What Can Charles Barkley Teach Us About Race? As Little as You Would Expect

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Charles Barkley is like that black uncle you find amusing but limit conversations with at family gatherings to select topics such as sports, Gap Band songs and brown liquor. When it comes to more serious matters like politics and, specifically, racial politics, the phrase “Stop, drop and roll” is an immediate survival guide to sparing your last nerve from a fatal end. If, however, you find yourself cornered, you grit your teeth and try to remain respectful of your elder before you end up screaming, “Nigga, what the hell are you saying?” in an effort not to upset your mother.

I recently found myself engulfed in the press equivalent of that situation as I attended a luncheon and panel discussion in support of Sir Charles’ new TNT series on race, aptly titled American Race.

When I first got word of this show, my immediate response was that I would rather watch my own cremation than subject myself to Barkley’s musings on race and racism. After all, this is the same man who, only a year ago, claimed, in the wake of the sniper shootings in Dallas that left five police officers dead, that black people have “got to do better.” Yes, in that ESPN radio interview, Barkley explained to Dan Le Batard that police “have made some mistakes; that don’t give us the right to riot and shoot cops.”

No, it doesn’t, but Barkley then went on to claim that we “never get mad when black people kill each other,” before adding that “there’s a lot of blame to go around.” Sure, but aim it at the institution that has consistently abused black women, men and children since its inception, not “black-on-black crime.” Anyone who still cites intraracial violence to deflect from the issue of state-sanctioned violence that targets black folks is a person who by and large needs to shut the fuck up and go read a bit more.

Toward the end of the panel, Barkley mentioned how he would always rally behind the cops and proceeded to offer anecdotal evidence of something that data has long supported: Yes, there are plenty of great law-enforcement officials. Indeed, we can have fruitful conversations with individual police officers. However, that will not stop the problem. See any police-union statement wildly defying calls to end racial profiling and various patterns of abuse.

Combine this with Barkley’s other previous comments—a lot of black people are full of shit, his condemnation of “unintelligent” and “brainwashed” black people, and purported “dark secrets” within the black community about “acting white”—and one wonders what, exactly, is Barkley’s aim with American Race?

According to Michael Bloom, who is senior vice president of unscripted series and specials at TNT, Barkley came to him a year ago in earnest, wanting to use his platform to explore why so little has changed in terms of race in America. Of course, this is a black man who has routinely used the platform he already has to speak of his own in such false, dehumanizing and totally unhelpful ways. Did Barkley need a promotion?

Barkley himself said that he wanted to present “positive programming” and that he had been “bothered by negative stereotypes about people of color, especially blacks on television.” In 2017, there is a wide array of depictions of black folks on television. The situation is not perfect, but certainly it is much better in terms of fictitious portrayals of black people. In unscripted programming, well, we have a ways to go. This is a case in point.

As attendees were presented with various clips from the series, along with a screener of the first episode, the biggest takeaway from American Race was that Barkley had an inquiry and created a television show around it. Whether or not you take anything from it depends on how little you know about the world around you.

It was repeatedly stressed throughout the event that the intent was to engage in “thought-provoking conversation.” This is a line that is so often repeated by those serving us the same old cyclical bullshit that has long bored us. The same goes for the line about how the show features “real people,” as opposed to those in a “New York studio.”

New York is a real place, although, as a Southerner, I am constantly amused by how advanced New Yorkers and their coastal cousins in Los Angeles continue to believe that they are far more progressive than they actually are. The 45th president of the United States—more or less George Wallace on steroids and with far greater political success—is a New York native.

Likewise, we just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, which were rooted in the fact that the police officers who beat Rodney King managed to get off by virtue of nothing more than their lily-whiteness and the power of their badges. The types who order these shows can’t even see the prejudices surrounding them, but we’re supposed to entrust them with the cameras going to “real America.”

What the fuck ever.

Read the rest at The Root.

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