He was the original gentle giant.

Before professional wrestling became an oily, smarmy profit machine, he was there as the archetype of the great American hero. He was always optimistic, and always on the side of truth and right.

He was a never-quit-never, never-say-die kind of guy. Even when he was out-numbered, out-gunned, and out-maneuvered, he would find a way to dig deep, and win the day.

And while other heroes were shooting the bad guys, he was urging us to say our prayers and take our vitamins.

He had a higher approval rating than John F. Kennedy Jr., and we loved him. But, now he’s trying desperately to stop a public opinion free fall.

No, I’m not talking about Jeb Bush or Scott Walker, even if that’s how their campaign websites characterize them.

I’m talking about Terry Gene Bollea. The Hulk.

In the last several weeks, we have learned from a leaked sex tape and private conversations with his incarcerated son, that Bollea had issues with Black people.

In some of the recorded content, Bollea can be heard mocking Blacks with Ebonics. And in other parts, he simply uses the N-word as if it is a synonym for Black people, and speculates that “everyone is a little racist.”

“I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*ck some n*gger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n*gger worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player,” Bollea says on the tape of his ex-wife.

Racist words from a racist, right? Well, not according to Bollea or many of his fans.

On Bollea’s website and social media pages, he swears that “he is not a racist,” and that people are twisting what he said.

And his fans agree with him. Many have pledged their undying support for him, lashed out at the media, liberals, and Blacks — you know, the usual targets when there is racial unrest — for creating a mountain out of a molehill, intention from a “mistake.”

If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the precise narrative for every person of some notoriety who has been caught uttering racist remarks.

Everyone from Paula Deen, to Michael Richards, to Mel Gibson has said the same thing. “I’m not a racist, I have black friends and employees.” And then they march out those few black friends to awkwardly parrot the same mantra.

But, this isn’t about Hulk Hogan or Paula Deen. This isn’t about Mel. And it’s not even about the black friends they’ve retained to get them out of racial jams.

Their comments about not being racist, however, speaks to a larger question: what is racism?

And yes, this is where I should insert a response to the tired, well-worn but often-used argument, “Well, if blacks can use the N-word, why can’t whites?”

This is where I should say that there are special relationships in which people are able to call each other things outsiders cannot and should not.

This is where I would say women can call each other derogatory names in jest, but men rightly should not use the same terms. This is where I would say that a couple in a relationship refers to each other with pet names the outside world should never use.

This is where I’d say it is much the same way with black people, and the people who argue that they should be able to use the N-word because other Blacks do, deliberately miss the point.

But, I won’t say those things. I won’t say them because it distracts from the real issue.

The real issue is this: If using the N-word repeatedly in public or in private and having disdain for people of color doesn’t make you a racist, then what does? What makes one a racist?