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Why #BlackExcellence is a bigger deal in WWE than some fans realize

For the first time in its history, WWE boasts five black champions at once. Sasha Banks holds the WWE Raw women’s championship, Rich Swann holds the WWE cruiserweight championship and the trio of Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston, who make up the New Day, hold the WWE Raw tag team championship. To commemorate that one-third of WWE’s nine titles are held by a historically suppressed minority in the pro wrestling world, the group took posted a photo on Twitter and captioned it with the hashtag “Black Excellence” on Tuesday night.

Not all the response was positive. Among the hundreds of replies, several criticized the use of the hashtag. One person called it “unnecessary.” Another called it racist and demanded the group think about how people would interpret a group photo of WWE’s white champions tagged #WhiteExcellence.

The outcry sparked Kingston to further explain the meaning behind the Black Excellence hashtag, which the Root described in 2015 as “a notion that is indicative of who we are, our fortitude and extraordinary accomplishments.”

Kingston, who’s been on WWE’s main roster since 2008, echoed that in his essay posted to Twitter on Wednesday, noting the hashtag “does not come from a place of malice, spite, or gloating.”

“It comes from a place of joy and a place of happiness,” Kingston wrote. “We have a very strong sense of pride in being the Black People simultaneously holding championships in WWE.”

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Kingston went on to explain:

“Historically in our nation, there was period in time where this would not have happened, followed by a long period of time where it became possible, but had not actually materialized. Now, we are in the time in which the possibility has become a reality.
“Why does this matter?
“It matters because even though it is hard for some to fathom, the fact is that there are many people who feel as though it is impossible to attain certain goals because of the color of their skin. This is why we must acknowledge the color of ours in this instance. It is important for people of all races, but particularly people of color, and especially the youth, to see that it is entirely possible to achieve your dreams and aspirations regardless of your race. We are a shining example who want to be a source of motivation for others to believe in themselves and do the same.”

Kingston ended his essay by dispelling the notion that the hashtag was racist in anyway.

“Excellence is not the same as supremacy,” he wrote. “#BlackExcellence is not meant to be divisive. For even if you do not fall into the specific category, you can still take enjoyment in our pride, because in the biggest picture, in a society that often focuses on the negative aspects of race relations, what has transpired with the 5 of us speaks positively to the progress we’ve made as a nation.”

Big E’s original tweet had been retweeted more than 6,000 times by Wednesday afternoon, including by WWE’s main Twitter account, since it was posted shortly after 9 p.m. EDT on Tuesday.

The WWE hasn’t yet responded to The Washington Post’s request reached for comment.

WWE’s promotion of the tweet may signal a more progressive stance when it comes to casting black wrestlers in prominent roles. In the past, the promotion often struggled with race, not only by often keeping black wrestlers in supporting roles, but also by promoting what Rolling Stone magazine called some “pretty racist” story lines. For instance, in the late 1980s, a white man named George Gray, who was previously known as the One Man Gang, took on the persona of “Akeem, the African Dream,” by donning a dashiki and changing his voice.

“Maybe not the best transformation for the One Man Gang,” WWE backstage interviewer Cathy Kelley said in September about the gimmick.

WWE continues to garner criticism today because only one black wrestler has ever held WWE’s top title, which is currently held by A.J. Styles.

Dwyane “the Rock” Johnson, who is black and Samoan, first won the WWE championship in 1998. He went on to win it six more times in his career. According to former WWE star JTG, however, WWE mostly promoted the Rock as Samoan, not black.

“[The Rock] is not identified as black. He’s more identified as Samoan,” JTG, who made up one half of the Crime Tyme tag team and split with the WWE in 2014, said in June during an appearance on legendary WWE announcer Jim Ross’s podcast. “We’ve had [other] black wrestlers who definitely could have been WWE champion, but we still haven’t had one to this day and I’d love to know why.”