Podcast: Why won’t white West Coast progressives talk about racism?

Conversations about race need to happen regularly, not just every once in a while.


Last year on his birthday, comedian W. Kamau Bell had a pretty laid-back day planned. He went to brunch with his wife, Melissa, and their new baby, Juno. She took him out to her favorite place, The Elmwood Cafe, in Berkeley. It's one of those places that's particular about its lattes and pricey in the waffle department. After brunch, Bell went to another cafe up the street to work for a bit and his wife went home. She wound up back at the Elmwood Cafe later that afternoon to meet up with a group of new mom friends, and Kamau stopped back by on his way home to say hi and meet everyone. They were seated at an outside table, and when he stopped to chat with them, a server from the restaurant rapped on the window behind them loudly and mouthed something to Bell which he says was either "Scram!" or "Git!"

Kamau Bell
Stuart Tracte

Either way, the message was clear. His wife thought it must be a fan trying to get his attention, but realized she was wrong when she saw the look on his face. A whole series of events ensued: an apology from the restaurant, a panel discussion in Berkeley on what are called "micro aggressions" (for example, saying something like "You're not like most black people") and, eventually, a return to the status quo. Despite his commitment to do more than just have a one-time discussion, Elmwood Cafe owner Michael Pearce has, according to Bell, stopped returning emails. In this bonus episode of Range, Bell revisits the Elmwood incident and shares his thoughts on why white progressives in the West tend to avoid the topic of race. 

Range podcast produces stories of the New American West and is co-hosted by reporters Amy Westervelt and Julia Ritchey. 

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