Editor’s Note: W. Kamau Bell is a sociopolitical comedian and the author of the new 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” (Dutton). Tune in Sunday, April 30 at 10 p.m. Eastern to watch the premiere of the second season of CNN’s “United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell.” The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.
Kamau Bell: We need to hear speakers like Richard Spencer because sunlight is the best disinfectant
We also need to hear immigration stories because they show us the best of America, he writes
“Why are you giving Richard Spencer a platform?”
That is the No. 1 question people have been asking, writing, and tweeting at me since the commercials began airing for season two of “United Shades of America.”
In case you missed it, in the first episode I interview Spencer, a white supremacist who believes, among other things, that America is a country for white people only and that white people define America’s culture (which means that Spencer is neither a fan of history books nor the TV show Grey’s Anatomy). And he also believes that a woman’s place is in the home. How he didn’t end up with a cabinet position in President Trump’s White House, I’ll never know.
Spencer is also credited with inventing the term “alt-right.” The alt-right is the Tea Party’s younger, cooler, meaner brother. Like if the movie “Back to The Future” was just about Biff.
Understandably, many people don’t want that on their TV, hence the question: “Why are you giving Richard Spencer a platform?” Though many times, people don’t phrase their question as one they’d like an honest answer to. It comes across the way it does when a disappointed parent sees a broken vase and “asks” their child “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?”
I have to admit that, initially, I was surprised at the question. I thought I had answered it pretty thoroughly a year ago when “United Shades” had its series premiere with me visiting the Ku Klux Klan. I put Spencer on TV for the same reason that I put the KKK on TV. We all need to make sure that we fully understand our country.
And platforms are amazing things. Despite how it seems, platforms don’t have a stake in who is standing on them. Just watch Olympic diving some time to see that everybody doesn’t dive off the platform and get a perfect score. Just because you put someone on TV, you aren’t necessarily cosigning everything (or anything) they do. It is about how you frame it – and in this case, the frame around Richard Spencer is beautiful. While you are watching Spencer express horror at the idea of a “Black James Bond” (sorry, Idris Elba) you will also meet…
Ruby Corado, a refugee and LGBT activist who specializes in helping refugees who have been victimized and are in need of shelter.
Sarah Zullo, a woman who came to this country from Ethiopia and dedicated her life to welcoming people who have come from war-torn countries and have no place to go.
Mohammad, a newly-arrived Syrian refugee who wants to work hard and provide for his family.
Williams Guevara, a refugee whose court testimony changed a law and thereby saved the lives of refugees including his sister’s life.
They are all refugees. Extremely. Vetted. Refugees. And their stories are beautiful, and you need to hear them.
You will also see I/O Spaces, an incubator for African immigrant businesses in Silver Spring, Maryland. These immigrants have big ideas and more pride in this country than I can summon up while watching fireworks, on the 4th of July, while competing in a hot dog eating contest, dressed up like Uncle Sam, draped in the American flag, drinking a Unicorn-Frappuccino-flavored-apple-pie smoothie, and perfectly burping Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA.”
These stories of immigrants and refugees are incredible on their own, but I believe you need Spencer in the show to prove how tenuous their safety and peace of mind is. Spencer and his people want all those beautiful people gone. And the scariest part is that the alt-right doesn’t think Steve Bannon (or President Trump for that matter) is alt-right enough.
But if you are afraid that just having Spencer on TV and talking is going to help him recruit more people to his side, then what you are really saying is that you think his ideas are better than your ideas. I don’t think his ideas are better than mine. In fact, I think his ideas are much, much, MUCH worse.
So let’s get back to the question: Why am I giving the alt-right a platform? For the same reason I gave the KKK a platform. For every person who asked me why I was giving the KKK a platform, there were many, many, many, MANY more who said, “OH. MY. GOD. I HAD NO IDEA THAT KU KLUX KLAN STILL EXISTED!” Ultimately, that flabbergasted person is who I wanted to reach with that episode of the show. And if you are #woke about the KKK being alive and well in America, all I can say is: keep watching “United Shades” this season – there’s more you need to see.
I guarantee that we will cover some subject, some group of people, and/or some cuddle business that you have never heard of or thought much of before you saw our show. Because that’s what we do.
But as much as I disagree with Richard Spencer, I know that more people need to be aware of these ideas, because again…There. Are. People. Who. Vote. That. Believe. Them. The more people who know about the alt-right and their influence, and the more people see that smash cut up against people like the refugees and immigrants in the episode who are working hard everyday to make this country live up to its ideals that we brag about having to the rest of the world, the faster we can truly make America great.
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And believe me when I say that I have a serious stake in how this turns out, because right now Berkeley, California is being used as tool of the alt-right (and others who want to hang with the “cool kids” *cough* Ann Coulter *cough*). The alt-right is working hard to cloak its desire to create chaos in the streets as free speech. They say they want to air their views, but it’s about provoking violent reactions. We all can easily see that this is not about free speech. It is about community’s need for safety no matter who comes through town. I know this because I live in Berkeley, and when media sources say, “Berkeley is rioting,” I know that “Berkeley” isn’t rioting. Berkeley is pissed that the Farmer’s Market is canceled because outside agitators have caravanned into town to start trouble. Berkeley is walking around the riot to take Berkeley’s two daughters to the store to buy them helmets. (Bicycle helmets. Not riot helmets.) But ultimately, I’m not afraid of these people or Richard Spencer’s ideas, because I know my ideas will win. My ideas are better.
Welcome to season two of “United Shades of America.” Let the sunshine in!