Comedian W. Kamau Bell writes about racism at the Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley, CA


I’m a big fan of comedian W. Kamau Bell. He and his wife and child had a harrowing-but-all-too-common experience at a cafe in Berkeley this week. He writes about it on his blog. Here’s the opening:

Dear Elmwood Cafe
2900 College Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94705

You don’t know me. I know that for sure now. It’s not that I would expect you to know me, although many people in the Bay Area do, because of the work I’ve done as a stand-up comedian locally and on television. I’m known for something that The New Yorker called “intersectional progressivism.” That basically means I use jokes to fight for the people who don’t get a fair shake in the world. For the last several years, I have tried to learn as much as I can about oppression in all forms so that I can help make the world slightly more bearable with a few jokes. But that’s just my career.

In my life, I am a person who loves The Bay Area. LOVE IT! I lived in San Francisco for 13 years and in Oakland for two. And even though I lived in SF mostly, I spent A LOT of time in The East Bay. I have done my own headlining shows at The New Parish, La Pena, The East Bay JCC, and Marga Gomez’s comedy nights at The Marsh. I love these audiences. The Bay Area is a place where all sorts of different people live together, explore new ideas and strive to uphold the idea made famous by children singer Raffi, “The more we get together the happier we’ll be!”

To be honest though, my most fervent love is for Oakland. Which is why I was so excited recently when the people at Oaklandish gave me a hoodie. They just GAVE IT TO ME! I was walking past their pop-up shop at The Oakland Airport and one of their employees saw me, recognized me (I told you that people around here know me), and she awesomely and very generously gave me a hoodie. I love it. I wear it a lot. I was wearing it this past Monday, January 26, when I went to the Elmwood Cafe.

Read the rest here.

POEM: I cannot threaten death (an erasure poem based on MLK’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech)

I cannot threaten death

(Original Text: “Beyond Vietnam”
by Martin Luther King, Jr.
4 April 1967)

this magnificent conscience
leaves us in full accord
these words call us in time of war
of dreadful conflict
we must move
the silence of the night is limited
but the darkness seems so close
I called for the heart of the King
Aren’t you hurting?
I trust
I believe
I come not to the ambiguity
nor to the resolution
they are never resolved
I wish to speak
I am shining as if
I would never see an enemy
eight thousands liberties die
in brutal silent cruel manipulation
awareness would change our nation
the violence in the boys
we chose
O America America America!
now America destroys
I cannot threaten death
God is helpless and outcast
bound by human hands
madness within the people
hear their broken cries
we refused them
poisoned the land
we were reckless, tragic
the peasants watched
as we read promises of peace
where they know our bombs
they watch their children beg
our tortures are
their most cherished bitterness
to speak of liberation as aggression
is the right question
we are bombs, armies
we do not negotiate
they moved the truth
claimed that bombing, shelling, aggression
are the process of the sophisticated
I calculate the image of violence
I begin
we must make
we must provide
we must continue
we must be
we must protest
the struggle is a reality
and a dozen other names calling God
we have seen helicopters napalm
the peaceful
incapable of justice
the Good Samaritan beaten and robbed
capitalists with no concern
burning human veins
year after year
the United States of poverty
insecurity and injustice
shirtless and barefoot in darkness
our only hope
in the final analysis
is in the ultimate reality of love
we can afford the oceans
we are fierce, naked, adamant
we must move
let us tell of hope
of solidarity, of history
as every nation comes in truth
each goes by truth and behind the shadow
we will make our world beautiful

/ / /

Jason Crane

NOTE: You can hear this poem and see it in context here.