The United Shades of W. Kamau Bell: Takeaways from Comedian’s Campus Visit

A full crowd came to listen to comedian W. Kamau Bell’s (cover photo) talk in KU Ballroom in February. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Carolyn Kroupa
News Staff Writer

This story was written before the suspension of in-person classes and closure of campus housing for most students due to the coronavirus pandemic

W. Kamau Bell was the annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative speaker for the UD Speaker Series. A full crowd gathered for his presentation titled “United Shades of Kamau” on Feb. 25 in the KU Ballroom.

Bell is a sociopolitical comedian and is the host and executive producer of the Emmy Award winning CNN docu-series “United Shades of America.”

Listen to Flyer News’ interview with Bell below

During his presentation, he used footage from his show featuring interviews with people from diverse walks of life such as KKK members, inmates of San Quentin Prison in California, Native Americans living on a reservation, Mexicans living on the Sonora-Arizona border and more.

He used these clips from his show to demonstrate how to navigate uncomfortable conversations with both humor and seriousness.

His goal is to “get people to talk as long as possible to get them to say something they don’t expect to say.”

He is interested in getting people to open up in order to get to know them better and see the humanity in everyone. 

“I generally think that people can come together and have conversations even if they disagree about things,” he said

His presentation centered around lessons he has learned from doing his show. He offered tips to make the world a more inclusive and equitable place and extend the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

1. Take chances

Bell insisted that people should take chances on people who are not given a chance. He applied this in his own life by hiring diverse staff members. The first season of “United Shades of America” had a film crew comprised mostly of white men. Bell made it his mission to hire more people of color moving forward, and the number on staff has increased every season. The show is now on its fifth season, which is set to air in late April.

2. Talk to the people at the center of the story

“A big part of what I do on the show is just not talk,” Bell said. He believes people should listen more in order to let the people who are the most impacted do the talking.

3. Fear isn’t always telling you the truth

He explained that while conversations may feel awkward and uncomfortable, this does not mean we should avoid having tough conversations. We have to “push through the fear to get to another place,” Bell stated. 

Open dialogue is important when seeking to connect with people from diverse backgrounds. 

“Racial harmony is about respecting people’s boundaries,” he said.

Bell engages with people who have different opinions than him from a place of respect and curiosity rather than being confrontational. He said that if he went around being confrontational, as a 6-foot-4-inch, 200-something pound, black man, “I would die.”

4. Don’t get distracted by the nonsense

This especially pertains to fights on social media, Bell expressed. He said he has learned to focus on the “stuff that’s getting things done.”

5. Whitney Houston was right, the children are our future

As the father of three mixed-race daughters, Bell is aware of the importance of education and keeping children excited about learning. 

To round out his presentation, Bell included tips number six and seven that embodied his whole message:

6. Inclusion makes society better

7. There’s always more work to do

Bell concluded by stating, “keep the conversation going, everybody!

Kamau Bell’s website is http://www.wkamaubell.com

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