The former NBA star, who is now a sports analyst with TNT, made the remarks on Saturday before a Final Four game between Baylor and Houston. He appears to have been responding to footage of Robert F. Kennedy announcing the news of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.
Kennedy, who was also assassinated later that year, spoke movingly about King’s death in famous remarks delivered in Indianapolis, which is the location of the 2021 Final Four.
“Man, I think most white people and Black people are great people,” Barkley said.
“I really believe that in my heart, but I think our system is set up where our politicians, whether they’re 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,” he said.
“I truly believe in my heart most white people and Black people are awesome people, but we’re so stupid following our politicians, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, and 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,'” Barkley went on.
“I truly believe that in my heart,” he concluded.
Barkley’s comments come amid renewed controversy surrounding race and sports. Major League Baseball (MLB) is facing calls for a boycott after it pulled the All-Star Game out of Georgia in response to the state’s new election law, which critics charge in a voter suppression method akin to racist Jim Crow laws of the past.
Former President Donald Trump has led demands for boycotting MLB, issuing a statement through his Save America PAC on Friday saying MLB “are afraid of the Radical Left Democrats who do not want voter I.D., which is desperately needed, to have anything to do with our elections.”
Barkley has weighed in on controversial issues in the past. He publicly rejected the movement to defund the police in comments in September, asking: “Who are Black people supposed to call? Ghostbusters?”
He also defended the hiring of the Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash amid accusations that Nash had benefited from white privilege.
“Steve Nash is a great player and a good dude. But I was so disappointed in some of these guys. I was like, ‘Dude, Black guys have done this before.’ Now, do we need more Black coaches in the NBA? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in college football? Yes. Do we need more Black coaches in pro football? Yes. But this wasn’t the right time to say that today. Good luck to Steve Nash,” Barkley said.