Artist-in-residence hosts activist panel for Salon Series
The Santa Clara
February 22, 2018
Successful comedian and host of CNN’s “United Shades of America,” W. Kamau Bell recently engaged in a panel with fellow friends and activists in an honest conversation about gun violence, gender equity and racial representation.
Bell is this year’s Frank Sinatra Artist Chair and is currently in the middle of the second part of his residency.
He spent the past week engaging with community members, observing classes and mentoring students.
The Feb. 15 panel featuring scholars, comedians and artists was part of the Salon Series—events promoting dialogue on power, culture and difference sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences Center for the Arts and Humanities.
A prominent topic discussed at the event, hosted in the Recital Hall, was the Florida high school shooting last Wednesday and ways to address this deadly national crisis.
“I want to highlight institutions of learning as being safe spaces where we can come and be challenged,” Bell said. “It shouldn’t be about the fear of bullets and guns.”
Artist and community organizer Favianna Rodriguez believes sustainable social change requires cultural, political and economic support. Banning guns is not profitable for gun manufacturers, she explained, making gun control difficult.
Film director and rapper Boots Riley warned that progressive gun control measures, though intended to prevent mass shootings, will disadvantage low-income neighborhoods of color. He equated the phenomena to the War on Drugs.
“Most of the time when police come in contact with guns or are looking for guns, it’s not some white kid in Florida, it’s people in black or brown neighborhoods,” Riley said. “So with any gun laws, that’s who would be incarcerated. When pushing for gun control laws, it won’t get the kids who are shooting at schools. It will get the police doing more stop-and-frisk.”
Riley explained that illegal businesses self-regulate, and oftentimes rely on gun violence to do so.
“We need a radical militant worker movement,” he said.
Rodriguez attributes the mass school shootings, as well as sexual assault by predominantly white men in power, to toxic masculinity. She believes men must also work to address the problem and no longer remain silent.
“It’s time for men to organize other men. (The Larry Nassar case) was the largest sports sexual abuse scandal in sports history. Where were the male athletes? They didn’t say anything,” Rodriguez said. “We have a problem with male silence right now. Culture allows us to question the behaviors we have been perpetuating. ”
Bell described his experiences in the writer’s room as challenging at times. He explains that his ideas are perceived like those of an outsider in a white, male-dominated industry.
“That is totally the thing that connects with me about toxic masculinity,” said Bell. “The ideas that are anti-traditional ideas that have been dominated by white males are seen as the opposite of ‘normal.’”
The panel concluded with panelists sharing advice for students and proposing action-list items to promote positive social change.
Recommendations ranged from joining an organization for a radical cause, book suggestions and supporting artists of color.
Junior Sophia Parnell attended Bell’s stand-up show last fall and appreciated his commentary on self-proclaimed liberalism. After the panel, Parnell is committed to promoting artists of color as recommended.
“[Rodriguez’s] call to action about smashing the patriarchy and consuming media that is produced by people of color is important to me because I’m always trying to engage civically in a way that actually makes a difference,” Parnell said. ““As a consumer, that’s where our power lies. Representation matters so much and we’ve seen shows with diverse casts succeed.”
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