NBA Hall of Famer and current basketball analyst Charles Barkley had a discussion about race, Ferguson and Eric Garner with colleague Kenny Smith on Inside the NBA Thursday night. Barkley had taken a lot of heat recently over his comments during a CNN interview regarding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. He also gave his take on the Ferguson protests, calling some of the protesters “scumbags.” Smith, another former NBA player, responded to Barkley’s remarks with an open letter that was published by USA Today.
Smith refuted Barkley’s comments about the black community and Chuck’s insistence that the grand juries got it right in both cases. He also let Barkley know that, while he has the right to his opinion, he shouldn’t be seen as an ‘expert’ when it comes to political and social issues. (Smith also hinted at Barkley’s own run-ins with the law over the years.) Due to the letter and Barkley’s interview, it was a given that the Turner Broadcasting heads would have the show begin with a segment where the two aired out their grievances.
For the most part, the two just talked past each other, sticking to their positions and bringing nothing new to the table that wasn’t already known from their public statements. However, there was one bit that really stuck out. While Barkley was talking, he brought up slavery and its impact within the black community. He made the following statement:
“The only problem I had with Kenny’s, umm, open letter was, umm, I don’t think anytime something bad happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery. Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me.”
Below is video of the entire segment, courtesy of YouTube user backone. Barkley’s remarks appear around the 2-minute mark.
The thing with Barkley is he is sort of the go-to person for the mainstream media when it comes to discussions on social issues, particularly race-related ones, due to his contrarian nature. They love his ‘tell it like it is style.’ However, as he clearly pointed out when he was talking about slavery, he really doesn’t bother to be knowledgeable about the topics he speaks on. He just gives his unfounded opinion on something, based solely on his mood that day, and people all across the ideological spectrum love him for it because of his ‘honesty.’
Greg Howard, an African-American writer at Deadspin, had the perfect take on Barkley regarding the basketball legend’s opinions on hard-hitting social matters and why they don’t matter.
This conversation is over; there is not debate to be had about the killing of Eric Garner, and there really isn’t one to be had on the degradation, imprisonment, and systemic murder of minorities. It is a system of control, a machine, doing the work it was designed to do. Those who blame its workings on its victims, invoking black pathologies and enumerating all the ways in which black people need to become better and more moral to earn the right to complain about being killed without their killers even facing any consequences, are engaging in an old, tired respectability politics. They don’t know what the f*ck they’re talking about.
Charles Barkley does not know what the f*ck he’s talking about.
And really, that’s no great sin. The sin lies with the media who book him for pre-taped interviews, who see the American justice system perfectly fail the people it never was intended to protect and say, “Where’s Chuck?”
The sin is not in talking without knowing what it is you’re talking about, but in seeking out someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about with a camera and a microphone, as if what he had to say mattered, or as if him offering his hard truths could deliver a kind of absolution. In giving Barkley and those like him a platform out of some sense of fairness, some sense that the natural counter to a fully justified rage is a lecture about how bad things happen when you don’t submit to an arbitrary authority, some sense that there are hard truths that need to be spoken about how the problem with black people is black people, the media is allowing for the possibility that, maybe, Garner’s video doesn’t tell the whole story. Maybe you didn’t see what you saw, and by extension, black and brown men and women really are somehow to blame for their deaths. Maybe the solution to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and hundreds of years of state-sanctioned genocide is to just sit down with an old basketball player and talk a little bit more about all the ways in which black people are in the wrong.
Exactly. In the media’s constant quest to find debatable points of view or ‘hot takes,’ Barkley’s contrarianism and willful ignorance will always be sought out. He may be good for a sound bite and make viewers laugh while playing the clown as he talks about basketball, but it needs to constantly be pointed out that when it comes to socially relevant issues, Barkley usually has no earthly clue what he is talking about. Mainstream media figures do everyone a great disservice by treating him like a legitimate political commentator.