A week ago, Charles Barkley, the Auburn legend, NBA superstar and one of the best analysts on TV, gave his take on the current political climate in America. During the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament post-game show, Barkley laid blame for America’s current racial climate at the feet of the country’s politicians.
“I think most white people and Black people are great people,” Barkley said. “I really believe that in my heart, but I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, are designed to make us not like each other so they can keep their grasp of money and power. They divide and conquer.”
In a matter of seconds, Barkley’s take was a Twitter star. And his comments, along with clips of the segment, were being retweeted millions of times.
It’s not hard to understand why those comments resonated with so many people — particularly those who lean to the right.
Because they’re a cop out that allow culpable people to escape blame for the very climate that they’ve helped nurture and grow.
Blaming the nameless, faceless “politicians” allows everyone to escape blame — just so long as you conveniently forget that we, Barkley included, elected those politicians. We funded those politicians. We told those politicians what mattered to us and then told them how we wanted them to fix it for us.
There’s nothing a politician does that isn’t driven by voters or donors. Nothing.
So, while I love Chuck, he’s dead wrong on this one. The problem in America isn’t a bunch of politicians. It’s the voters who put them in office.
It’s the voters who decide that racial issues will determine how they vote. It’s the voters who get sucked into Fox News/OANN/Newsmax racial fear mongering. It’s the voters who take a look at video of an unarmed Black man being killed by police, shrug and say he should have obeyed.
Politicians simply react to that.
Sure, there’s a line of thinking that says a politician should still be a human being and do what’s right. And I suppose that’s true. But that honest politician wouldn’t be the choice of the voters who disagree with his honest stance.
Let me put it like this: if tomorrow, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey holds a press conference to say she’s extremely troubled by recent police shootings of Black men around the country and she’s going to require additional training for Alabama State Troopers, her popularity would drop like a rock.
Not because she’s morally wrong. But because she’s politically wrong where it counts most — in the eyes of a majority of the voters who put her in office.
That’s why we have a race problem.
It kills me to watch people beat around the bush on this topic, and dance around the obvious answer: the reason we have a bad racial climate in America is because we have a lot of racists in America. Still.
No, we don’t have hood-wearing, cross-burning, lynch-mob racists — mostly — but we do have a whole bunch of cross-the-street, he-probably-deserved-it, we’d-like-to-start-our-own-school-system racists.
I hate to break it to you, but that kind of racism — the passive kind, the I-have-many-Black-friends-so-it’s-OK kind, the who-me kind — it’s still racism. It still punishes people unfairly because of the color of their skin.
And unfortunately, we have in this country today a large number of people who are still blinded by their racism. They’ll never see the unarmed Black guy shot by a cop as the victim of a crime. They’ll never understand, no matter how many times it’s explained to them, why some voting laws are meant to target minority voters. They’ll never be able to comprehend how a monument to a slave owner is offensive to the descendants of slaves, even if the answer seems obvious to the rest of us.
They’ll always have a problem with Black Lives Matter. They’ll always believe affirmative action was racist. They’ll never believe Colin Kaepernick wasn’t disrespecting the troops.
They don’t hold any of those beliefs because a politician tricked them. They don’t hold those beliefs because Donald Trump or Steve King or Mo Brooks told them they should.
We have our racial climate because of their racism. And we have Trump, King and Brooks — and a bunch more like them — because that racism is best reflected in those particular politicians.
It’s sort of like the chicken-or-the-egg question, except in this instance we know which one came first.