Comedian W. Kamau Bell performed his show, “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour,” at the Irvine Barclay Theatre last Tuesday, May 22.
“Whenever we talk about race and racism in America, we fall into familiar patterns. We use familiar words. Words that make us feel comfortable. Words like minority, caucasian, people of color, non-white, colorblind, diversity and the celebration of diversity.”
This was how Bell opened his show, letting audience members know that the above words were not going to be used and that there may be some uncomfortable, but important, discussions.
Bell, known as the host of CNN’s Emmy-winning “United Shades of America,” came to UCI as part of the Office of Inclusive Excellence’s Confronting Extremism initiative. His commentary on racism in America covered everything from politics to sports to pop culture.
First, Bell pointed out that racism still happens everyday in modern America, though it’s often on smaller, almost unnoticeable, levels. Bell showed audience members a poster explaining the do’s and don’ts for children at a public pool. The children following the rules were white, while the disobedient ones were all dark-skinned.
He praised Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem, making it clear that the former San Francisco ‘49er wasn’t protesting the flag directly, he was protesting the continued presence of racial injustice in America. Bell also took a moment to discuss People’s annual Sexiest Man Alive cover, stating that only two black men have ever been named: Denzel Washington and Dwayne Johnson.
The show didn’t just feature African American issues. Bell also recognized that racism and prejudice are directed at Native Americans, Asians, Latinos and Arabs among others.
Many sports teams, like the Atlanta Braves, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks, continue to defend their names, claiming their intention is not to disrespect any ethnic group. But Bell also said that the problem is more widespread than people think. For example, the Golden State Warriors seem to have a perfectly fine, generic name. However, its original logo depicted a smiling Native American figure with a feather in his hair, bouncing a basketball.
Bell also broke down the percentage of various ethnic backgrounds according to census reports. He revealed that the 2000 United States census actually classifies Arab people as white, which led him to conclude that “race isn’t real.”
Speaking on international stories, Bell said that after apartheid in South Africa, many citizen rights laws ignored it’s Chinese population. Thus, China and South Africa made a deal to classify all Chinese in South Africa as black. He pointed out that if this were to happen in America, the Chinese population would be upset, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad the other way around.
“I think black people, if we woke up tomorrow and found out we were Chinese, we’d be like ‘yeah, I’ll give that a shot.’”
Bell also discussed his own mixed-race family. Both of his daughters are very light-skinned and Bell said he often gets looks from strangers when he is in public with his children. In situations like this, he said people have to keep a sense of humor.
At the end, Bell pointed out that communities of color often bond together in ways white people do not, as in when famous people, like Bill Cosby, fall from grace. In the case of Cosby, Bell said that black people usually have a discussion on this because they feel it personally affects them. It makes the whole community look bad. On the other hand, this same process doesn’t happen among white people. Bell gave former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle as an example, asking white audience members why their people didn’t feel the need to have that same kind of discussion.
Using James Brown’s “Say it Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Bell had white audience members apply it to themselves, yelling out, “I’m White and I’m Proud.” He urged white people to call attention to what’s happening within their own community and to start having those often uncomfortable discussions, especially with the rhetoric President Donald Trump is putting out there, because that’s how change happens.
After the show, Bell signed copies of his book, “The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad and Stand-Up Comedian,” and took pictures with audience members.