W. Kamau Bell brings comedy, race discussions during campus talk

Comedian W. Kamau Bell came to John J. Pruis Hall on Feb. 6 for Ball State’s Excellence in Leadership speaker series. Bell, the host of CNN’s The United Shades of America, spoke about the impact of racism on American culture. Grace Ramey // DN
Comedian W. Kamau Bell came to John J. Pruis Hall on Feb. 6 for Ball State’s Excellence in Leadership speaker series. Bell, the host of CNN’s The United Shades of America, spoke about the impact of racism on American culture. Grace Ramey // DN

An auditorium packed full of students continued to roar into laughter as W. Kamau Bell took an important discussion and made it entertaining for the audience. As a socio-political comedian, that's what he does.

Bell, host of the Emmy Award-nominated series "United Shades of America" on CNN, spoke as part of the Excellence in Leadership Speaker Series at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 in Pruis Hall.

In his talk, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour,” Bell showed different posters that are used by companies and organizations around the country that show people of color failing or not following rules.

“People don’t learn the lessons of history,” Bell said in an earlier interview with the Daily News. “For a lot of people, racism means you make more money at the job and you have an easier path in life.”

When Heather Stafford, a freshman psychology major, saw that Bell was coming to campus, she Googled him. 

She became intrigued when she watched a clip from "United Shades of America" of Bell with the Klu Klux Klan.

Bell is also the host of "Kamau Right Now!" on KALW in San Francisco, which is a public radio talk show. Additionally, he co-hosts two podcasts, "Politically Re-Active" and "Denzel Washington is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period."

Bell had a very high attendance, compared with previous speakers. Stafford believes this is due to the fact that his talk was more of a comedy show.

"Even if they weren't interested in the concept, they were interested in seeing a comedian," Stafford said. "Then, he reached a bigger audience."

One way Bell introduced racism was by educating the audience on two questions to not ask about black people’s hair. The first was, "Can I touch your hair?" The second, "How do you wash it?"

“Ending racism is about respecting people’s boundaries,” he said.

Onstage, Bell discussed a lot of controversial issues he felt were needed to be brought up, but he discussed them in a comedic way.

Bell said he hoped his talk would start a conversation for students at Ball State. 

He wants people to start talking to other people with whom they wouldn’t normally talk.

“As a comedian, the most you can hope for is to make people laugh,” he told the Daily News. “Also, make them think about something that they weren’t thinking about before.”

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