Dear Charles Barkley, Black People Aren't the Problem

Photo Credit: Pat Dollard

by Gina Torres

During a recent interview on a Philadelphia radio show, Charles Barkley expressed the following sentiments: “For some reason we are brainwashed to think, if you’re not a thug or an idiot, you’re not black enough. If you go to school, make good grades, speak intelligent, and don’t break the law, you’re not a good black person. It’s a dirty, dark secret in the black community.”

There is no single definition of “ black people.” Black people—including African-Americans and other descendants of the African Diaspora—are not a monolith. We are all shaped by our various experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographical location. But given the fact that mainstream society often uses the behavior of one Black person to represent us all, Barkley’s broad generalization is extremely myopic and disappointing. His statements allow for non-Black people to sign off on this highly problematic sentiment.

Of course, there are certain people that do not value education and criticize their peers for having goals and desires they view as one’s attempt to separate from the group. These attitudes can be observed in any culture—not just Black people. It has more to do with ignorance, as well as the inability to recognize how flawed it is to eschew attempts to break the cycle of poverty.

I personally observed this when I attended an Ohio university located in a small, rural, predominantly white town. The town had very little industry and the best jobs were at the university. The presence of a state-funded university would lead you to believe the surrounding areas had students flocking to the school. When I moved out of the dorms into the community, I realized nothing could be further from the truth. At the time the town had one of the highest high school dropout rates in the state. There was a general dislike and mistrust of the college, the students, and those employed there. The residents claimed the almost 80-year-old school ruined their town. Thus, we can see that rejecting economic advancement and education out of fear is not exclusive to the black community.

This type of commentary does nothing to solve the ills that plague our culture. It feeds into the negative stereotypes that abound. It gives our enemies ammunition against us. If the great Charles Barkley says this of his own people, it proves that we have this pathology. High profile people need to be more conscious of their words. If there is going to be a criticism, then celebrities must also offer a framework and a solution. For example, his statements would have been much less harmful had he said, “I am from an impoverished background. I faced opposition as I began to grow and leave the negativity in my community behind. My community has been affected by generations of oppression and poverty, so they cling to the things that make them feel safe. People who have limited opportunities may not realize their entire world can change in unimaginable ways if they simply take that first step towards educating themselves.” That would make the dialogue different. It wouldn’t feel like one of our own is heaping hot coals on our heads.

Maybe Barkley—like so many other older wealthy and easily recognizable black celebrities—lives a life so separated from the greater group that he is out of touch with the day to day realities of regular black people. His comment about the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case would lead one to think so: “I agree with the verdict. I’m sorry that young kid got killed, but they didn’t have enough evidence to charge [Zimmerman].” We know by Barkley’s own decades-old admission he is no role model.

There has to be a conscious effort by those with a platform to resist adding fuel to the fire. Characterizing black people as brainwashed worshippers of a thugged out lifestyle tells a fragmented story of our culture and denies the fact that millions of ordinary people have no connection to that stereotype.

Gina Torres is a Facebook addicted-arm chair psychologist- political commenting-often militant-pop culture junkie blogger. She also happens to be a voracious reader, often reading several novels in a week. She loves the written word and the subtle, or not so subtle, turn of a phrase. Gina is a wry observer and humorist whose greatest joy is to make people ugly laugh. She has been a freelance writer for many years, writing copy, articles, web content, and for political campaigns.

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