A few weeks ago the WWE celebrated its anniversary of their hit weekly series Monday Night Raw.
As one of the longest-running cable TV shows in the United States, this anniversary extravaganza proved to be a reunion for the tanned and waxed greats of pro wrestling, past and present.
One curious guest however, was the pimp-hatted, Jheri-curled, cane-wielding geezer by the name of Slick. The audience response from the WWE universe seemed rather noncommittal. As an ordained minister, he was there to officiate the storyline wedding between superstars, Daniel Bryan and AJ. Yet the primary question on the minds of young foam-fingered fans seemed to be, "Who is this sketchy old black guy?"
Anyone who’s watched wrestling during the 80s knows that Kenneth “Slick” Johnson (otherwise known as “The Slickster” or “The Doctor of Style”) was actually one of the most colorful ringside managers in the history of rasslin’. That’s not even a race joke. Dude was colorful. He wore flashy suits, told the television cameras that he was “lean, mean with pockets full of green,” and made an amazing music video for a song called “Jive Soul Bro,” which was featured on the oft-sought Pile Driver: The Wrestling Album.
The video for "Jive Soul Bro" played on the giant Titantron as Slick made his ring entrance that Monday. Equal parts racist and fun, the video features the Slickster (with a mouthful of fried chicken) promising to outdance Michael Jackson. He also performs a drum roll. With some drumsticks.
Of course it’s the Slickster’s love of yard bird that’s most often recalled from his career, and although chicken is a damn sensitive issue right now, Johnson seemed to have no qualms informing the audience that "You know the Slickster has been promised a whole lotta yard bird in exchange for my services tonight!"
With performances like this, accusations of racist caricature in the world of wrestling are nothing new. Just take this debut promo for Akeem the African Dream, in which Slick leads a primitive tribal dance ceremony around a flaming trashcan in the middle of some ghetto alley. Kind of un-PC, even by wrestling’s low standards today.
And yet, while these sleazy mongoloid wrestling gimmicks may reinforce racist attitudes, does it actually harm anyone? Sociologist types would likely argue that it does. They say that foreign or ethnically based characters are always the heels/villains who cheat to win.
OK. So fucking what?
Personally, when I was a kid, I always rooted for the foreign bad guys because I thought they were more interesting than their bland, baby-face counterparts. And if the majority of people chant "USA" and cheer on the dude in the Stars & Stripes underwear, then that’s fine, too. Isn’t it natural to hate and fear whoever is different from ourselves? Isn’t this just another way of celebrating cultural difference?
With that in mind, here is just a small handful of my favorite pro wrestlers who antagonized audiences with their race or ethnic identity.
Often known as the Ugandan Head Hunter, this guy was a straight-up carny attraction. A face-painted 380-pound cannibal, his name was selected straight out of a National Geographic magazine. In reality, James Harris is a soft-spoken truck driver from Mississippi. He’ll definitely tell you about how racist he feels the wrestling industry was to him, but that’s mostly in relation to money. As far as the offensive gimmick goes, he still loves putting on his jungle loincloth from time to time. Here he is choking me out in a picture we took a few years ago:
Josip Nikolai Peruzovic grew up in the Soviet Republic of Croatia, then a part of Yugoslavia. He was a member of the Yugoslavian weight lifting team until he defected to Canada in 1967. An ex-communist with an axe to grind, the smelly Russian character he became known for was all his own idea. His singing of the Soviet National Anthem before matches really pissed people off and served as his own personal stab at the Stalinist beast. Now a code-enforcement officer in Baltimore County, Maryland, he ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 Maryland Republican primary for State Delegate of his district.
Though Rodney Agatupu Anoa’i was actually of Samoan origin, he was billed throughout the 90s as a sumo wrestler from the Land of the Rising Sun. Weighing nearly six hundred pounds, he definitely looked the part. Just like Hollywood, wrestling is all about typecasting, and people of Polynesian descent have often portrayed the hated Japs. Yoko never went to the ring without the company of his (Hawaiian) manager Mr. Fuji, a dead ringer for the Bond villain, Oddjob.
The Iron Sheik
Aside from having a mustache that’s famous in and of itself, the Sheik was so reviled in his day for his anti-Americanism that he’s now become a downright American icon. In his old age, the Iranian Olympic grappler who perfected the camel clutch has reinvented himself as a living, breathing Adult Swim character with a mouth that rivals Charlie Sheen’s.
If you still need your Sheik fix you can follow him, too. Tweets include, "mitt romney grasshopper dick," "respect the intelligent Jew," and "Hulk Hogan Birthday, I hope he get raped by a dead dog."
Oh and speaking of Hulk Hogan, dude is a nigga.