'Minstrel' Critique of Barkley Uncivilized

A columnist's recent takedown of the sports legend is oddly timed and, frankly, opportunistic.

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Charles Barkley (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In an article entitled, "Charles Barkley: A Modern-Day Minstrel Act," International Business Times writer Palash R. Ghosh takes NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to task for being "a modern-day minstrel." Aside from likening Barkley to Stepin Fetchit and casually lumping rappers into the mix, Ghosh takes aim at a "boorish" Barkley. Ghosh calls Barkley's success an anomaly, just before he calls the former pro-baller an "illiterate" who "spouts idiotic, vulgar and stupid comments and generates a lot of laughs (and dollars)."

In addition to wondering why the International Business Times would run an article like this, I am also befuddled as to why, out of all the modern-day minstrels that Ghosh could target, he chose Barkley, who nowadays is pretty much not a factor in the world of celebrity.

Barkley was a great basketball player who retired from the game 12 years ago and is in the twilight of his career as a sports commentator (see Weight Watchers commercial), so why would Ghosh assail Barkley in this way at this time? I might be able to understand the existence of the article if there were some business angle to it -- for instance, how minstrelsy translates into big dollars for major media conglomerates.

Certainly, if Ghosh wanted to pick on a modern-day minstrel who is a retired NBA legend, then why not Dennis Rodman, the spectacle-driven NBA Hall of Famer who recently announced that he was starting a topless women's basketball league? Now, that's a modern-day minstrel.

"Sir Charles," on the other hand, has long moved away from the juvenile antics that marked his NBA career when he was at the height of his popularity as a basketball star and during his early days as a commentator. Barkley is known for saying pretty much what he feels, even when it is unpopular and sometimes uninformed, but he never attempted to present himself as a representative of black nobility.

In addition to the tongue-in-cheek Right Guard deodorant commercials that poked fun at Barkley's "Sir" title, he was the first modern-day celebrity who rebuffed pop culture's attempt at making him into a role model. Do you remember the "I Am Not a Role Model" Nike ad campaign in which he starred, saying that parents should be role models and not athletes? You might not remember the ad because it was so long ago, which is my point: Why Barkley and why now?

Further, save for a stint on Saturday Night Live in January 2010, a show whose entire existence is based on pretty much making fools of everyone, including celebrity guests, Barkley has retired to the bench, serving as a commentator and going about life under the radar -- as most people do, including celebrities who are no longer in their heyday. Barkley stated in the opening monologue of his 2010 SNL guest-host stint that he had been retired for years, had nothing to plug and mostly spent his time gambling, playing bad golf and "occasionally getting arrested." Even the former NBA star is aware of his diminished celebrity, so why isn't Ghosh?

The best we can hope is that Ghosh is trapped in a time capsule. Maybe Ghosh should have waited for Barkley's upcoming SNL appearance on Jan. 7 before publishing his article so that there could be some relevancy to his attack.

While some will be angered that a person outside the black community made such an attack on a figure like Barkley, I think it is less about who is making the attack than it is about why he is attacking Barkley in such a public and mean-spirited way.

Surely Ghosh isn't hitching his online success to the "celebrity" of a "poor, boorish, uneducated, overweight black man from the Deep South who [has become] a multi-millionaire athletic superstar and (even more inexplicably) a highly sought-out media celebrity" in order to gain some level of notoriety? If Barkley is such a buffoon, then why address him at all? What recent examples of Barkley's "minstrelsy" does Ghosh have to warrant this subjective critique, which seemingly comes out of left field?

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