.
Things will feel a lot less uncomfortable for fans and the kids can go back to cheering for the lunatics, demons, supernatural cult leaders and unicorns.
Monday Night Raw airs Mondays at 8 pm ET and SmackDown Live airs Tuesdays at 8 pm ET on USA Network.