The “Diversity Heel” is Too Complex for WWE’s Writers

Smackdown LIVE’s current main event storyline between worst face in the world Randy Orton and longtime jobber Jinder Mahal has been controversial at best.

Long story short, Jinder (who is of Indian descent) lies, cheats, and steals, then turns around and insists that the crowd is booing him because they hate diversity. That’s… pretty much as deep as it gets, story-wise.

We’ve seen this play out before with Muhummad Hassan, who will go down as one of the most misguided misfires in WWE history. A character of Middle Eastern descent (played by an Italian because wrestling) whose gripe with the audience was that they all assumed he was a terrorist in the wake of 9/11. Not an uncommon thing for individuals of a certain race, and not just back then. In character, all Hassan wanted was not to be stereotyped. Wouldn’t that have made such a compelling hero in troubling times? A positive representative of the era’s ultimate “other,” frustrated by racism and fighting it wherever possible?

That could’ve been how it went. Or he could’ve been a heel for his entire tenure, which is exactly what happened. The racism in a chunk of pro wrestling’s target demographic contributed, but the writing team did the situation no favors by making Hassan act like a bully and then hide behind an excuse of anti-Arab prejudice.

This doesn’t work when the character is absolutely being subjected to anti-Arab prejudice. And when this is the only time the issue is ever brought up, it certainly portrays anybody speaking out against racism as immoral hypocrites hiding behind “the race card.”

Hassan’s character was mercifully retired from television after he was essentially canonically made a terrorist, completely validating everything he’d been speaking about in a meta sense.

Masked men kidnapping The Undertaker aside, this same thing is happening with Jinder Mahal, and it’s not subtle. In a promo that is repeated in almost every Smackdown commercial I’ve seen in the past month, he claims that the audience is booing because they “hate diversity,” when it’s pretty obvious that the audience is booing because he’s Jinder Mahal.

And no, I’m not “being worked.” I get that the point is that he’s a hypocrite. The problem is the fact that that’s where the character has to go in the first place. In a company with a mediocre-at-best track record racially (hey, HHH vs. Booker T at Wrestlemania 19, how ya doin?) I’m not going to give a writing decision that validates the alt-right’s belief that any speech about social injustice is virtue-signaling self-righteous whining the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s the thing: the character could work. It could. But it depends very heavily on the face he’s put up against. There are two ways that this kind of character can be “beaten” ideologically:

  • Expose the hypocrisy in a way that uplifts actual efforts to combat racism and prejudice, or
  • Reaffirm that anyone who brings up prejudice is “the real racist” and basically Reddit him into submission.

Someone like, say, cruiserweight Mustafa Ali is the character to do the former.

Randy “All Lives Matter” Orton is the latter, and that’s what we’ve got.

Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)

Image courtesy of WWE.com

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