Socio-Political Comedian and Podcaster* W. Kamau Bell – @wkamaubell, on Facebook, on web – was part of this past Sunday’s Bay Area Book Festival event at a panel titled Who We Be: An Un-Panel About Our Colorized Futures, hosted by Jeff Chang and described as –
Favianna Rodriguez, Oakland artist
W. Kamau Bell, comedian, FX Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell
Adam Mansbach, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Dead Run, You Have to Fucking Eat
Who’s afraid of 2043? No, really?
At this Un-panel, author Jeff Chang (Who We Be, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop), award-winning visual artist Favianna Rodriguez (Migration Is Beautiful, CultureStrike), comedian/philosopher W. Kamau Bell (United Shades of America, Totally Biased) and author/parenting expert Adam Mansbach(Rage Is Back, The Dead Run, Go The F***k To Sleep, You Have to F****** Eat) riff and rant on art, culture, race, and demographobia.
Bell (who quickly pointed out his not being an author however being part of the Un-Panel at a book festival) was the third and last to speak at the Un-Panel. (over here for my post on Adam Mansbach and on Favianna Rodriguez) He shared a little about his background, where he has lived (Chicago, San Francisco) and his ultimately choosing to live in Berkeley. Bell mentioned that while urban areas may have diverse demographics, those areas may actually be (and are) segregated. By the way, this immediately reminded me of a FiveThirtyEight article I read a while back, The Most Diverse Cities are Often the Most Segregated. I remembered the term integration-segregation index. ANYWAY, I only jotted a few phrases down, which is not to say there was not noteworthy information Bell shared –
… your artisnal fans (on being recognized at the Lake Merritt farmers market)
… live their version of whiteness proud and out loud (on people living in select San Francisco areas)
… it’s like a telethon, white people (on encouraging people to take part in the race discussions)
Bell also referenced some of his work – his cable show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, his stand-up The W. Kamau Bell Curve, and his upcoming CNN show United Shades of America, which is described in a CNN press release as –
United Shades of America follows comedian and political gadfly W. Kamau Bell as he accepts the challenge to boldly explore the far corners of our country and its various groups and subcultures. Along the way, he will ask questions, get himself into some awkward and at times unpredictable situations, and – most importantly – make people laugh. The series will strive to show the United States is not built upon just one, but many diverse and colorful definitions of America. (Produced by Objective Productions).
– and which he describes to The Verge in this brief interview.
Given the location of the book festival – Berkeley – he briefly mentioned that audience members may know him because of his sharing his experience about and incident at the Elmwood Cafe – Bells’ blog post Happy Birthday! Have Some Racism from Elmwood Cafe! and Bells’ hosting of a Public Conversation with the Elmwood Cafe. Here is San Francisco’s KALW’s summary of the public conversation. Here’s an excerpt from KALW’s summary –
Bell says that moments like this, happen all the time when you live in black skin. “People of color experience what is called microaggressions or implicit bias all the time, everyday, all the time.”
Here, we get into the language that has developed to talk about race, which is part of what the forum is all about. According to the panel, a microaggression is basically an underhanded compliment that conceals a racist stereotype. Like saying to your black friend: “Wow, you don’t act black.” These seemingly harmless moments accumulate over time and people internalize them, it’s a way of hiding stereotypes in everyday life.
– which cites Bell’s request to continue the conversation beyond the event and KALW’s closing –
The panel ran longer and later into the evening than planned, but people stayed, including the TV news trucks parked outside. W. Kamau Bell had a request of the crowd: Don’t let the media define this event as a one-off.
“They’re going to report on this that they had this event, and this event happened, and at the end, there going to get some clip of someone saying, ‘I thought it was good, I thought it was bad,’ and that’s going to be the story allegedly.”
. . .
But he implored the crowd to take the conversation out of the middle school auditorium.
“Please take this out there out there into the streets, it’s not about the Elmwood Cafe. It’s not about what bad things happened to our family — we’re all here because this has happened to us, or we want to know more about it.” The crowd cheered. “This is so Berkeley,” Bell says.
And that’s the hope, to take the conversation to corners where people might not throw around phrases like implicit bias and microaggression; for people to feel comfortable about calling others out when they do something they might not realize is racist; to not be embarrassed to have embarrassing conversations.