No one has ever accused Vince McMahon of being too sensitive. The owner of World Wrestling Entertainment has been called a great many things in his life, both positive and negative, and yet caring too much about the emotions of others has never been part of his personality. Part of the problem is that hiding deep within McMahon’s dark side is the typical, run-of-the-mill racism that exists in the hearts of most billionaire white males in their 70s. Granted, McMahon’s racist tendencies have been on display since well before his bank account inflated to the size it is today, with questionable gimmicks populating his programming from day one.
Truth be told, about half the wrestlers with racist or otherwise questionable gimmicks become equally complicit to McMahon the moment they agree to perform them. Nuance is a rare thing in wrestling, and if a wrestling promoter presents a grappler with a terrible idea, they should be able to say no and move on to something that could actually help their career. However, largely because McMahon is the man with the pen and cannot be stopped, using a racist gimmick can occasionally send a performer straight to the main event, so there are definitely perks to doing whatever the boss asks. Keep reading to learn about 15 WWE gimmicks based solely on Vince McMahon’s racism.
15. Jinder Mahal
As the first man of Indian descent to win the WWE Championship, it was inevitable that Jinder Mahal would celebrate his heritage upon winning the gold. Were he to do so by passing mention or in some honorable way, there would be nothing racist about it. Unfortunately, because Vince McMahon has been writing Mahal’s story from the beginning, he couldn’t have done it without his nefarious Indian buddies, decrying America along the way to generate the cheapest negative crowd response possible. Thus far, it’s kind of been working, but imagine how much better it would be had Mahal simply relied on his in-ring skills and originality instead of solely focusing on his country of ancestry. There’s no saying whether or not that would have worked, since Mahal’s success has come entirely out of nowhere. Up until the month prior to his victory, he had no character at all, and now his race alone somehow villainously defines him—at least to his boss.
From the moment Umaga burst back into the WWE Universe in late-2005, his gimmick felt like it came several decades too late. The idea of a Samoan savage had gone from slightly racist to obscenely so, and the absolute only person who thought it would still make for a viable wrestling character was Vince McMahon. That said, the most amazing thing about Umaga is that he somehow made it work. Although the entire crowd knew people of Samoan descent are completely civilized, his performance hearkened to a different era of sports entertainment, rather than simply relying on absurd racism. However, the writing of the character never rose above Umaga being foreign and crazy, with the implication everyone from his land is a monster. That might work for Vince McMahon, but enlightened eyes see that racist concept what it is.
13. Tiger Ali Singh And Lo Down
Things were already fairly racist when Vince McMahon turned Tiger Ali Singh into an Indian copy of Ted DiBiase, with his own Virgil-esque manservant with a caricature-sounding name like Babu. In the very least, though, Singh himself was indeed a Canadian of Indian descent, and his famous father Tiger Jeet Singh used a similar gimmick for years, so Vince McMahon isn’t necessarily to blame for his character. However, it was entirely McMahon’s fault that Singh was paired with D’Lo Brown and Chaz, two men who were decided not even Indian, nor Middle Eastern descent, nor were they worshippers of any Eastern religion. Despite all this, the second they started following Singh, both men started wearing turbans and other attires stereotypical to his culture. Absolutely nothing connected Brown or Chaz to Singh, let alone one another, and the whole mess was nothing but a racist mishmash created by the person writing it.
12. Chief Jay Strongbow
As a legendary performer who started his career way before Vince McMahon got into the wrestling game, the racism of Chief Jay Strongbow’s gimmick can’t be traced back to the man in charge of WWE today. However, Strongbow can still make this list on technicality, considering McMahon’s father, Vince Sr., was one of the people who came up with it. Prior to heading towards the WWE Universe, Strongbow was wrestling under his real name, Joe Scarpa. Finding little success as the everyday Italian-American he actually was, Scarpa took McMahon’s advice to start acting like a Native America, or at least a racist facsimile of what Native Americans were like. This mostly included big feathery headdresses and war dances, which are indeed parts of Native American culture, albeit not ones McMahon or Scarpa had any firsthand knowledge about.
