STRANGELY or, maybe, appropriately, it is “Sir Charles” who bridges Webber to Smith. Speaking, cherubically on CNN on the 26th of August, Barkley nailed it: ontological exhaustion:
The bottom line is it is exhausting being Black, especially when you are a celebrity.
You know, I love Tom Brady [quarterback on the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers] but nobody asks him about what is going on in white America. Nobody asks Luca Doncic about what’s going on in America.1
Well Charles, probably a little unfair to ask a Slovene (Doncic) “about what is going on in America.” America did have a Slovenian First Lady who is hardly a representative of the Ljubljana intelligentsia, a considerable force in the world of contemporary philosophy. So, on that score alone, Luca deserves a pass. Nonetheless, if we substitute “Doncic” for any other white player in the NBA . . . they would not be asked for their thoughts on white living prospects in Boise, Idaho. So, point taken, “Sir Charles.”
Your “Doncic” reference must not be allowed to detract attention from the core issue you are raising. Ontological exhaustion. To be ontologically exhausted is to be tired to the very essence of your being. Tired to your bones, as they say; completely spent, resources—personal and communal—utterly depleted. It is also by no means limited to “celebrities,” LeBron, Serena, or public figures such as “the Jet” and “Sir Charles.” Ontological exhaustion is no respecter of rank. To be black in America is, for every black person, always to live either as ontologically exhausted or to be on the verge of it. From “Boy Willie” (“The Piano Lesson” to Vera and Louise “Seven Guitars”), August Wilson’s “Century Cycle”—ten plays documenting black life, one in each decade of the twentieth century—is full of world-weary, almost-completely-beaten-down-by-life black characters. Only death puts an end to this exhaustion. Too often prematurely.
Nevertheless, again, “Sir Charles,” point taken. Every black person who is in any way publicly visible—a “celebrity”—in America has to endure what I have named elsewhere the “burden of over-representation.”2 The single black person, presumed to be an exceptional black person, must speak for the entire black community, must give voice to the aspirations, fears, and the lived experience of that community. Jackie Robinson bore that burden. As did Althea Gibson, as did Jack Johnson—more than one hundred years ago. And, like you, “Sir Charles,” Jack Johnson did so with more than a dollop of mischief. In fact, “Papa Jack” was more than willing to spit in the eye of white America. Sometimes through a gold-toothed smile.
The burden of over-representation also means, “Sir Charles,” that when you speak of ontological exhaustion, you speak in our collective name. You speak as us. You speak for us. We are all tired.
This does not mean, however, that we ever get to say “Enough.” That option is not available to us. We begin again, as if for the first time.
We begin again in the philosophical spirit of Peter Sloterdijk, cognizant of Ella Baker’s injunction, once more inflected by Jayson Tatum’s winsome nostalgia. What Tatum discovered was the joy of being contained within. The NBA bubble as the experience of dwelling in containment, “confined” to and by utopia.
And because it is impossible for those opposed to racism to ever declare themselves done with it as long as it is alive, it is all the more important to conduct a struggle on the principle of dual power.
A principle that remains ever true to utopia as not only possibility, but as absolute—“compelling”—necessity.
Indeed, if possible, it would be best to begin again—for this first time, as it were—by conducting a dual struggle. To fight for electoral representation while working, simultaneously, to supersede representative democracy with a society in which radical equality and justice—that is, an equality manifested in every walk of life—holds sway.