Photo by Al Messerschmidt

The Last Thing Charles Barkley Should Be Talking About Is Race

Especially on TV. But for some reason, TNT has decided to give him a show about it anyway

Hand to God, TNT just greenlit a show premised on Charles Barkley examining “hot-button issues, with an emphasis on America’s racial divide.” Needing a clever title to hint at the show’s controversial nature, Turner higher-ups settled on The Race Card — because for a show purported to be a serious look at “race, class and cultural differences,” an idiomatic phrase often used to discredit black people on topics of race was obviously the clear choice. Then again, considering who’s been tapped to host the show, it’s not as if this project was created with racial or cultural progress in mind, so damn the title. Turner execs didn’t order six episodes of The Race Card in hopes that it would give way to a better, more open discussion about one of the country’s most sensitive topics. Rather, The Race Card — which, if executed correctly, might’ve actually been useful — is being used as a vehicle to appease Barkley, whom Turner re-signed last year with incentives like the opportunity to work “away from sports.”

It’s universally agreed that Barkley is as good as it gets for sports television — an arena overrun with blowhards who take themselves and sports more seriously than they warrant. But his honest and refreshing approach to discussing basketball doesn’t lend well to real-life shit — especially when his takes actively work against the people he swears he’s trying to help.

Last month, two black men were executed by cops within 24 hours of each other. Rather than admit the murders were the result of systemic profiling, Barkley instead attempted to justify the killings by going on the radio to remind us that “some black people out there are crooks.” Unsurprisingly, his comments didn’t sit well with black people. The same black people who’ve watched Barkley pull this shit for years. The same black people Barkley and TNT swear they’re doing right by in bringing The Race Card to life. Dan Le Batard, a Cuban radio host (and the best voice in sports, IMO), looked on in horror as Barkley spewed his drivel. He then tried cluing Barkley in to how misguided his comments about the black community were. Barkley dismissed LeBatard posthaste: “Dan, first of all, you’re not black…”

Contrary to Barkley’s beliefs, being black isn’t itself a total license to speak out on issues relating to the black community — especially when you have a public-facing role. Barkley’s show is said to put him in situations wherein he challenges, and gets challenged by, purported experts on race and politics — thus suggesting to worried viewers that The Race Card won’t just feature Barkley’s thoughts airing uncontested. The implication is that Barkley might end up changing his views on certain matters. This idea is bullshit. No matter the format, a TV show starring a singular entity will ultimately circle back to that entity and the opinions that landed them a show in the first place.

Some people are making the argument that presenting a friendly face to non-black audiences will bring more people to the table for an uncomfortable discussion. That Barkley, like Bill Cosby before him, has earned the trust and adoration of enough white people to be given the chance to change their minds on black people and our issues. But the people making this suggestion — i.e., that Barkley can legitimately help — are overlooking how Barkley (and for that matter, Cosby) got to be the white community’s preferred envoy from the black community in the first place: by castigating his own people at every possible turn. If the person supposedly bringing non-blacks to the table is simultaneously driving black people away from it, who the hell will Charles Barkley be talking to besides himself?