Black Wrestler Of The Month Vol 2.: Papa Shango

The story of Charles Wright is the story of how wrestling treats Black wrestlers

David Dennis, Jr.

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I’m a wrestling fan. I’m Black. This presents a conflict: Wrestling is massively racist and always has been. The older I get and the more I understand this, the more I appreciate the Black talent that persevered despite the obstacles in their way. These are the people who captured my imagination and made me fall in love with the genre; their accomplishments are only amplified by what it took for them to succeed. Sadly, the same things that held them back also often lessened their respective impacts — so I want to give these Black wrestlers their flowers.

Papa Shango’s most famous wrestling moment doesn’t even feature Papa Shango. Instead, it’s a video of Ultimate Warrior, wrestling’s biggest non-Hulk Hogan star in the early ’90s, being interviewed by Mean Gene Okerlund. Suddenly a green-black ooze starts leaking from Warrior’s head; he starts shaking as only the Warrior could before screaming to the heavens. It’s a microcosm of early ’90s wrestling camp. The story was part of a feud between Warrior and Papa Shango, a voodoo priest character. That’s right. Papa Shango was a voodoo priest.

And it was racist as hell.

Charles Wright was discovered in the late ’80s as a bartender and bouncer at a popular nightclub where wrestlers were hanging out. He had a few runs in some of the independent territories before arriving in the WWE in 1991 testing out a character called “Sir Charles.” Yes, it was a play off of Charles Barkley because somebody white probably thought they looked alike. The character died in copyright infringement hell.

That opened the door for another character for Wright to play. This time it was Papa Shango, a witchdoctor based on nothing but horrible stereotypes. He gyrated. He had bone necklaces. He [deep sigh] put curses on people. However, he was memorable for how terrifying he was; as a kid, I remember covering my eyes when he would end his matches with some feat of Black magic.

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David Dennis, Jr.

Level Sr. Writer covering Race, Culture, Politics, TV, Music. Previously: The Undefeated, The Atlantic, Washington Post. Forthcoming book: The Movement Made Us