Kamau Bell at once proved that his show was not going to be your normal comedy routine. With a clicker and projector and screen, I was prepared for a lecture. And it was in the sense that I learned something and it wasn’t in the sense that he ever made me feel inferior. Opening the act he listed words, politically correct euphemisms, that would not have any place in his show. He wanted to be brutally honest and euphemisms inhibit honesty.
What baffled me was how accurately he was able to predict what I, a white male, was going to think and react to every part of his performance. He had dealt so frequently and immersed himself so deeply into the issue of racism, that he was able to know how the privileged would respond. One of the most memorable parts of the act was having the whites collectively claim ownership. As whites, Bell saw how we wanted to shy away from our political figures, our past and current tendency to oppress. We wanted to wash our hands of those things. The thing is, Bell said, when the white people recognize the problem and avoid claiming ownership for the actions of others that identify as white, it lets the situation get worse. Bell jokingly said that the black people claimed Ben Carson as their mistake, took ownership of that, and actively yelled at him until he got better. He made the whites take ownership of Trump, and his advice on how to do that seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. He wanted all of the whites to shout “I’m white and I’m proud!” And no one, including myself, would dare to do it. The fact is, many white people hate themselves and the actions of themselves and other whites, and this lack of pride prevents the whites from thinking that they can change. “We’re going to be here all night until you say it,” Bell said. Eventually the white people were able to make a murmur with the chant, but it was nothing compared to when he had the black people and latino people shout it.
Bell thought that taking pride in ourselves would help break down the wall of shame that prevents white people from stopping forces like the Trump Administration. If we must force ourselves to look in the mirror and shout “I’m proud of who I am and what I’m a part of,” then maybe our pride will keep us from moral backslide.
by Anton Jones
For more information about this speaking tour, read here.
Image comes from Mr. Bell’s website.