Fuse is once again celebrating an extended Black History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Black History before our eyes. Today we pay tribute to W. Kamau Bell, the 44-year-old self-described "socio-political comedian and dad" who hosts CNN's United Shades of America. The devotedly intersectional stand-up likens his docuseries to Anthony Bourdain's work, only exploring race and communities instead of food.
Shades debuted in 2016 with a striking episode featuring Bell spending time with multiple Ku Klux Klan members in different settings, including a cross burning. Subsequent episodes took him to East L.A.'s Latino community, spring break in Florida, a community policing program, Alaska and San Quentin Prison.
"I just have to hope there's a critical mass of people who are like, 'Huh. I like that,' or 'That made me feel a lot of things, and I'm gonna have conversations about that tomorrow when I go to work,'" Bell told Fuse just before the show's premiere. "That's the goal of anything, to get people talking."
A second season will premiere this April.
Prior to United Shades was FX's Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, a deeply progressive talk show with a diverse bench of exciting writers; guests included Laverne Cox, Chris Rock, Melissa Harris-Perry, Hannibal Buress, Big Freedia and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It ran 64 episodes from mid-2012 to late 2013 before being canceled. Bell went on to start podcasts with fellow comedians Kevin Avery (Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period) and Hari Kondabolu (Politically Re-Active, a limited series for the 2016 election season). His third stand-up special, Semi-Prominent Negro, hit Showtime last year.
Comedy and TV aside, Bell has also worked with the anti–street harassment nonprofit Hollaback, as the ACLU's Ambassador of Racial Justice and as an advisory board member for Race Forward, which "brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity."
The Berkeley, Calif. resident and father of two has specific plans for working in Donald Trump's America, too. He told Ana Marie Cox in a 2016 New York Times interview:
"Part of the next stage of my career is sort of encouraging liberal white people to claim their whiteness. When the 'good white people' of the left won’t claim their whiteness, they think they’re doing a good thing, when they’re actually opting out of America’s biggest and most defining problem."
We'll be looking to W. Kamau Bell for laughter, guidance and perspective for the rest of 2017 and far beyond.
Listen to Bell on the Back of the Class podcast at the 37:40 mark below: