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.
Most of us try to avoid awkward situations and awkward conversations. W. Kamau Bell says to "lean into it" full Sheryl Sandberg style.
Bell's book is written much like his interviewing style on his CNN show, United Shades of America, laid back and unassuming. (The man chuckled and smiled while interviewing Richard Spencer!) It is part memoir and part call to action.
He reflects on his upbringing with a strong female role model as his mother, an awareness of being a an only child and the fact that his interests never lined up with the interests of other Black kids his age. (He mentions more than once of being a fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, of all shows).
Bell's description of "intersectional progressivism" is viewed through the scope of his comedy and those who he pokes fun at during his stand-up.
"Only step on the toes of the people who you think need their toes stepped on. Figure out a way to include other people who are also in need of help. Make the bandwagon to freedom as big as possible."
In other words, go for the people in power when telling jokes, the little guys already have enough to worry about.
With the recent verdict in the Philando Castile trial his writings about the BLM movement and what it's like to be a BBM (Big Black Man) in America are incredibly moving.
"Being a BBM is why I realized I was so happy to have a daughter. And it is why I was so happy to then have a second daughter. I felt some sense of relief. I didn't want to have to figure out how to talk to them about how to be a Black man in America. I recognize that is an extremely selfish thought to have. I need to be talking to every Black an I know about being a Black man in this country. Now more than ever. But I just honestly didn't feel equipped to handle that if I'd had a son. Don't get me wrong. I would have figured out some way to deal with it, because the stakes are too high to skip it. But I just don't know how to tell someone, "Despite your best efforts to live a life on the straight and narrow path of righteousness, America might still kill you for no reason...And here's the scary part...America will feel completely justified when you die."
What this boils down to is this, in American society today white privilege is the assumption of innocence. When my son is a teenager he'll be given that privilege without even earning it, all because the color of his skin. There are so many things that young Black men have to be "taught" and be "aware" of because their families know they won't be afforded that same privilege, and it might cost them their life.
Bell's book covers a lot of ground but this is the most important stuff. America has a lot of problems, there is certainly no doubt about that. Can they all be solved? Probably not. But EVERYONE needs to start showing up. EVERYONE needs to start having these awkward conversations.
Bell mentions an organization called Showing Up For Racial Justice, clink on the link to find out what they are all about and to locate your local chapter.
I am in no way a perfect ally or representative on any one perspective, but this has been my awkward blog post with my awkward thoughts about race.