Comedian talks semi-seriously about racism, inequality
The Santa Clara
May 10, 2018
W. Kamau Bell, comedian and Santa Clara’s Frank Sinatra artist chair, exposed the absurdity of racism and why he thinks the topic is a laughing matter.
There was hardly an empty seat in Mayer Theater for Bell’s stand up performance on Wednesday, May 2. Along with discussing racism, Bell explained that his position as the Frank Sinatra artist chair entails shadowing classes and making people uncomfortable.
In his talk, Bell integrated visuals, relevant news stories and personal narrative to discuss racism and humorously expose its ridiculousness. Bell explained that racism is deeply entrenched in American society.
“America is like a giant pool and racism is the person who keeps peeing in the pool,” Bell said with a chuckle. “Even though you’re at the other end of the pool, you’re still in a pool with pee in it.”
Bell said that for white people, addressing racism can be difficult, so people of color and allies who want to engage in such dialogues must be patient.
“We have to treat them like [we’re] their personal trainers at the gym,” Bell said. “They are coming out of shape from the racism discussion and we got to start them on the treadmill. We have to find ways in which we can discuss [blatant] racism before we [talk about] scary institutionalized and structural racism.”
The show began with Bell criticizing Kanye West’s comments to TMZ about slavery having been a choice.
“Well, I guess it was a choice for the white people who enslaved us,” Bell said. “Should we enslave them? I think we should. That’s a good choice. But it’s not a choice that black and brown people made.”
He praised Van Lathan, a TMZ Senior Producer, who explained to Kanye the danger of his words.
According to Bell, Lathan’s speech was an ideal conversation about racism.
“[His speech is] filled with love [when he says] ‘brother you are disappointing me.’ That’s the kind of conversation I’d like to have when we’re talking about race and racism,” Bell said. “He doesn’t call him stupid, he doesn’t indict him, but he holds him to a standard. It’s filled with love but also disappointment.”
Throughout his talk, Bell cited several examples of blatant racism to explain it’s prevalence in our society.
One example included a Red Cross informational poster about safe behavior in the pool.
The poster included illustrations of children at the pool, in which all of the ‘unsafe’ children were children of color.
Bell said that Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem was an invitation to talk about structural and institutionalized racism. However, Bell felt the opportunity fell short when the conversation instead focused on the national anthem itself.
The national anthem was first integrated into baseball, and later other sports, as a marketing strategy to to engage people before the game. If the song is the focal point of the conversation, Bell said we should pick a song that does not reference dead slaves in its second verse.
“If we’re going to talk about the song instead of institutionalized and structural racism, then let’s talk about the song,” Bell said. “I don’t think this is the right song we should be singing. ”
Bell addressed the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and spoke about the negative connotations of the phrase “All Lives Matter.”
“It was a phrase that was invented to attack the Black Lives Matter movement,” Bell said. “The phrase did not exist as a phrase in the public consciousness until Black Lives Matter came up and it was a way to take away attention from Black Lives Matter. So when you say it, you’re actually using it to oppress black people and people of color.”
In light of the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this month, Bell told the audience to not see such incidents as isolated but rather indicative of the larger scope of racism.
“The same racism that got those people kicked out of the restaurant, me kicked out of the Elmwood cafe, the brothers arrested at Starbucks. That’s the same racism that killed Stephon Clark,” Bell said.
Bell looped back to talk about the “scary racism” he mentioned at the beginning of his show: structural racism. He said that racist housing policy hindered people of color from accumulating generational wealth through property ownership.
“Black and brown people couldn’t do that because we couldn’t get bank loans to buy property and we couldn’t buy properties in our neighborhood,” Bell said.
In response to those who deny Trump’s racism, Bell referenced several of Trump’s racist incidents, including the 1973 federal investigation into his anti-Black bias and his calling of several African and Latin American countries “s***hole countries.”
Bell said that white people, even if they did not vote for Trump, must work to end racism and Trump’s white supremacy.
“It’s on you to end the racism of white people while it’s on us to collect our people just like black people are working now on Kanye,” Bell said.
Bell explained that race is an arbitrary, social construct used to divide people. However, to dismantle racism, one must understand race.
“Race is a fake concept that evolves and changes over time,” Bell said. “White people are in charge of determining who’s white. It wasn’t that long that Polish people weren’t white, Italians weren’t white, Irish weren’t white but you all graduated to whiteness. When do the black people get to graduate?”
Contact Bella Rios at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.