11. Reverend Slick Civilizing Kamala
In the beginning, there was nothing particularly racist about Slick. If anything, as one of the few black managers in pro wrestling at the time, he was somewhat of a trendsetter. Given the time period, his promos weren’t terribly scripted, either, allowing Slick to mostly be himself and feel like a genuine streetwise character during an era that didn’t have anyone else remotely close to that. Things changed a bit in the early-‘90s, though, and Slick relying on his real life background as a reverend turned out to be his unlikely downfall. Instead of being a clever manager, Slick was now a helpful preacher trying to “civilize” Kamala, an idea that only works if one is already extremely racist to begin with. Vince McMahon can’t be blamed for Kamala, as the gimmick was around before the real-life James Harris joined WWE, but this combination of characters was his creation.
10. Cryme Tyme
Only about half of the gimmicks on this list were overtly racist, with the others merely settling for offensive implications and assumptions foreigners could never be more than stereotypes. Cryme Tyme went the exact opposite route with things, being as overtly racist and over-the-top as possible, treating the idea of bigotry as the joke that it is. Whether or not this entirely worked is up for debate, as the audience could occasionally lose the subtlety, and so did some of the writers deciding what JTG and Shad Gaspard would do. Since Vince McMahon was one of those writers, sometimes the joke would fail completely, leaving nothing but pure racism left in its wake. Not that this gimmick should have been rewarded, but its also telling that Cryme Tyme never won any championships in WWE, showing what McMahon thought characters like that were capable of.
Almost everything about Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Man character was absolutely perfect, creating one of the most fully realized picture of villainy in WWE history. He was wealthy, manipulative, greedy, devious, knew how to pack a punch, and had plenty of goons to do it for him. Even the fact DiBiase had a manservant made sense and added to his evil, but the way Mike Jones played him as Virgil has left a bad taste in fans mouths for decades now. From the very first vignette the two shot, something about the way Virgil responds to DiBiase’s demands with a reductive “Yes, sir” made the situation look more like slavery than servitude. Anyone who needs a lesson on why any character referencing slavery is racist probably isn’t reading this list, and they can stand alongside Vince McMahon in not understanding how wrong it was to present such an implication.
8. Kerwin White
Every single time the topic of Kerwin White comes up in conversation, an unavoidable fact must be drawn. There was absolutely nothing wrong with Chavo Guerrero’s career path prior to him taking on the gimmick, and had he remained Chavo Guerrero forever, his name would never come up on lists like this one. Only because Vince McMahon and other WWE writers have a bizarrely racist sense of humor did a proudly Latino wrestler denounce his heritage and pretend to be a stereotypical upper class white person. As if the blatant implications of this gimmick weren’t bad enough, his catchphrase was “if it’s not White, it’s not right.” Unsurprisingly, the gimmick did Guerrero no favors, as he was instantly shunted down the card when the audience rejected it. Before long, Guerrero was back to using his own name (albeit due to the death of Chavo’s uncle Eddie), and Kerwin was nary mentioned again.
7. Akeem, The African Dream
More so than even the rest of this list, George Gray is particularly complicit in the way he played Akeem, the African Dream as a racist caricature. That in mind, Vince McMahon still deserves the brunt of the blame, considering Gray was perfectly content wrestling as The One Man Gang, a character he used just about everywhere, including the WWE upon his debut with the company. It was McMahon’s idea alone that OMG wasn’t cutting it and should instead embrace African culture with the help of Slick. The fact Gray was obviously a white man was supposed to be some sort of joke, as was his decision to speak in Ebonics and affect a racist impression while using the character. Presumably, it must have made McMahon laugh pretty hard, though, bringing him all the way to a few main events against Hulk Hogan.
