Charles Oakley and The Fear of Large Black Men

As a Black man in America, I know what it’s like to be looked upon with hesitance and trepidation. As a larger than average Black man, it seems like that trepidation becomes exponentially more intense with each measure of inches and pounds. Because of this, I am very aware when people are looking at me or when I feel closed, profiled or herded, as is the case in airports and other transportation hubs. It’s a feeling not unlike claustrophobia, but I’ve come to manage those feelings over the years.

Additionally, when you’re a big Black guy, oftentimes you may find yourself being admonished for being what others deem is too loud or too rambunctious. “After all,” they would add. “People are looking and you don’t want to scare them.”  As if the tone of my voice or my general mannerism are a predictor of whether or not people would be frightened or weary of me. Hell, some people start tripping when I simply walk through the door.

When it comes to former New York Knicks great Charles Oakley, being large, fearsome and uncompromising are what made him one of the most beloved players in the history of the franchise. Last week, we all witnessed the sickening affair that resulted in Oak being surrounded by security at Madison Square Garden and eventually taken to the ground and dragged out of the arena.

Brothers everywhere were like ‘Aww, sh*t they got Big Oak in the cuffs!’ The immediate aftermath was just as messy as the scuffle itself, with the Knicks tweeting out comments alluding to Oakley having anger issues, alcohol abuse problems and having overall poor mental health.

Now, after a pow-wow that included Oakley, New York Knicks owner James Dolan, Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan and NBA commissioner Adam Silver, the embarrassing and draconian ban from Madison Square Garden that was imposed on the former NBA bruiser has been rescinded.

As Knicks fans breathed a sigh of relief, things got even more screwed up. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is now saying that Oakley was targeted for surveillance and that the entire ordeal may have been racially motivated. Say word! 

After a planned Monday meeting with Dolan was cancelled, Adams stood outside of the Garden and shared portions of what he said was the investigation conducted by MSG with reporters.

Based on their report, Oakley kept asking, Why are you staring at me? Why are you all around me like this? the borough president said. He was basically targeted from the time he sat down.

The treatment of Oakley had a clear racial component, Adams added.We want to be extremely clear that this is so much more than Charles Oakley, he said. Just blocks away, you walk inside Macys. You may have a platinum card in your pocket, but youre followed around and treated like a criminal.”

This would not have happened to Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere, and it should not have happened to Mr. Oakley, he added.

On Monday, Adams reportedly said the incident involving Oakley looked like “Eric Garner without the chokehold” and I had to painfully, silently nod in agreement. Whenever law enforcement or its proxies approach a Black man of significant size or stature, it is very rarely to simply talk it out, as the video of Eric Garner’s death shows.

Had the incident occurred outside of the confines of MSG and on the street, one trembles at the thought of what could have happened to the large, proud and loud Charles Oakley.

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