AEW: Brandi Rhodes’s promo and the issue of code switching

AEW, Brandi Rhodes (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for TNT)
AEW, Brandi Rhodes (Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for TNT) /

Brandi Rhodes delivered a harsh promo on Jade Cargill on Wednesday to the praise of some and the disdain of others all too familiar with the issue of code switching.

The professional wrestling world is not devoid of nuance. Another situation to display the fact occurred on Wednesday in AEW Dynamite involving Brandi Rhodes and Jade Cargill. The talking point of the segment may be the focusing on Cody’s next rival, but that depends on who is asked. The promo that Rhodes cut on Cargill has generated a lot of attention among Black wrestling fans for what can be characterized as an embarrassing example of code switching.

Cargill stood on the top of the ramp and was confronted by Rhodes. Rhodes then laid into Cargill who moments earlier had her hands-on Cody while threatening him in the middle of the ring. But it was Brandi’s words and mannerisms that stood out for all the wrong reasons.

"“Who the hell told you tonight was open mic night [expletive],” Brandi started to the cheer of the crowd. “Your ditzy ass up here looking really confused. So, let me spell this out for you. You up in my house, smackin your gums at my man, and now you’re my problem. I’m gonna make this really easy for you. Don’t you eva, eva, talk to him like that again. Don’t you even look at him. And you know what else you can do? You can take your ratchet, triflin ass right up off my stage and do not come back unless I send for you. DO you understand me, heifer? Good. Great. Cool. Bitch, get your ass outta here.”"

There is a lot to unpack there; from the mannerisms that Brandi used, down to the enunciation of each word. It is something that wrestling fans have not really seen from Brandi in the past. While many of wrestling’s primary demographic, white males age 18-34, cheered for her defending Cody against the newcomer, many Black wrestling fans looked at this promo as highly problematic in its delivery, but also in the response it opened Brandi up to on the back end.

This conversation starts with the term “code switching.” The simple definition is the practice of switching between languages, but there is a deeper meaning behind it. However, in the Black community code switching involves the practice of changing not only speech, but appearance, behavior, expression and more to peacefully exist in spaces where minorities are not always welcome – especially in the workplace. It is an internal struggle that many Black and Brown people are forced to deal with in spaces where negative stereotypes exist that can hinder their development, success or even safety.

So how does this translate to Brandi’s promo and wrestling as a whole? There’s hundreds of articles and podcast episodes about the negative stereotypes that follow Black professional wrestlers. But the challenge is even worse for Black women.

Take Naomi for instance and look at the response she received when she returned at the Royal Rumble, rocking a big, beautiful afro. That meant something to the communities she represents whenever she steps into the ring. Bianca Belair is another, as her confidence and presence exude a boldness and pride that Black fans recognize. The same could be said about Sasha Banks. But consistently these individuals are misused by the WWE, but it is not just there as professional wrestling has a serious issue with understanding the diversity that comes with having people of color on the roster. This is falls very closely to the use of negative coded language that speak to issues with Black women’s “attitudes” that are usually unfounded claims meant to denigrate their talent.

But back to Brandi. The mannerisms and phrasing used paint her in a fashion that she is never portrayed on television. It felt highly forced, as if it were someone’s idea in the back that this is how two Black women should speak to each other when they have beef. It is different for Big Swole, who presents herself as authentic, in front of a camera, on social media and everywhere in between. For Brandi, she has never been this person in any capacity. So, to see it now on television presents in a way that the idea was conjured up to get heat because it is “how Black people talk to each other.” Brandi could have easily defended her husband without all the body language and new terminology. Unfortunately, this was the time it was decided to break it out.

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It is difficult for people of color who are often forced to present themselves in a way that is different from who they really are to find success in their career of choice. We see it across all professional wrestling, from Naomi to the New Day and beyond. Brandi Rhodes promo on Jade Cargill may have elicited excitement from some, but for those that recognize the situation it speaks to issues of code switching that do not need to be thrown around in a professional wrestling storyline.