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W. Kamau Bell talks race and racism during Authors! Authors! event

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    W. Kamau Bell speaks at the Authors! Authors! event Thursday at the Stranahan Great Hall & Theater.

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    W. Kamau Bell at the Stranahan Great Hall & Theater in Toledo.

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CTY-BELL17

W. Kamau Bell speaks at the Authors! Authors! event Thursday at the Stranahan Great Hall & Theater.

THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

W. Kamau Bell was on a mission Thursday night at the Stranahan Theater & Great Hall: To end race and racism in America in about an hour.

“Racism is out there all the time; it’s ready to be talked about, it’s happening on all levels,” he told the crowd of about 1,000 people.

Mr. Bell was the third and final guest speaker of this season’s Authors! Authors! series, sponsored by The Blade and Toledo Lucas County Public Library.

Known for his Emmy Award-winning television show on CNN United Shades of America, he recently told The Blade his show allows him to “talk with people that I wouldn’t normally talk to.” The program shows Mr. Bell sitting down with Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, and watching a cross burning with the Ku Klux Klan, in the attempt to learn about extreme groups and communities and to ultimately discover what connects and divides the United States.

VIDEO: W. Kamau Bell

The sociopolitical comedian’s career has included hosting three podcasts: Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period, Politically Re-Active, and Kamau Right Now! He’s also released his first 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.

The 44-year-old comedian, dressed in a dark buttoned-up shirt, stood in front of a large projector screen that showed images and short videos to prove points in his speech regarding racism in America. Pictures of Barack Obama before and after his presidency were compared to President Trump, racist college brochures and websites, and movies with white actors and actresses playing roles of characters with a different ethnicity.

He showed football player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the country’s national anthem, sports groups with racist team names, and people joking about #whitelivesmatter and how getting it to trend on Twitter is like getting #wateriswet to trend.

“We don’t have these discussions on race and racism often enough,” he said.

Before Mr. Bell took the stage, he told The Blade he isn’t giving a person like Mr. Spencer or a group like the Ku Klux Klan a platform when interviewing them; rather it’s his curiosity that piques his interest. He said his mother always said to him, “There’s no such thing as too much information.”

It’s just a matter of starting a conversation, he said.

“In this new era of America with our president that many of us are still getting adjusted to and some still can’t believe it’s happening, people are afraid and I think their fear sometimes makes them want to turtle up rather than explore the world and go, ‘How did we get here?’” he said.

His 90-minute speech ended with questions from the audience ranging from requests for advice on how to begin a conversation about racism, to the correct way for a person to have pride in being white without seeming like a white supremacist.

His answers? To have an active ear and be the person to call out racism in everyday life.

“Race isn’t real. It’s an invented concept that is a way to divide and separate people,” he said while the crowd cheered and clapped.

The series continues with award-winning author Michael Pollan on March 27. Mr. Pollan is the author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, and The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.

Contact Geoff Burns at gburns@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.

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