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Charles Barkley Sparks Debate After Claiming Politicians Stoke Racial Tensions To 'Divide And Conquer'

Charles Barkley Sparks Debate After Claiming Politicians Stoke Racial Tensions To 'Divide And Conquer'
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

NBA legend and sports commentator Charles Barkley has developed a reputation for outspokenness. His commentary over the weekend has once again sparked controversy.

During coverage of this weekend's CBS Final Four college basketball tournament, Barkley claimed politicians of both parties actively stoke racial tensions in order to "divide and conquer."

His comments were immediately seized upon by right-wingers seeking to paint Democrats as racists and by left-wingers angered by what they saw as Barkley placating racists with a "both sides" false equivalency.

Barkley's comments came following a segment that covered Democratic politician Robert F. Kennedy's appearance at the 1968 NCAA championship, held in Indianapolis like this year's, to announce that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

When asked for a response, Barkley delivered his pointed rebuke of American politicians.

"I think most White people and Black people are great people. I really believe that in my heart."
"But I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they are 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."

Barkley went on to say "we're so stupid" to follow politicians of either party, who he cast as craven opportunists.

"...whether they are Republicans or Democrats ... their only job is, 'Hey, let's make these people not like each other'."
"'We don't live in their neighborhoods. We all got money. Let's make the Whites and Blacks not like each other. Let's make rich people and poor people not like each other. Let's scramble the middle class'."
"I truly believe that in my heart."

Many felt Barkley's comments hued all too closely to the "both sides" rhetoric of former Republican President Donald Trump and other far-right ideologues, who routinely accuse Democrats and liberals of being the "real racists" in America.

Perhaps proving their point, Barkley's comments only drew viral praise from right-wingers, especially those on the far-right.

Pushback was all Barkley's comments earned from others.

Barkley has previously hinted at political ambitions, including potentially running for Governor of Alabama. It seems populism might be his chosen ideology.