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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Lectures Coordination Board brings W. Kamau Bell to Kagin

W. Kamau Bell presented the “W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour” Photo by ML Kenney ’18
W. Kamau Bell presented the "W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour" Photo by ML Kenney '18
W. Kamau Bell presented the “W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour” Photo by ML Kenney ’18

W. Kamau Bell, a Bay Area comedian and former host of “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell”, spoke for the Lectures Coordination Board’s Spring Lecture on Wednesday in the Hill Ballroom to present “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour.”

The seats were almost completely filled by students, staff, and faculty, who laughed loudly and often throughout Bell’s mockery of American conceptions of race, particularly blackness, even as it playfully targeted some attendees of his event.

“I think we were looking for somebody who would have a broad appeal on campus, and, you know, he’s becoming more and more popular,” Lectures Coordination Board member Jolena Zabel ’16 said. “He combines humor with good presentation with real issues that Mac students care about a lot, and that combination to us was really appealing.”
After an introduction by Richard Raya ’15, Bell took the stage in darkness, and began a slideshow, clicking through lists of words he refused to use in his talk and “taboo” words he planned to use. He went on to talk about the Obama administration and compared its public reception to that of former white presidents’ administrations, then talked about Obama’s ability to meet the expectations set up for a black president, before segueing into the racist practices and institutions within American politics. As the lights brightened, Bell broadened his focus further to mock the racist practices of American media and individuals, and it was this on which he based the bulk of his presentation.

Bell willingly joked about stereotypes. For example, he referenced black Americans’ perceived prowess at basketball. He also attacked the claims that emerged after Obama’s election in 2008 that America is post-racial.

“If anyone feels the need to believe that America is post-racial because of one black president, I can disprove that we live in a post-racial America in two words: Cleveland Indians. How about two more? Atlanta Braves. Washington Redskins. We still name sports teams after races in this allegedly post-racial America. You know what’s bad about these sports teams also? They all fucking suck!”

Throughout his set, Bell continued to emphasize race’s role as a construct, pointing out to abundant laughter that in South Africa, to be Chinese has been declared the nation’s “new black,” and that according to traditional definitions of whiteness, America’s irrational fear of Arabs as the “other” contradicts their categorization as white. He also frequently addressed his audience according to race, quickly identifying what he labeled the black section of the room, and referring to white audience members simply as “white people” and encouraging them to speak out with regards to instances of racism.

“White people, you have to claim your whiteness, you have to speak out about your whiteness,” Bell urged. “What I guess I’m trying to say is, have some white pride!” He asked white audience members to say “I’m white and I’m proud!”, while poking fun at the discomfort he sensed in the crowd.

In the Q&A that followed Bell’s talk, one student asked about an instance of racism that had occurred in Bell’s neighborhood in Berkeley, California, during which an employee at a cafe had seen Bell outside talking to his family and, assuming from his appearance that he was a solicitor, attempted to shoo him away. Bell’s subsequent response to this event was to call out the cafe on social media, and as a result of his efforts, will be part of a public discussion with the cafe’s owner at a Berkeley middle school this Friday.

“This was step one in terms of talking about race and racism at Macalester,” said Ayaan Natala ’18, following Bell’s talk. “But also, there’s still a lot more work to be done.” Natala expressed the need for spaces for black healing on campus beyond Black History Month. “Like, sure, this is it, but what’s the next event we’re going to have? Honestly, are we going to form those black spaces that he talked about? Or was that just a joke?”

Bell is also a current co-host of the podcast The Field Negro Guide to Arts & Culture, and writes the blog “Kamau’s Komedy Korner” for the SF Weekly.

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