Former NBA star Charles Barkley recently began filming his new six-part TNT mini-series The Race Card, which explores “race, class, and cultural differences” in America.
According to Nick Birdsong, who wrote about The Race Card in Sporting News, the show’s biggest cultural difference might not be between black people and white people, but instead between black people and Charles Barkley.
On Wednesday, Birdsong ripped Barkley as “ill-informed,” “insensitive,” and a speaker of “repulsive” rhetoric. Those adjectives, and others, came from a Tuesday filming of The Race Card in Baltimore where things apparently became testy between Barkley, his guests, and his audience.
According to The Undefeated, ESPN’s race and culture site, Barkley brought up the issue of police deaths and challenged the crowd to show as much anger about violence against the police as they do for violence from the police. Citing the recent murder of a San Antonio detective murdered while writing a traffic ticket, Barkley asked the audience, “Did anybody say, ‘Man, I feel bad for their family’? There was no love [for police] in this room.”
Diane Butler, the mother of Tyrone West, a Baltimore man who died in police custody in 2013 angrily rebuked Barkley for urging the crowd to have sympathy with the police and the hard decisions they have to make in the field. Butler said to Barkley, ”I don’t know you, I don’t like you.”
Barkley responded, “I’m sorry for your loss. As far as you not liking me, it really doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it. I’m like the homecoming queen. All the ugly girls hate you. That’s part of my life. I never take anything personally.”
This did not sit well with Nick Birdsong of Sporting News. He wrote, “Comments like that are exactly why it’s becoming increasingly evident Barkley isn’t fit to host a show centered around the race. He’s just as, if not more, incendiary than anyone on either side of a polarizing issue as police brutality.
“Regardless of what he was responding to with his reply, his remarks reek of immaturity. That’s a fine retort to someone who disagrees with your opinion that a jump-shooting team such as the Warriors can win multiple championships, but to use that analogy directly to a woman whose child lost his life, regardless of whether you think it was just or unjust, is the epitome of imbecility.”
Barkley then went on to say that, to him, true discrimination in America is not about race at all: “America discriminates against poor people, whether you’re white, black, Hispanic, whatever. Poor people are dealt a crappy hand.”
The idea that class, and not race, divide America further provoked Birdsong to further disillusionment: “Even more bewildering is the fact Barkley, a 53-year-old black man from small town outside Birmingham, really thinks the disparities in America, in particular police brutality, are about class, not race.
“Barkley is far removed his days growing up in a single-parent household in Leeds, Ala. He has been rich far longer than he has been poor; perhaps more importantly, he has been famous far longer than he has been an unknown. His privilege has made it next to impossible for him to identify with black and brown people whom a cop won’t recognize from television.”
It’s amazing how black athletes such as LeBron James who agree with Nick Birdsong on issues like police violence, in addition to having far more fame and wealth than Barkley, have managed to retain their black identity in the media just fine over the years while a less famous, less wealthy black celebrity who disagrees with Birdsong has somehow become “privileged” and less able to “identify with black and brown.”
Perhaps if leftists such as Birdsong defined race by ethnicity instead of by politics, and if diversity of thought held the same level of prominence as diversity of ethnicity then maybe, just maybe, he would see that Barkley’s message of mutual empathy could form the bridge to better relations between the police and the communities they patrol, instead of saying that Barkley “doesn’t care” about black people as he says in the title of his article.
The media and activists only accept one answer when it comes to the problem of police violence, and that’s that cops are racists and evil and anyone who says otherwise is a fraud. In this case, the man saying otherwise, Charles Barkley, appears unwilling to change his tune.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn