I would rather watch my own cremation than willfully watch Charles Barkley muse about race in ways that require a suspension of nuance, irony, or an even a basic understanding of American history and the racism that’s long carried it.
And yet. TNT has announced a limited series, entitled The Race Card, hosted by the former NBA star and sportscaster. The six hour-long episodes will air in 2017, and per the press release, “Charles Barkley has had enough. The America that he knew has lost its way, becoming mired in partisan politics, social divides and entrenched corporate interests.”
The title of this show alone suggests that this show is going to examine race, culture, and class from an already false premise, given how “the race card” is largely used pejoratively to discount legitimate complaints of racial bias. It’s not tongue-in-cheek; it’s already playing into empty tropes. Then there is the dubious claim from the man himself about what has motivated him to do this show.
Charles Barkley was born in 1963, which means shortly after his birth came the passing of The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, respectively, and the implementation of Richard Nixon’s very racist “southern strategy.” Thanks to the likes of people like Pat Buchanan, this country has been marred in cultural wars for two decades, and because of the Reagan administration, deeply entrenched in corporate interests for three. The country Barkley purportedly claims to not recognize is more of a testament to Barkley’s lack of attention span than any serious look at the trajectory of this nation.
Barkley is amusing when talking about basketball, but whenever he delves into matters pertaining to racism, he tends to convey a facile grasp of how racism functions in society. In recent years, Barkley has claimed that he felt George Zimmerman did not deserve to be found guilty; defended Ferguson police officers in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting; argued that he didn’t think Eric Garner’s death ought to be classified as a homicide.
Barkley has also made anti-black statements like, "There are a lot of Black people who are unintelligent, who don't have success. It's best to knock a successful Black person down 'cause they're intelligent, they speak well, they do well in school, and they're successful. It's crabs in a barrel. ... We're the only ethnic group that says, 'hey, if you go to jail, it gives you street cred.' "
Lame black people can continue to cry about some anti-intellectual bias in the black community to avoid culpability in their own lack of social skills all they’d like, but in 2013, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research found that African Americans are most likely to value a post-secondary education in becoming successful. There’s also the counterpoint that the public school system has failed black people given the limited access so many have.
But, according to TNT’s press release: “In The Race Card, Charles Barkley wants to bust up the echo chamber mentality that so often has people retreating to corners of the like-minded, where views are reinforced and ideas are distorted into angry, unexamined groupthink conclusions.” So, Barkley is going to repudiate the last couple of decades in his life, turn on Michael Jackson, shimmy a little to “Man In The Mirror,” and make that change? I highly doubt it. Cute lil’ buzzword usage aside, based on his own history, there is no reason to believe Barkley is capable of facilitating what’s been promised.
I can imagine why it was greenlit, though. Recent polls show the majority of Americans say race relations should be a major focus for the next president.
To wit, Barkely himself says in the press release: "We as Americans never discuss the issue of race in this country and how it impacts everything in our lives until something bad happens. I see this project as a way to talk about race, class and cultural differences and challenge everyone's status quo."
When hasn’t something bad rooted in race not happened in this country? Some people keep arguing that we need to have a “conversation about race.” No one needs that. We need to be way past that, onto the part where we talk about racism and what actually can be done about it. To the credit of many protesters, select members of media, and plenty of social media, there already is conversation. However, Barkley is riding their coattails and it is unfair to all of us who actually have something to say.
Barkley, more or less, is a famous a black man who has long lent a black aesthetic to sentiments majorly held by average white conservatives.
In 2014, I wrote this about Barkley: “Charles Barkley is about as qualified to speak on race as LeBron James is to be Sophia Vergara’s stunt double; as ready as singer K. Michelle is to be U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan; as Ben Carson is ready to be president.”
I stand by that. We don’t need his insight nor do we need anymore after school special-like commentary on racism, the ones much like that recent ABC News town hall featuring President Obama; the ones full of false equivalences and empty, disingenuous rhetoric.
They are a distraction and I wish all like them nothing but failure.