A few months ago I attended a Ring of Honor/New Japan Pro Wrestling show at the 2300 (née ECW) Arena in South Philly. When a Japanese ref entered the ring, someone in the stands yelled “Mr. Miyagi!” The crowd immediately booed, then began chanting “That was racist!” (That one of the wrestlers in the match began it by doing stereotypical Japanese martial arts noises went unremarked on by the crowd.)
I thought of that moment last night when Jinder Mahal gave an incredibly strange promo for his WWE title defense against Shinsuke Nakamura next month at Hell in a Cell. In a segment making fun of Nakamura’s expressions, Mahal said that he “always rook the same.” Yikes.
It went on a bit like this. He said the fans don’t really like Nakamura, and behind his back they call him “Mr. Miyagi.” (He also said fans say his hair is cut by a dog groomer, which doesn’t appear to be problematic, but with his previous statements I’m not quite sure.)
Mahal is playing a character, and a bad guy at that. But this kind of casual, off-hand stereotyping has largely been removed from the higher levels of professional wrestling. It was incredibly weird to have the world champion saying these things in 2017! It was even weirder when the evil heel foreigner was using racist jokes to call fans racist! (Also, in the past this kind of casual racism would probably make you a face.)
Anyway, the fans in Oakland didn’t even like it, chanting “That’s too far” at Mahal near the end of his promo. Pro wrestling is a show where people pretend to fight each other. It’s carny entertainment. There’s a litany of racist promos in WWE’s history, sure. But there’s no reason for this kind of shit. It doesn’t make Mahal a better character and it doesn’t build for his match against Nakamura that much. It’s just awkward and sad.