It’s always been there, even if it only rose to prominence occasionally. But a year ago, as Hulk Hogan was being reintroduced on WWE television, Kofi Kingston’s run to WrestleMania 35 brought the discussion about race and wrestling’s biggest company to the fore. It simmered for most of Kingston’s WWE title reign, and boiled back up in the fall when he was booked to lose in seconds to Brock Lesnar around the same time ACH was accusing the company of racism.
There hasn’t been a news item to restart the conversation in a while, but that doesn’t mean it should be “out of sight, out of mind”. The topic of how being black has affected her career - and how WWE’s approach to wrestlers of color has changed during her time with the company - came up recently when Naomi was a guest on Afterbuzz’s Women’s Wresting Weekly. It’s undeniably worth hearing her perspective.
The conversation started when hosts TK Trinidad and Emily Mae Heller ask Naomi about returning with a natural hairstyle at Royal Rumble. While responding, she contrasted that to when she started with the company a decade ago:
After talking about the hate she experiences on social media, Naomi spoke some more about how things have changed behind the scenes.“When I first started, I had natural hair. I was told, ‘hey, we want you to look like this,’ and I was shown a picture of Naomi Campbell - a supermodel who I look nothing like!
At the time, I was so hungry and eager to not give anyone any reason not to book me, for me not to be on TV, so I felt like I had to conform.”
Progress is good, and hopefully future generations of wrestlers of color will be able to find their glow without as many struggles.“As far as the WWE, I feel like I’ve been treated, overall, very well. I can’t complain and I feel like I’ve had an amazing career. However, I do know that there are just some struggles and things that I have had to experience and go through because I am black, and I was different at the time I came in. At the time, the prototype, and what was, was not me. Was not anything like me. The face was Kelly Kelly at the time. Kelly Kelly is stunning, gorgeous, blonde hair, blue eyes - like beautiful, stunning. But now we see - there’s so much diversity and I love that.
But just the time I came in, there were struggles, there were ‘talk to’s’ - me being pulled to the side to talk about, just my look and certain ways I was carrying myself, and I feel like that had everything to do with me being black.
But I’ve seen so many changes and I’ve seen so much growth in the company. And a lot of those people that were saying side-whispers or saying things to me that I felt like wasn’t right or inappropriate are no longer here, so [makes face and laughs when hosts say ‘periodt’].
So, I’ve definitely had some struggles but I feel like it took going through that to find myself and to be comfortable in my glow and where I’m at now. I just felt like at the time, I had to do what I had to do to stay around and to be featured. And it got me through to where I am now.”
Check out Naomi’s entire interview on Women’s Wrestling Weekly - where she also talks about asking to work NXT, her current career goals, and future plans like starting a family - at this link.