Charles Barkley has something to say about race
Charles Barkley calls it friendly fire.
When he talks about racial issues, it isn’t only whites he risks angering. Some of the biggest complaints come from fellow blacks, who figure he’s too rich, too successful to possibly understand their struggles.
“Like, those people say he’s not black anymore, he shouldn’t speak on black issues,” Barkley said. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m always going to be black,’ but that’s a doubleedged sword I’m willing to deal with.”
So not only will he keep talking, he wants to lead the conversation.
The basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst will debut “The Race Card” on the network in 2017, a show that won’t just be about black and white, because Barkley believes America’s problems are more about rich versus poor.
“I just want to do a positive dialogue because I’m sick of arguing over race all the time,” Barkley said. “Like, I’m very aware that racism does exist, it always has and probably always will, but the media does a really poor job. There’s more good than bad, but the bad pops off the newspaper and on television. And like I said, the truth is somewhere in the middle.” On one hand, he seems an unlikely choice to be looking for it. In a Nike commercial during his playing career, he said himself he’s no role model , and he still doesn’t like the term now. And wearing a Ralph Lauren sweater and matching brown slacks during a lunch at a Manhattan restaurant Tuesday before slipping into a tuxedo for the induction of TNT’s “Inside the NBA” studio show in the Broadcasting Hall of Fame, he does project the image of a comfortable life. But born in Alabama in 1963, the year Ku Klux Klan members killed four girls in a Birmingham church bombing, he sees the same struggles now as during his youth. Like many of today’s athletes, he’s discouraged by the killings of blacks by white police and the protests, sometimes violent, that have followed.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers has been kneeling in protest during the national anthem, and many NBA players have stood with arms locked during the preseason. Barkley respects their actions but would like to see more. “It goes back to the Kaepernick thing,” he said. “I said, you do what you want to do, you’re a grown man. But I challenge all these guys, what are you actually doing in the black community to help our people?” For Barkley, that’s included donating millions to his high school and colleges in Alabama. But he can’t blame today’s athletes who grapple with their involvement, a discussion he had with a professor for the show. “He says, ‘First of all, it’s unfair for all you guys to have to solve the ills of all the black community. It’s unfair, you guys aren’t activists because you all haven’t lived what those guys have been through,”’ Barkley said. “And he says, ‘I really think it’s cool that you all are trying, but to try to compare today’s black athletes to Jim Brown, Bill Russell, (Muhammed) Ali and those guys, we’re doing them a disservice because those guys like lived.’
Barkley calls it friendly fire, the criticism a rich black gets for talking about race from fellow blacks who believe he can’t understand their struggles. But the basketball Hall of Famer and TNT analyst says he can handle it, and hopes he can create conversation that makes a difference beyond the things he’s already doing when his show “The Race Card” debuts in 2017.