The 2014-15 NBA season starts today and while most of the attention will rightly be on the talents of the men on the court, current NBA analyst Charles Barkley has attracted attention once again for comments related to society off of the court. During an interview with a radio station in Philadelphia, Barkley delivered some strong statements about issues within the black community and what defines success in the black community. His thoughts were initiated by the recent reports of locker room issues with the Seattle Seahawks and rumors of several Seahawks players not finding their African American starting quarterback “black enough”. While the conversation about “black enough” started with rumors about the Seahawks’ locker room, Barkley’s opinions about “unintelligent” black people defining blackness are problematic on several fronts.
Over the course of the interview, Charles Barkley clarifies that black people as a whole will never be successful not because of other white people but due to less successful black people bringing them down with stereotypical negative perceptions of blackness. It is difficult to define what constitutes success even though many decide to so by their careers and the amount of money they make but Barkley’s claim about most black people not being successful is foolish because it also assumes that other racial groups can be defined as successful as a whole as well, even though there are millions of people in every racial group who struggle financially. Struggling financially doesn’t always indicate that a person isn’t successful in life as millions of people have discovered through the ups and downs of the American economy over the last decade.
Barkley also makes the incorrect assumption about schooling and “acting white” which is a fallacy. There are numbers of black people earning college degrees, something even the successful Barkley hasn’t done, but are much more likely to face unemployment compared to their white counterparts. It is irresponsible for Barkley to assume that black people don’t value education based on an “acting white” theory or incarceration rates of minorities.
The most important thing to be learned from Barkley’s interview is that blackness cannot be defined as one thing. There are current TV shows and movies that attempt to explain the complexity of attempting to define what black is or isn’t. One thing that is true that Barkley mentioned over his interview is that black people aren’t held back in society by white people. However, he fails to mention that the system of white privilege plays the biggest and most significant reason between the experiences and opportunities of all people of color and their white counterparts. All black people in America are not affected by individual racism but all have been affected by institutional racism at some point in their lives and Barkley’s failure to mention that shows his comments as lacking substance, evidence, and intelligence.