Charles Barkley's Comments on the Seattle Seahawks Miss the Point on Race


NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley is known for making controversial comments, but his latest statements on a Philadelphia radio show drastically oversimplify complicated race dynamics in the United States.

Barkley was asked last week about a Bleacher Report article that discussed a possible rift in the Seattle Seahawks locker room. Based on interviews with Seahawks players, writer Mike Freeman concluded that some believed quarterback Russell Wilson wasn't "black enough." 

Barkley provided his take on the situation.

"For some reason, we are brainwashed to think if you're not a thug or an idiot, you're not black enough," he said. 

Barkley may have been justified in criticizing the Seahawks players, but making such broad-stroke generalizations about an entire group of people is irresponsible. 

For instance, black Americans have higher rates of incarceration, but despite using drugs at similar rates as whites, they are disproportionally jailed for drug offenses. So when Barkley alleges that being a "thug" is prevalent in black communities, it's important to remember that law enforcement has largely thrust that label upon them.

Barkley goes on to address other supposed ills in black communities, such as how academic success by black students is viewed by their peers: "Young black kids, you know, when they do well in school, the loser kids tell them, 'Oh, you're acting white.'" This charge of "acting white" is actually much more about social class than race; research shows that this phenomenon takes place substantially more often in integrated schools than in schools with predominantly black students.

But Barkley goes off the rails when he claims that troubles in black society will continue to prevent individuals from succeeding. 

"We as black people, we're never going to be successful, not because of you white people, but because of other black people," he said.

In this evaluation, he completely disregards how systemic racism continues to inhibit intellectual and financial advancement for people of color, especially blacks. The U.S. hasn't eliminated all the roadblocks it's set up to minorities in the past, nor has it stopped introducing new ones. Policies such as redlining continue to directly affect the livelihoods of black individuals.

These discriminatory policies and practices are a poison that harms communities on many different scales. Instead of taking a holistic approach in talking about the Seahawks, it sounds as if Barkley is wagging his finger at African-Americans as a whole. He may be a man of color and a sports icon, but he isn't helping much by painting multidimensional race issues in such a simplistic manner.