The full title of this book by W. Kamau Bell is super long: 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.
Whew! That’s a lot of words.
I can’t remember where I first heard about this book. I had never heard of Bell before, but some of the members of my book group had read and raved about this book. He was also on Nerdette’s podcast and I happened to listen to the episode in which he talked about this book and various things he likes to geek out about. He was a lot of fun to listen to and seemed like a cool person, so I requested the audiobook from my library. Bell narrates it himself and he was pretty great to listen to.
The book, which was published earlier this year, is definitely a response to the current administration. It’s part memoir, part “How We Got Here,” and part “Here’s What We Do Now,” which was awesome. Not only did I love hearing about Bell’s life and his take on things, but with everything going on, it was so refreshing to hear someone with a plan.
I say the book is part “How We Got Here,” because Bell, whose stand-up comedy has long focused on race and politics, has no shortage of stories in which he experienced racism long before the last election, even in places like Berkeley, CA, which is supposed to be kind of like our country’s liberal Mecca or something. But racism is so entrenched in our culture, and often so subconscious, that it really does happen everywhere and it has very real effects on minorities in this country.
One of my favorite parts of this book was Bell talking about how he learned to confront his own prejudices, specifically sexism. It sounds like he has a very diverse group of friends and one of them, when pressed to say what she thought of one of his stand-up routines, called him out for being sexist. Bell didn’t think he was being sexist, but she disagreed and pointed out why.
Bell’s initial reaction was similar to what most comedians tell people who criticize them for being prejudiced in their routines: he told her she just didn’t get the joke and that no joke will be funny to everyone.
Fortunately for this woman, Bell took some time to actually think about what she said and what it meant. After some soul searching and course corrections, he adjusted his routine so that it was only making fun of the oppressor (white men), not the oppressed, which was his goal to begin with.
I loved getting to hear how he changed his mind and it made me wonder how the rest of us can change the minds of the white dudes in our own lives, since that’s certainly something I’ve struggled with in my own family. I don’t know if there’s a clear answer. Bell reached the same conclusion I reached a few years ago, which is that the best thing one can do to help the oppressed is just shut up and listen. I’m glad he did that and I wish I knew how to get my brothers to that point, but maybe it’s just something that will come with time.
One of the things Bell said we all need to do is have these conversations with the people we don’t want to have conversations with because that’s the only way to change their mind. His example was his white, racist grandfather-in-law, who gradually came to accept Bell when Bell just kept showing up and taking good care of his wife and kids. My problem with that story as an example is Bell never says he had any tough conversations with him, but that Bell seemed to change his mind just by being there and being a good example of what black men can be. He also said his grandfather-in-law still voted for Trump, so it sounds to me like he didn’t change anything, which is super frustrating to hear.
That said, this was still a super fun audiobook that also has actionable tips for our current situation.
What did you guys read/listen to this week? Anything else to help get you through these trying times?