“The Viking Experience” may have been stupid, but “Kabuki Warriors” is also bad and wrong.
With the WWE women’s tag team division a constantly-evolving thing that has required new pairings of singles stars, having names for the pairs has been a bit of a work-in-progress. The inaugural Women’s Tag Team Champions, Sasha Banks and Bayley, were christened “The Boss and Hug Connection,” while Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville were dubbed “Fire and Desire.”
Those names seem to ebb and flow out of use, especially now with Banks on an extended hiatus while determining her future in WWE and Rose and Deville being referred to as a team and as individuals randomly.
Here’s to hoping the new tag team in town’s “official” name doesn’t stick around beyond this Tuesday’s episode of SmackDown Live. Asuka and Kairi Sane, managed by Paige, were introduced (by Paige) as the “Kabuki Warriors,” a name that isn’t just bad and lazy but also extremely problematic.
This isn’t simply a case of a rename being stupid, a la the whole War-Raiders-Viking-Experience-Viking-Raiders thing in April (though it most certainly is also just as stupid). It’s also another example of the WWE’s penchant for casual racism in how it portrays talent, particularly those of color, and particularly Asian women.
Gail Kim, a former WWE Women’s Champion, has often spoken of Vince McMahon’s behavior toward Asian performers and the limitations he places on wrestlers of color in general. Kim responded to the choice of name for the Asuka-Sane tag team on Twitter on Tuesday:
Kabuki, a traditional Japanese dance art, has a complicated history with women (to say the least) and, since the 1600s, women have been barred from performing it. Female characters are portrayed by men. And that is but one reason why calling a women’s tag team “Kabuki” anything is a problem. There’s also the fact that neither Asuka nor Sane portray Kabuki-style characters. And then there’s just the very McMahon way of thinking — “what’s a Japanese word we can use?” — and his frequent leaning on stereotypes to inform wrestlers’ character identities.
Asuka and Sane were fully-formed, established, respected singles competitors before being placed in the tag-team picture earlier this year. It’s debatable that they even need Paige to manage them, but it’s certain that they don’t need a team name to raise their profile. And they certainly don’t need anything so reductive, tone-deaf, stereotypical and lazy as what McMahon has come up with. The WWE needs to reverse course on this rebrand, and quickly.