The discussion about violence in Charlottesville during a white supremacist demonstration has now largely morphed into a debate about the appropriateness of Confederate statues and monuments. And while there probably isn’t much to debate about violence (it’s bad) or white supremacy (it’s also bad), public opinion on Confederate memorials appears to be mixed: A survey from NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist this week found that 62 percent of Americans think these statues should remain, while 27 percent think they should be removed.
Is it proper to turn a straightforward discussion of white supremacy into a complicated debate about how best to memorialize the past? Who benefits from that particular change of direction? And is it too late to ask those questions? Because with politicians and celebrities now weighing in on Confederate statuary, that issue isn’t likely to leave the headlines any time soon. As evidenced here: In a television interview with Rick Karle of WBRC in Birmingham, NBA legend and Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley was asked about those symbols, and he had plenty to say.
“I’m not going to waste my time worrying about these Confederate statues,” he said. “That’s wasted energy. You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna keep doing great things. I’m gonna keep trying to make a difference number one in the black community — because I’m black — but also [I’m] gonna try to do good things in the world. I’m not gonna waste my time screaming at a neo-Nazi who’s gonna hate me no matter what, and I’m not gonna waste my time worried about these statues that they’ve got all over the country.”
So the proper response is to ignore the statues, Barkley was asked.
“I’ve always ignored them!” he said. “Rick, I’m 54 years old. I’ve never thought about those statues a day in my life. I think if you asked most black people to be honest, they ain’t thought a day in their life about those stupid statues. What we as black people need to do: We need to worry about getting our education, we need to stop killing each other, we need to try to find a way to have more economic opportunity and things like that. Those things are important and significant. You know, I’m wasting time and energy [if I’m] screaming at a neo-Nazi, or [saying] ‘Man, you’ve got to take this statue down.’ ”
Barkley has been outspoken about Confederate symbols in the past, once saying that he wouldn’t watch NASCAR because of the number of Confederate battle flags he saw on his way to a race. In a 2002 book, he touched on the controversies involving that same symbol, writing that the flag’s defenders “are not going to change what they feel in their hearts because they take the flag down. I understand the power of symbols, and if I had anything on my house that seriously offended someone, I’d take it down if for no other reason than common courtesy.”
(Meanwhile, TMZ Sports shouted a question about the statues to New Orleans Pelicans star DeMarcus Cousins. Asked if the statues should go, Cousins replied “hell yeah. … Take all them [expletives] down. Take ’em all down.”)
Barkley’s thoughts on this explosive week were not limited to the statue debate. He also told Karle that “the president of the United States should not be tweeting,”
“And Rick, the reason he shouldn’t be tweeting is very self evident: He reacts to every single thing somebody says negative about him,” Barkley said. “If you’re the president, people are gonna say negative things about you all the time, and half the time it’s just for show. If you look at these TV shows — and CNN is probably the worst, and that’s our network [at Turner], that’s my network — they bring a Republican and a Democrat on every night, and the Republican says positive things about the president and the Democrats say negative things about the president. It’s silly, childish and stupid.
“And like I said, the reason he shouldn’t tweet, he reacts to every single thing, and most of the time it’s just for show, Barkley went on. “I wish the American public wasn’t so stupid if they realized that half the people on television make a living just to insult the other party. … He’s president of the United States. He’s president of the United States. Everybody. Everybody. Rick, we’re all in this thing together. We’re all in this thing together. He’s supposed to be president of the united United States, he’s supposed to take care of everybody, and they’re not doing that now.”