Sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell spoke about racism in the University Center on Oct. 19, as a part of the Student Activity Board’s SHU Speaks event. In just under two hours, Bell addressed racism in various aspects of society, mainly focusing on identity, the media and politics. With the format of his discussion, the television personality and author stayed true to the event’s title, “Ending Racism in About an Hour.”
Bell is known for his CNN docu-series “United Shades of America” and his book “The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell.”
Alison Sotolongo, associate director for Student Activities, explained that SHU Speaks happens once a year and Seton Hall invites distinguished speakers to inspire the Seton Hall community.
Sotolongo explained why SHU chose Bell.
“His program encourages people to start conversations and respect each other’s perspectives on what are often difficult or uncomfortable conversations,” she said.
Bell effortlessly navigated between serious matters and comedy throughout the show, according to students.
“He was not afraid to get right to the point,” said Robert Ruszkowski, a sophomore visual and sound media major. “I expected to feel a little uncomfortable at times, but I think that is necessary and healthy when talking about these topics since it is the only way we can grow and expand our perspectives.”
Bell also focused on Hollywood, the trend of white-washing, the White House and sports. He spoke about actors and actresses in Hollywood that are being casted as blacks, Latinos, Hispanics and other nationalities.
For example, Emma Stone was cast as an Asian character in the movie “Aloha” even though she is not Asian.
Bell also took the position that the NFL protests are widely misunderstood.
“It’s not about disrespecting the anthem,” Bell said. “They’re bringing attention to police brutality and inequality in our country.”
Throughout the talk, he projected images to explain how racism plays a part in everyday life. As an example, Bell displayed a University of North Georgia advertisement from 2015 in which four people are running across a finish line. The first two are white males. The third is a black male who is falling behind. The fourth is a woman running in heels.
After this, Bell showed an image of an American Red Cross advertisement displaying kids using a community swimming pool. The image titled, “Be Cool, Follow the Rules,” managed to portray most of the uncool kids as black or dark skinned.
Through both of these, the students in the audience expressed aloud their disappointment, but at the same time, the room fell quiet.
Bell also pointed out that not all ethnicities and identities are provided as possible answers on the U.S. Census. For this portion of the event, he examined the 2010 Census. Categories for Hispanics and Latinos were noticeably absent. He explained that this lack of representation is a form of racism.
Lisa Demytrk, a senior public relations major, said that her eyes were opened to the idea that fighting racism is a group effort.
“We need to have more speakers like Bell come to campus and help us open up a dialogue about how we can each do our part to combat racist incidents and move past them,” she said.
“Ending Racism in About an Hour” has evolved over the 10 years that Bell has performed it.
He said there is much more talk about with Trump than there was 10 years ago.
Bell said he wanted to open students up to the idea that, “America needs to have a really thorough discussion and address its history of racism and how ultimately a more inclusive society is a better society.”
Erika Szumel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.