Also read our feature on W. Kamau Bell’s new show United Shades of America.
On the first episode of his new CNN series, United Shades of America, comedian W. Kamau Bell meets with various representatives of the Ku Klux Klan. We asked Bell what he was most surprised to learn about the Klan of today when he was working on this episode. Here are three things he discovered about the Klan.
1. “Just because there’s not a lot of them doesn’t mean they’re not scary.”
Bell: In the history of the Ku Klux Klan, at one point, depending on estimates, there were between 3 to 5 million Americans who were members of the Klan. And now those numbers have fallen significantly. But when you’re standing in front of them that doesn’t make you feel any better. If there’s only five of them there, it doesn’t make it less scary.
2. “I learned how many high schools and monuments there are to people who were in the KKK.”
Bell: There’s a guy, Nathan Bedford Forrest, there’s a high school named after him in Florida. There are different monuments, some of them are Confederate and some of them are monuments to high-ranking members of the Klan. That’s a part of American history and some people are still celebrating it.
Paste: How do you feel about the movement to remove monuments like that?
Bell: We should always be having a conversation about if we could make this country more inclusive, and what we can do to do that. How can we improve those things? That conversation is the same one we’re having about bathrooms right now. The country should be more inclusive, not less inclusive, and over an infinite timeline it becomes more inclusive. It doesn’t always happen at once. As much as some people like to put down ‘political correctness,’ if it wasn’t for political correctness I wouldn’t be free right now.
Paste: How about those people who are like “why aren’t you inclusive of my right to be exclusive,” or tolerant of their intolerance?
Bell: I support your right to be exclusive as long as society is inclusive. That’s why I hope you have a home to go to. You can be as exclusive as you want to in your house, but once you walk outside your house you have to realize that it’s not your world anymore, it’s all of your world. I think about that all the time—I don’t actually care if those guys in the Klan hate me, as long as if they come across me on the street they don’t try to limit my ability to be out in the world. It’s not about the Rodney King, “can we all just get along,” I don’t think that’s a necessary thing to even try to aspire to. Can we all just be in the world together?
3. “White supremacy is a lot sadder than I thought it was going to be.”
The Klan groups Bell meets with seem relatively poor, poorly educated and in poor shape. Thomas Robb’s group outside Harrison, Arkansas, is better funded and organized, but comes off like a hate-cult full of bland, doughy suburbanites. Even if they weren’t racists and members of a despicable hate group, none of them would seem like credits to their race.—Ed.
Bell: Like this is the supreme side of whiteness? It’s not really saying that much about itself.
United Shades of America premieres on CNN on Sunday, April 24, at 10 PM ET/PT.
Bell’s next stand-up special, W. Kamau Bell: Semi-Prominent Negro, which was directed by Morgan Spurlock, premieres on Showtime on Friday, April 29, at 10 PM ET/PT.
Garret Martin edits Paste’s comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.