Following a match on this week's Raw that could otherwise be classified as filler, Xavier Woods—white suit and all—became relevant.
Wearing browline glasses that hearken back to the biting sermons of Malcolm X, Woods cut a militant promo on the long-suffering Kofi Kingston and recently floundering Big E. The pair was fresh off a loss to the similarly struggling team of Rybaxel:
This is exactly what I have been talking about. You cannot move ahead by shaking hands, kissing babies, singing and dancing like a puppet! You cannot move ahead by always doing what you’re told. Now is our time. This is our place. It is time for us to find focus. It is up to us to find order. Together, it is our time to find a purpose. Because we do not ask any longer. Now, we take.
There are several positives and negatives to take away from Woods’ new gimmick, which positions him as a disillusioned black wrestler looking to forge a revolution.
Let’s start with the negatives.
This whole angle is almost certainly being done in response to the latest allegations of racism within WWE. In a recent article by Dion Beary of The Atlantic, entitled" Pro Wrestling is Fake, but Its Race Problem Isn’t," the author expands upon the well-documented history of racial insensitivity in pro wrestling.
Mainstream media outlets like The Huffington Post furthered the discussion, placing WWE on the wrong side of yet another public relations controversy.
This isn’t the first time WWE has found itself in this position in regards to race. In April of 2008, TMZ reported head SmackDown writer Michael Hayes was suspended from WWE for using a racial slur. The slur was directed at longtime WWE Superstar Mark Henry.
During this same time frame, WWE responded with an onslaught of booking of black talent. Kingston defeated Chris Jericho during the June 2008 Night of Champions pay-per-view. One month later, Shelton Benjamin defeated Matt Hardy for the United States Championship at The Great American Bash.
This was also around the same time frame as Cryme Tyme’s short-lived alliance with top star John Cena.
As for Mark Henry? He won his first world championship 12 years into his WWE career during the aforementioned Night of Champions pay-per-view, beating Kane and The Big Show for the now-defunct ECW Championship.
As promising as some may feel this Dr. Xavier Woods gimmick seems, history says the gimmick’s ceiling is identical to The Huffington Post’s attention span for pro wrestling.
Once racial tensions settled, it didn’t take long for each 2008 beneficiary to once again fall by the wayside.
Shelton Benjamin and both members of Cryme Tyme have since been released from their contracts.
Mark Henry is currently missing in action, probably until the next time Brock Lesnar needs to look impressive. And until recently, Kingston was mired in the midcard as nothing more than a group-match specialist.
That leads us to the positives.
Kingston, who has been long overdue for any meaningful program based on several scene-stealing appearances on pay-per-view, suddenly matters. Common logic dictates that Kingston has been a midcarder far too long to be taken seriously as a top-tier talent. Senior Pro Wrestling Torch columnist Bruce Mitchell said as much when he wrote that “Fairly or unfairly, [Kingston’s] been in the mid-card for far too many years to be elevated now.”
Whether or not this is true, he is now aligned with Xavier Woods, who will have the opportunity to parlay his real-life PhD candidacy into a dynamic persona. Kingston will also continue to work alongside Big E, whose physique alone makes him a threat to become a championship contender.
Even if this is being done to make nice while the mainstream media is watching, who’s to say these three can’t take this opportunity and catch fire the level of a Wyatt Family or a Shield?
But if this stable is going to get hot, it will happen on the premise of race.
No matter how careful Woods is with his language, the underlying theme will pit black Americans against the world.
In fact, being cryptic about his pro-black sentiments will only create more hostility. As MIT graduate and Chaco Canyon Consulting contributor Rick Brenner put it, “implied accusations make us defensive.”
So is this truly an adequate response to allegations of racial insensitivity?
TNA currently features a three-man stable which includes MVP, Kenny King and reigning TNA Heavyweight Champion Lashley.
Despite consisting of three black wrestlers, the group is not racially motivated. In fact, they don’t even have an official name. Still, fan-made racial overtones persist. TNA wrestler MVP expressed his frustrations on the matter as a guest of Grantland’s Cheap Heat podcast:
One of the things that frustrates me is when we put this clique together, wrestling fans have been so conditioned over the years racially, in terms of what is and isn’t allowed in wrestling, that the first thing everybody wants to do is refer to our clique—which has nothing to do with race, it’s just three brothers hanging out, we whoop white people, we whoop black people, we don’t care as far as, you know, our storyline goes. But you have wrestling fans who have been so conditioned by the major product, that they call us Nation of Domination, part two.
Monday’s angle seemed to be enough of a response to placate Atlantic author Dion Beary, who tweeted:
That promo from Xavier Woods was killer. A+ episode of Raw all around.— Dion (@hashtagdion) July 22, 2014
He’s right. This could be the beginning of something special. But at the same time, WWE's apparent response to accusations of exploiting racial stereotypes is booking a trio of stereotypical black militants.
Given the obvious similarities to The Nation of Domination, and in the midst of a delicate climate, is this progress or more of the same?