That was the headline I wrote in August 2016 for a story announcing Charles Barkley’s upcoming docu-series on TNT, American Race. His history of seemingly ambiguous ignorance on matters of race has drawn the ire of Black Twitter and my Shadow League’s editorials on several occasions.
I listened to Barkley and all involved about what inspired the show at a media gathering in New York City last week. I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey and didn’t have cable. So, the Sixers were it on my television screen. Though I liked the San Antonio Spurs as a team, I couldn’t be amazed by his athletic prowess way back then.
Admittedly, I do have something of a soft spot for the dude and that is actually the catalyst to why I’ve excoriated him in print in the past. However, it seems that Barkley’s racial ignorance has been exaggerated by myself and others. A clip that was released last year shows Barkley at a community event in Baltimore, Maryland that was famously combative toward the Chuckster.
The first person to ask a question was Marion Gray-Hopkins, the mother of Freddie Gray. She went for the jugular!
“It was surreal to me because I had never met a person whose family member had been killed by the cops,” said Barkley. “As we go onto different episodes, people throw words out there like Muslim ban and they don’t know any Muslims. People talking about immigrants but they don’t know any. These are actually real people that you’ll see. I think it’s important for people to see a real Mom who that happened to instead a five second blurb on the news then they go onto the next story.”
“t was really uncomfortable getting your ass kicked like that,” he admitted. “The thing that’s funny and ironic, that was the first question and that was as good as it got for me the entire night. People don’t realize that was the first question. And from that point on they just kicked my ass. I can handle it. I guarantee no other person gave that woman a chance to express that.”
“The thing that we’ve always loved about you is you are strong, wrong and willing to learn,” interjected civil rights attorney William H. Murphy, the lawyer of the Gray family.
Charles Barkley’s support of law enforcement and his constant admonishment of poor and disenfranchised black people has not gained him many allies in most hoods. For me, those words always stung because he came from a disadvantaged background and would likely still be there if not for his physical abilities. That being said, Barkley’s recent comments have cast light on a side seldom seen; an honest critique of the racism in his home state.
“I say this all the time, I never worry about a fool calling me the N-word or things like that, but if you have economic power and you can make sure that people never get economic power, that’s racism,” Barkley said. “Calling people names just means that you’re ignorant. But if you got the keys to a business and you can not hire certain people, that’s when shit gets dangerous, when you can hold people down economically. Calling people names? Dude, I’m from Alabama.”
Another question frequented on the internet is what right does a professional athlete have to speak on race, yet we applaud Colin Kaepernick, Muhammad Ali, LeBron James and many others for their comments on race. To applaud others and yet shun Barkley’s efforts are hypocritical by the very definition of the word.
Though skeptical, I’m willing at least hear what he has to say.
“I tell people, as long as you stay in a big city you’re good,” said Barkley. “They’re educated and have money. You go 15 minutes in any direction and you’re going to be in the country. You’re going to be around a bunch of red necks. And, it is what it is. I was born the day they bombed the church in Birmingham. Montgomery and Birmingham were obviously big civil rights situations.”
“So, doing stuff like this is a big deal to me,” he continued. “I don’t take it lightly. I don’t like to talk about it, but i’m just trying to do the best I can to make a difference. This ain’t the first thing I’ve done. This is right up there with my role model commercial as far as the most important things I’ve done in my life. But when you get power and things, and I’m blessed to have some, I just wanna do positive stuff. I’m old enough to know that you’re not going to make everybody happy. There’s going to be some backlash. But I’m a big boy. I can take it. Oh I can take it.”
American Race is a two-part docu-series that drops on TNT tonight following the NBA playoffs.