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Charles Barkley’s new TNT series looks at race in America

The four episodes feature uncomfortable conversations with a white supremacist and the families of victims of police violence

After learning that Charles Barkley would be hosting American Race, a four-episode documentary series about race relations, friends of the basketball analyst questioned his sanity.

Barkley could have hosted a show about nearly anything, they said. Maybe something pertaining to basketball or perhaps his favorite vacation spots, friends suggested. But Barkley, 54, was determined to host a show that would force him out of his comfort zone and explore in-depth conversations about race at a time when America needs it most.

Beginning May 11, TNT will air two 60-minute episodes of American Race per night, with stories from people affected by and fighting racism, including civil rights and criminal attorney Gerald Griggs, activist Sharmina Zaidi, actor and activist Peter Jae Kim, civil rights attorney William H. Murphy Jr. and activist Justin Normand. A preview of the program’s first episode will air May 7, after the NBA playoffs.

The show, produced by Barkley and Primetime Emmy winner Dan Partland, features what Barkley describes as uncomfortable yet necessary conversations. He admits that most of them were not easy, especially those with the loved ones of victims injured or killed at the hands of police officers.

Charles Barkley films an episode of his show American Race in Baltimore on Nov. 22, 2016.

David Scott Holloway

In a clip shown to journalists at the Paley Center for Media in New York on Thursday, Barkley explains to a crowd in Baltimore that, after spending a day with police officers, he understands how easily split-second decisions they have to make can go awry. As Barkley continued, some members of the crowd shook their heads in disagreement.

“I don’t know you, I don’t like you,” said attendee Diane Butler. “You said you rode with the police and you had a conversation with them, and it takes them only a split second to make a decision. Tell me why it took 15 to 20 minutes to beat my son to death? Fifteen officers, they did some horrific stuff to my child.”

Butler is the mother of Tyrone West, a 44-year-old Baltimore man who died in police custody in 2013. The officers involved were cleared of any wrongdoing.

“It was surreal because I had never met a person whose son, family member, had been killed by the cops,” Barkley said. “That to me was the most important thing. … These are actually real people that you’ll see. I thought it was important for people to see a real mom who that happened to, instead of a 5-7-10-second blurb on the news and they go to the next story. It was really uncomfortable getting your a– kicked like that.”

Other episodes feature the stories of Zaidi, a Dallas restaurant owner and Muslim woman who has faced discrimination because of her faith; Kim, an activist fighting against stereotypes on behalf of the Asian community; Normand, an activist who went viral in Dallas for showing support for his Muslim neighbors after the election of President Donald Trump; Murphy, an attorney who has spent decades advocating for civil rights in Baltimore; and Griggs, an Atlanta attorney who spent his segment conversing with Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and self-proclaimed leader of the “alt-right” aiming to preserve white supremacy.

Nancy Newberry

“What I wanted to get across to Mr. Spencer is one, the rest of the country is great, the rest of the country is strong, and we will not stand for the bigotry and hatred flowing out of [his] mouth,” Griggs said. “We will show the world that in America, love does and truly trumps hate.”

“It was the most disappointing, frustrating, angry I could probably envision myself in my life,” Barkley added about his conversation with Spencer. “I never worry about a fool calling me the N-word and things like that. But if you have economic power and you can make sure people can never get economic power, that’s racism.

“Calling people names just means you’re ignorant, you don’t know any better. But if you’ve got the keys to a business and you’re not hiring people, that’s when s— can get dangerous, when you can hold people down economically.”

Although Barkley has faced backlash in the past for his hot takes and opinions on race and race-related issues, the NBA Hall of Famer is aware that everyone will have an opinion on his stance and this show, but his views about race will probably never change.

“Nobody agrees with everybody on everything,” Barkley said. “I always try to judge everybody on their own individual merits. I don’t like when people say black or white, because we’re all individuals. There are some white people out there that have done amazing things, and that’s one thing that one of the heroes of the civil rights movement talked about. C.T. Vivian says more whites should have gotten credit for being on the civil rights march.

“There are so many black people out there who are destroying our race. We never call them out, and we’ve got to do a better job of that. If you ain’t for us, you’re against us. Black-on-black crime is an epidemic. We’ve gotta address that. My views on race are probably not gonna change. Anybody who’s with me, they’re with me. If they’re not with me, they’re against me.”

All four episodes will be available on demand or through the TNT app on May 8.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.