Ok. So I was enjoying my 24th birthday doing the usual thing 20 year olds do: eat a whole lot of ice cream . No. Seriously. That’s what I was doing…before drinking. All of the sudden, I saw on Twitter, America’s most reliable news source, that Basketball Hall of Famer and Inside the NBA commentator Charles Barkley, aka Chuck, was to host a show titled The Race Card on TNT.
Barkley, aka the Round Mound of Rebound, has made the news the last four years on somewhat controversial positions on race, racism, and the Black community. It started a few years ago when he agreed with the George Zimmerman verdict, called Ferguson protesters scumbags, and maligned Black people for “not doing better.” Needless to say, plenty of Black folks aren’t necessarily looking to Charles Barkley, aka Sir Charles, solely because of his opinion alone. Yet, his opinion, in concert to his celebrity status, attracts viewership and clicks in ways that others simply cannot match.
So, why is this a bad idea? Simple: Charles Barkley lacks the know-how necessary for this discussion.
Now, an argument will be made by critics that I don’t want him to have a show because I disagree with him. It is true that I disagree with him and that I find many of his points to be facile and lacking in depth. However, my disagreements aren’t why he should not have a show on race; it’s because of who he is and how he fails to convey messages.
For one, Barkley does not come across as an effective communicator necessary to host a TV show. He does best when he plays off of Ernie, Kenny, and Shaq – not as the anchor of a media project. Take this commentary on LGBT rights for example (which I agree with), “People try to make it about black and white. [But] he talked about equality for every man, every woman. We have a thing going on now, people discriminating against homosexuality in this country. I love the homosexuality people. God bless the gay people. They are great people.”
“I love the homosexuality people” is not a typo. It’s what he said. One can pass this off as a slip of the tongue, which even the best orators can fall victim to once in a blue. However, the operative phrase is “once in a blue.” Chuck makes this mistake all the time as a communicator, where he’ll substitute words that don’t belong in sentences and veer the topic of conversation into random tangents. This is all humorous when he’s talking about basketball, which is low stakes affair save for the actual players involved. However, when he talks about race, a high stakes sociopolitical issue that continues to plague the United States, the malapropisms, the tangents, and the overall lack of understanding will invite more criticism and ridicule from damn near anyone with any sense. Instead of anything we can remotely consider the Hegelian synthesis of knowledge, we’ll have the equivalent of a drunk uncle rambling about complex things in the most simplistic manor.
Chuck hosting a series on a complex sociopolitical issue only reveals the public and media’s inane obsession with celebrity opinions. This was evident in the audience’s reaction to both Michael Jordan and Richard Sherman’s opinions on #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality. The former is an NBA owner as well as one of the greatest legends in his league’s history; the latter is a great cornerback from a Super Bowl winning team. Despite the feel-good rhetoric of “one person can make a difference,” neither of these two Black athletes have any power to affect change nor do they have a particularly nuanced view of institutional racism.
They play(ed) sports. They raise families. They speak on some things. That’s it. As much as I love Sherman’s teammate Michael Bennett and his willingness to speak out, I disagree with his point that athletes have to speak on issues of race. Should they speak? Only if they want to. They lack power in the Weberian sense of having the force of law behind them. They are not leaders of any grassroots movements nor are they all that influential beyond their own spheres.
Charles Barkley is not an academic, a journalist, a politician, or even an experienced pundit outside of basketball. The only thing he has in common with other folks who work in race such as Patricia Hill Collins, Marc Lamont Hill, or Bomani Jones is that he’s Black. But Collins, Hill, and Jones are experienced in dealing with race not because they’re Black, but because they’ve placed themselves through the academic rigor of understanding the topic. This is to say, they’ve studied and read extensively on the issue to where they can communicate and/or debate their points. Being a Black celebrity is not a sufficient credential to host a basic cable television show on race, especially if that person was an ineffective communicator to begin with. If anything, it cheapens the dialogue by placing the onus on Black celebs instead of the largely White politicians and business elite – folks who actually can affect change.
Asking a celebrity to speak on race with nuance usually leads to disastrous (and sometimes hilarious) results. For every Jesse Williams, who actually does the grassroots organizing and can speak to this topic effectively, you get a hundred Bow Wows who don’t know shit. Again, it’s okay not to be the most well-read on the subject. Sherman’s a great cornerback. Jordan and Barkley are all time greats. And Bow Wow is…yeah. Anyway, we should not look to celebrities as all wise all powerful people who can provide the guidance and assurance necessary for the vox populi.
After all, if academics, pundits, and politicians, and others still struggle with issues regarding race and racism, what the f*ck is Charles Barkley going to contribute on an hour long show?
Refer to Dave Chappelle if you need further help on this topic.