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Brandi Rhodes’ promo on AEW Dynamite was divisive in more ways than one
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Brandi Rhodes’ promo on AEW Dynamite was divisive in more ways than one

Rhodes’ code-switched callout makes ‘vocal minorities’ question stereotypes and authenticity in wrestling.

The Cody Rhodes and Jade Cargill segment on this week’s Dynamite was kind of a train wreck.

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Cody’s promo was decent, but since he’s typically stellar on the mic, “decent” didn’t cut it. Cargill’s entrance spiced things up story-wise, but her delivery was stilted, and all I could think about personally was how much she was flipping her hair. The fact that this was all leading up to the eventual AEW debut of Shaq — who did not appear in-person and didn’t even have an announcement of when he would be appearing — was a contentious fact in of itself, and the question of whether or not Shaq wrestling Cody is good for business has been raging on since Wednesday night.

The other big, divisive topic, however, centers around the energy that Brandi Rhodes brought into the segment at the end.

Brandi sauntered out, yelled, dropped the letter G from all of her gerunds (e.g. “lookin’” and “talkin’”), and called Cargill a “bitch” so hard that it almost sounded like a two-syllable word. She talked about “my man,” called Cargill a “heifer” for some added stank.

Brandi Rhodes code-switched. And for a lot of fans, that worked. For others, it certainly did not.

Now, to make sure we’re all on the same page, to “code-switch” is to change your speech patterns, appearance, and general behavior to assure comfort from those around you. It’s not inherently racial; in fact, the term comes from linguistics, as bilingual people have to be cognizant of which language — or code — they lean into when entering any setting.

But as a black dude myself, I’ve always known code-switching as exactly what I described Brandi doing earlier: acting blacker with black folks, and acting whiter with white folks. Jade Cargill is the first black antagonist Brandi has had in AEW — with MJF, Shawn Spears, and Allie acting as past enemies whereas Red Velvet and Lee Johnson are part of Brandi’s squad — so this is the first time it really made sense to see the Chief Brand Officer, more or less, “transform” in her presentation.

And when Brandi cut that promo on Cargill, the immediate reaction on TV and in the wrestling groups I’m part of were, “Brandi saved that segment.” Tony Schiavone chuckled and went, “Ooh!” The crowd popped. As of writing, the YouTube upload has 5,300 likes and only 216 dislikes. It seems like a majority of viewers were into it and saw Brandi’s intrusion as the lifeblood of that otherwise far from perfect segment.

There are vocal detractors who lump her portion in with the rest of the segment, however, and some of those detractors even argue that her part was the worst of them all. The biggest platform where I’ve noticed a view similar to that was on the Nov. 12 edition of ESPN’s Cheap Heat podcast with hosts Pete Rosenberg and “Stat Guy” Greg Hyde.

Rosenberg started the discussion by saying he understands code-switching and even does it himself. However, he and Greg both agreed that not only is this side something that we’ve never seen from her before, but the delivery of those lines on Wednesday gave off a feeling of inauthenticity. If that wasn’t how she would normally act, they both felt that she was just playing into a stereotype that fit more at home in the 1990s than in 2020.

And I’ve seen a lot of these sentiments echoed on what is colloquially referred to as “Black Twitter.” There were people saying that it wasn’t genuine, and others implied that it felt racist even if nothing racist actually happened. But the most poignant point from this side came in the form of a post and reply from @5Deuce4Tre7 and @xcomatv, respectively.

To their point, let’s say you’re a white person who doesn’t know many black people personally but did grow up watching Def Jam comedy or, as Stat Guy Greg said, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. You may have this vision of what black people are “supposed” to act like, and while wrestling is full of characters, Brandi’s promo would seem as realistic and genuine to you as Eddie Kingston’s promos about struggling feel to me.

Yet, when I watched Brandi’s promo, I felt exactly how Greg and Rosenberg and the tweeters above felt about it: she didn’t fit the idea of who we’ve previously seen her as, and because of that, it didn’t land for me.

