Charles Barkley, former NBA basketball player and now sports commentator, has of late become newsworthy for his controversial, off-the-cuff comments. His latest controversy related to his comments regarding teammates of Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, allegedly saying he isn’t “black enough.”
Barkley wasn’t having any of that. In an interview with "Sports Illustrated," Barkley had a few things to say about that notion:
There are a lot of black people who are unintelligent, who don't have success ... Unless you are a thug or have a criminal record or you are just a jackass, some black people don’t think you are black enough ... It’s a dirty little secret in our community. I want black kids to be strong and intelligent. We’re telling kids if you are doing good in schools, you are acting white. If you speak intelligently, then you are acting white. That is bulls**t. It’s one of the reasons we as a group struggle. We don’t have great respect for each other ... you don’t have to be a thug or unintelligent. You are supposed to do great academically. You are supposed to speak correctly. You don’t have to have street cred. I tell people we are the only group where if you have a criminal record it makes you more black. That’s ridiculous ...
Of course, a lot of blacks jumped on Barkley for what he said, particularly that part about a lot of black people being unintelligent.
I do think that particular line was uncalled for. Maybe it would have been more correct to say a lot of blacks are not as educated or informed as they should be. But, despite that specific statement, I have to say I totally agree with what Barkley said. He was spot on.
There is indeed a sense that certain things define “blackness,” and Barkley is right: For a lot of people in the community, a drive for education, speaking proper English, and striving for typical middle-class success and experience are deemed as being “white” or as someone “trying to be white.” It is ludicrous and only serves to hold people back.
But the problem is a universal one, not just pertaining to the black community. Whites, too, perpetuate these stereotypes by telling black suburban kids get that they are not “really black” if they don’t speak with a so-called "ghetto black" slang or style. I live in a mostly white suburb, and trust me, I've heard this confirmed by my own kids. There is definitely an idea, promoted by both blacks and whites, that being black is defined by certain things, and besides supposedly being a good dancer and basketball player, those things are rarely positive. “Talking black” means you are supposed to speak "ghetto" and sound less intelligent, for example.
Despite the fact that this notion is universally endorsed, Barkley is correct in saying that blacks promoting this idea themselves is a bit more egregious. All we are doing is putting ourselves down for not living up to essentially negative stereotypes and pigeonholing ourselves. It is, as he says, completely ridiculous. I know racism is rooted in a power that blacks don’t hold institutionally in our society. But there is tremendous power in a groupthink mentality that polices its own people on images and behavior that limit achievement or label success as non-black. It is the ultimate tool of the racists - to have blacks buy into the negative beliefs about themselves and they will hold themselves back. As Barkley pointed out correctly, that tactic has worked all too well, unfortunately.