Barkley Busts Out
My buddy Brian just emailed me an interview that Charles Barkley did with the New Republic (TNR). For those of you who don’t know, TNR is a somewhat schizophrenic politically oriented periodical. Generally identified as left-of-center despite having a right-wing publisher, it has been critical of the Bush administration in recent years, but initially supported the invasion of Iraq. It has set itself up as a critic, among other things, of what it views as more extreme forms of liberalism, viewing itself as a more moderate, reasoned voice within our political discourse and seeming, at times, to be more offended by left-wing, populist rantings than by Republican misdeeds. Well, someone forgot to send the memo about moderation to Charles Barkley. I can’t access the whole on-line version (it’s for subscribers only), but let’s just say that those long-standing rumors about Chuck running for governor of Alabama as a Republican – I don’t think so.
So is that what interests you primarily–economic issues?
America is divided by economics strictly. You know, people always talk about race, and we have racial problems in this country. Of course we do. But the real issue is the rich against the poor. We’ve got to get poor white people and poor black people and Mexicans to realize they are all in the same boat. If you in one of those three groups and you are poor, you are going to be in a bad neighborhood, you are going to go to a bad school, and you are going to have strikes against you. You can’t commit crimes in good neighborhoods. They will get your ass. Their kids go to private school, or they go to school in a good economic area. But the poor people, they are all in the same boat but they divide you based on race or stuff like that. A lot of these politicians say things like “We’ve got to stop all these illegal immigrants.” I am like, “That is so easy to stop.” They are not working for other immigrants.
Has your perspective on these issues changed in the last few years?
Yes, when I realized that rich people will always be rich and the poor people are like crabs in a barrel. They are going to fight with each other, but they are really in the same boat. They want you to argue about gay marriage. They want you to argue about the war in Iraq. There is not a single person in this country in good conscience who can say the war in Iraq is going well. But then when you see someone criticize it … some other guy from the other party says he is badmouthing the troops. And I am like, “No he’s not.” We are able to disagree, and saying that the war in Iraq is not going well is not treason. Some of these guys want to try people for treason. The war in Iraq is not going well.
When did you stop considering yourself a Republican?
I never was a Republican. I said this when I was playing. I was doing some interview talking about politics, and my grandmother was there, and the reporter said, “Are we Republicans or are we Democrats?” My grandmother said that Republicans were only for rich people, and I said, “Well, I’m rich.”
Didn’t you say you wanted to run for governor of Alabama as a Republican?
No. If I run, I would run as an independent more than anything. But I am not sure you can win as an independent because there is so much money at stake in politics. My only goal in life is to help poor people. The problem I have is, in America, people just believe anything they read or see on television, and some of those things are slanted. If you watch Fox, it’s slanted–and I mean really slanted. Sometimes I think the people just don’t have any common sense. A lot of them don’t.
I confess that when Barkley criticized Tim Hardaway for his comments about gay people, wondered whether Barkley was just being diplomatic. The following comments (my emphasis added), convinces me that my hunch was wrong:
Are there any politicians now that you like? I have heard you have Barack Obama in your cell phone. Is that true?
Barack is a good friend of mine. John Edwards is a good friend of mine. I supported John last time because John got my attention last time. He said that we had to address the issues, the disparity between the rich and the poor. And I called him and talked to him and said, “You aren’t going to be talking no bullshit against gay people.” America has got to address the differences between rich and poor. That is the number-one problem we have in this country–economics. And John got my attention, and I am going to meet with him again; I like him. Barack is a friend. I’ve got to make sure where his head is and make sure he is not just trying to get elected. This is going to be a very interesting election because we are going to find out who is sexist and who is racist. Because I don’t think a woman can win, because I think America is sexist. I am not sure Barack can win, because I do think we have a racial divide in this country.
Barkley is critical of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton in the interview (accusing them of double standards when it comes to Black and White racism), and also angry at what he perceives as Black self-destructiveness:
In some quarters Barack (Obama) has been criticized for not being black enough.
Well, that’s because black people are fucked up. One of the reasons that black people are not going to be successful is because of other black people. We tell black kids that if they make good grades, they are acting white. If they speak well, we tell them that they are acting white. We have a lot of demons in our own closet–in our own family–that we have to address. But first of all, we want black men to be intelligent and articulate and things like that. That’s not acting white. That’s the way it should be. … We become our own worst enemy with random black-on-black crime, teen pregnancy, single-parent homes. You know we cannot blaming white America for our ills. Does racism exist? Of course it does. But, at some point, I have to make sure I am educated. I don’t have ten kids and no job. I am not killing other black people. At some point, you have to grow up.
I am not going to agree with everything Charles Barkley says and I’d put differently some of the arguments Barkley makes, even when I do agree with him. But, as Dave Zirin has long argued (and did so in his interview with Mizzo and Dwil yesterday), athletes have a unique platform from which to speak. Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan have been two notable targets of criticism for their reticence in speaking out about political issues (when, in fact, their endorsement of Nike (for example) is, of course, a political statement in itself). And, while plenty of athletes are willing to speak about their faith (and, often, the politics that frequently accompany fundamentalist Christianity in this country), it’s extremely rare to see a high profile athlete speak the language of class in the way Barkley has here. For my money, that’s far more courageous than decrying rap music, both in the context of sports discourse and in politics more generally in America, when talk of class often brings the reflexive charge of “class warfare.” In fact, near the end of the interview, a Barkley aide interjected a question about whether that’s exactly what Barkley was engaging in.
That is what rich people want you to think. If you are rich, you are always going to be rich. It is the poor people I have to bring together. Look, I have nothing against rich people. I am rich–blessed, fortunate, lucky. I want to bring my fame and notoriety to bring attention to these problems.
I just became a Barkley fan.