But isn’t that just how code-switching works?

If my family in Georgia saw me act how I did at my majority-white university or vice versa, they would all be confused. In that sense, Brandi’s cold, calculated promos about why Cody is about to emasculate “Daddy Brodie” fit what she was going for with her target, whereas Brandi’s assessment of Jade Cargill from looking at her may require a different tactic. Her cutting what I would call a “bad” promo doesn’t mean it’s inherently inauthentic.

A few weeks ago, when Matt Hardy was with his family and talking about how he’s ready to compete again, it wasn’t a great promo — in fact, it made me fully tune out of the show for a minute because I’m a mean person who hates good news. I could assume he was being genuine because he had his wife and kids by his side and he wasn’t doing his “Broken” voice, but it didn’t make him a better entertainer.

Maybe Brandi is just like Matt Hardy, Private Party, and pre-face-turn Britt Baker where being earnest just won’t cut it.

After a bit of deliberation, Stat Guy Greg (while pretty much entirely siding with Rosenberg up to and after this point) did finally question his co-host about the reasoning behind saying that Brandi should be truer to herself in promos.

“I don’t know if this makes this better or worse,” Greg said, “but you said, ‘She did that instead of being herself,’ right? But I’ve only known her as these different characters. What if she does talk to Cody like that home? … We talk about code-switching. What if Cody is at home and he’s eating cereal and he used too much almond milk and we hear about how his dizzy ass used up all the almond milk?”

Rosenberg’s response was seen by some as offensive, as he said that “we’d better see this all the time.” A few fans argued that, because he is a white man, it’s not his place to “police” how a black woman presents herself.

But Rosenberg’s point was more reasonable and nuanced than that: “If this is her character forever and it seems natural, then one day we’ll look back think, ‘Oh, there’s the day she started being herself.’ But I don’t think that’s the case. And, if it is, we’ll find out over time, and we’ll all go, ‘Our bad.’”

To put my take in a sentence: if you’re going to judge Brandi’s promo as good or bad, you won’t get anywhere trying to figure out if this is or is not true to her real-life character.

This is professional wrestling. The Undertaker isn’t a zombie wizard, but he was so good at pretending that he was that, when I was a know-nothing 6-year-old, he terrified me to my soul. If Brandi isn’t actually a street-talking hothead in her free time, that’s totally fine, but she has to make the fans believe that she is, or at least do so for the minute that she’s on the mic.

And to be fair, a lot of people did buy into it. Going back to the YouTube video, the comments are overwhelmingly positive, even from black commentors. Rosenberg, Greg, the “Black Twitter” contingent, and I can all feel however we feel about Brandi’s promo, but for a lot of people, it did its job. Here I am talking about it now, half a week later, giving free promotion for Brandi, Jade Cargill, Cody Rhodes, and Shaquille O’Neal. And I’m not going to avoid watching AEW because of one bad promo — I’ve been an active Ricochet fan since 2016.

At the end of the day, all I hope to see happen is Brandi figuring out who her character is and being consistent with it. If she’s going to be prim and proper until properly triggered, I’m here for it as long as she can sell both halves of the character. And if this is a one-time situation, that’s fine too; not everything lands (see: the Nightmare Collective).

But if Brandi does commit to this brasher way of talking and she never really evolves it (which, let’s face it, only a few people are asking her to do), I hope that discussions about the pros and cons of the act stick more to the wrestling character and not her character outside of the ring.

If her speaking on TV does genuinely offend your sensibilities, I cannot say anything to stop that. You’re not wrong for feeling how you feel, and anyone who added to the video’s dislikes is just as valid as someone who added to its likes, regardless of how many people are on either side.

But we don’t know the real Brandi Rhodes, and we likely never will. Assumptions of who that person is should not change the effectiveness of her entertainment ability.

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