As the news cycle focuses on steadily breaking news such as the Bill Cosby scandal, President Obama’s immigration reform policy, and the Michael Brown-Ferguson, Mo. verdict to name a few, a couple of additional thoughts came to mind regarding the Russell Wilson-Charles Barkley discussion from several weeks ago. The discussion caused tempers to flare and sparked debate both inside and outside of the African American community. Interestingly, regardless of Barkley’s original intent for his reaction to the comments of Russell Wilson’s teammates, for many, it all boiled down to race.
Recently over dinner with my mother and my brother, we talked about how it seemed to be overlooked by some why Barkley made his comments in the first place, and that was because some of Wilson’s black teammates said he wasn’t “black enough,” again something that is not restricted to educated vs. non-educated blacks because it happens within educated circles too. Interestingly, my mother didn’t speak too highly of Barkley, though she did shake her head about Wilson’s teammate’s comments.
We discussed how two camps formed following Barkley’s comments; African Americans who were thankful that someone from our community would take a stance about our “Dirty Dark” secret, and African Americans who felt our race was betrayed because Barkley told his “white” friends. By the way, this is something openly discussed by myself with other ethnic groups, one time even on a talk radio show.
Finally we discussed that the question also came up as to what Barkley (and others such as Bill Cosby) who openly question the destructive behaviors within the African American community are doing to solve these problems, which is actually a good question.
First off, within the African American community, questioning each other’s blackness is something that will probably never, ever completely go away, similar to white on black racism. Interestingly, quite a few folks told me that, “other races do this too,” so the African American community doesn’t appear to be alone here.
Regarding what Barkley and others are doing to fix it, in this case they’ve used their celebrity to draw attention to it. For those of us who have settled into careers and who are no longer affected by such comments, it can be argued that this shouldn’t be a big deal anymore. What about future generations though? How do we rescue kids who may turn away from education and ascension into the professional world because looking and talking certain ways are seen as being white?
On the grassroots level it’s important for mentors, professionals and other role models to get the word out that “talking white” is okay and has tremendous long term benefits. A lot of my time for example is spent going to schools, exposing African American students to careers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), careers which will gain them entry into the middle class and beyond.
A 2012-13 report by Cisco projects that by 2018, 8.6 million STEM jobs will be added to our economy. It’s therefore very important to consider how to position younger generations (particularly those from lower income communities) so that they can have greater participation in future economies and all of the benefits that come along with it. Participation in these fields will allow that, but they will require the ability to speak and present one’s self well.
As described in one of my first articles, reading and speaking articulately go hand in hand. The fact that many minority students may not come from households where reading is encouraged, further underscores the importance of efforts such as the Soar with Reading campaign by companies like Jet Blue and Random House.
Even though the Russell Wilson-Charles Barkley discussion caused discomfort for some, the attention it received was good, and it will continue serve as a good discussion piece for improving the position of African Americans in this country going forward. Will encouraging the pursuit STEM careers and reading fix all of the problems that plague inner city communities? No, but they may help some kids from these communities ascend in our society and make lasting changes socially, economically and politically.