This is the seventeenth entry in the series Honoring Black History.
I don’t recall the first time I heard W. Kamau Bell speak. Perhaps it was one of his stand-up specials or maybe it was an interview on the Daily Show or an appearance on Premium Blend, but he immediately made an impression. Throughout his career, he’s never shied away from confronting issues of race, racism, and the systemic oppression of blacks in America, but he’s also used his bully pulpit to start some important, but difficult conversations.
This is no more apparent than on his CNN program United Shades of America. On this show, Bell tackles many of the issues this country struggles with daily—immigration, policing, gun control—while at the same time providing a deeper understanding of all of the different kinds of Americans. Sure, there’s a fair degree of snark that comes out when he’s sitting down with KKK members, but he’s clearly out there listening too. And listening is important, even if you vehemently disagree with someone.
I harbor no delusions that action is incredibly important, especially for large-scale efforts like the fight for civil rights and the dismantling of the institutions that contribute to the continued oppression of people based on their race, religion (or non-religion), gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. Unfortunately, changing how a society operates doesn’t always guide everyone down the road to understanding. That often requires individual interactions. It requires exposure to our differences and highlighting our similarities. It requires conversations. And that’s why I’m glad there are people like W. Kamau Bell who are using the opportunities they are given to bring these important conversations into people’s homes, en masse.
If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend picking up Bell’s 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. Or better yet, get the audio book and let him read it to you.
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