6. Papa Shango
Some people feel The Godfather deserves mention on a list like this one for the gimmick that made him a WWE Hall of Famer. Another way to see it is that a fun-loving pimp is a damn near positive representation of Charles Wright’s actual culture, in comparison to his earlier, much worse character, Papa Shango. Taking the appearance of James Bond character Baron Samedi and adding little more than bizarre racist clichés about voodoo, Papa Shango disgusted fans in more ways than one. Vince McMahon must have felt differently, though, as he instantly wrote the character into main event feuds and storylines. To a bigoted mind, the idea of voodoo is terrifying enough, and thus Papa Shango was a force to be reckoned with, in theory. In practice, however, the fans didn’t find the idea all that scary.
5. Muhammad Hassan
No wrestler on this list suffered through a racist gimmick as harshly as Muhammad Hassan, who basically lost his entire career because he did exactly what Vince McMahon told him to. Born Marc Copani, the man later known as Hassan competed as Mark Magnus for several years in OVW before getting the call to sign with WWE. Though the Magnus character, and obviously the man performer it, had nothing to do with Arabic culture, he was specifically selected to play an Arab role by OVW officials, at McMahon’s insistence. Copani did the best he could to inject some subtlety to his new racist role, but the writing quickly descended into the usual anti-American fare that all foreign characters in WWE seem to follow. In the light of 9/11, 2005 was probably too soon for a character like this regardless of how it was played, and real-life events caused him to fade off screen in a matter of months.
4. Saba Simba
Even worse than the saga with Chavo Guerrero and Kerwin White comes the tale of Saba Simba, whom even then-WWE announcer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper refused to call anything but his real name, Tony Atlas. Guerrero at least got to announce his name change and offer justification, while Atlas was given a gigantic African headdress and told to do a ridiculous dance, hoping no one would be all the wiser. Were this a mere gimmick change, we might let it pass, at least insofar as what this list is accusing. However, the obvious racial overtones of the Saba Simba character made it feel like McMahon was mocking the former Black Superman for leaving years prior, by turning him into a racist caricature. For what it’s worth, Atlas himself didn’t mind the gimmick, simply happy to have a job at a time he could have been homeless.
3. Booker T’s “People Like You” Can Never Be Champion
When wrestling fans look at Booker T in the year 2017, they see a WWE Hall of Fame superstar who won countless championships throughout his career. In WCW, Booker was a celebrated tag team specialist who eventually broke through to the top and became World Champion five times. To Vince McMahon and his son-in-law Triple H, however, people like Booker T were never supposed to become champion. We know this because HHH said those exact words in the middle of a WWE ring. Making matters worse, in the ensuing contest between them, HHH very definitively proved his statement as correct by surviving everything Booker had to throw at him and retaining his gold with a single Pedigree. It would have been one thing if Booker defeated the racist Triple H, but the fact he lost their WrestleMania XIX encounter cemented the whole feud as terribly racist from start to finish.
2. The Mexicools
Throughout the late 1990s, one thing WCW consistently had over WWE was their incredible cruiserweight division. Two men in particular who tore it up in the ring week after week were Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera, and both had a number of Cruiserweight Championships to prove it. In WWE, whoever, they weren’t treated with quite the same respect, instead paired up with the equally talented ECW expat Super Crazy and turned into racist stereotypes who called themselves the Mexicools. Had the idea been similar to WCW’s lWo, merely consisting of Latino wrestlers hoping to make it big, it might have actually worked. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon went full racist, and had the men dress up like janitors while driving to the ring in “Juan Deere” lawnmowers. There’s no wonder none would find the same success in WWE they had in WCW or ECW, although Juvi did win a few championships once again, despite his horrible new gimmick.
1. The Wild Samoans
Arriving on the scene just as Vince McMahon was taking over the reigns of WWE from his father, it’s hard to say which of them had more of an influence on the racism exhibited by The Wild Samoans. On top of that, Afa and Sika had been using similar characters in Stampede Wrestling and the NWA for about a decade prior to that, so the two definitely were responsible in the offensive personas they were displaying. The fact their name specifically referred to their Samoan heritage is especially damning, as many fans in the ‘80s probably took that to heart as what Samoans people acted like. With Captain Lou Albano standing behind the Samoans and constantly making fun of them, things only got worse, turning Samoan people into straight-up jokes in addition to being caricatures.
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