A Black Comedian Reflects On Attending A KKK Cross Burning (Video)
W. Kamau Bell is a comedian whose fame is steadily rising, thanks in large part to the success of his CNN series, United Shades of America. Launched in 2016, it’s a docuseries following Bell as he interacts with pockets of society not often explored in depth on mainstream television. Past topics on the show include Chicago gang violence (featuring Vic Mensa), immigrants, Richard Spencer, and more. However, perhaps his biggest splash came in the form of the very first episode, in which he spent time with the KKK, not only interviewing members but also attending a Klan rally and cross-burning. As an African-American, his decision to take part in such a brazen social exercise is remarkable, and his continued pursuits on the show’s second season made him an eye-opening guest on The Breakfast Club earlier this week. There, he discussed his experience with the White supremacists and why he opted to reach across the aisle in such a bold way.
Airing last year, the KKK episode of United Shades of America included a scene in which Bell meets face-to-hooded face with an active member of the Klan, which is seen in the clip below. After confirming that his voice will indeed be disguised, the KKK member who calls himself the “imperial wizard of the international keystone knights” agrees to speak with Mr. Bell in a dark, unassuming location. Mr. Bell begins the conversation by introducing the point that, historically, the KKK has been an organization associated with violence, an accusation with which the wizard takes umbrage. “I’m not associated with violence,” says the hooded man, adding that he’s interested in “looking at the Klan of the 21st century.” To that, Bell responds with a question, asking the man “don’t you think, that by wearing the same robes, that it’s hard to separate [the Klan of the past to the 21st century version]?” In response, the man says that he opts to wear the robe of a klansman because “I’m White, and I believe in the ideals, rituals, and beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The robed man then explains the goal of his beliefs, explaining that he was raised to believe in and uphold those aforementioned ideals. “The Klan has a purpose in life and that is to recruit qualified Christians that are of good moral standing.” When asked by Bell to explain what makes someone qualified, the man responds without a moment’s hesitation: “must be White, and you must be a Christian. Jews will never be in the Klan. They’re a dirty race.” Emphasizing his sense of self-pride for being of the White race, the man asks Bell if he’s proud to be Black. Bell responds with an emphatic yes, and is then asked whether he is married to a Black woman. “I’m married to a White woman,” says Bell. “You know what the Bible says about racial marriages?” the man asks. “It’s an abomination. It’s a sin.” In fact, says the man, it’s a sin worse than murder.
Before parting ways, the two unlikely associates shake hands.
That interaction is just one segment of Bell’s inaugural United Shades of America episode. Also captured is footage from a KKK meeting in which a cross is burned, striking imagery that is only made more powerful with a Black man’s presence. On The Breakfast Club, Bell discusses his experience with the hate group, beginning at the 3:03 mark. “I was scared,” he says of meeting, interviewing, and spending time with the Ku Klux Klan. Shortly thereafter, Angela Yee asks Bell if he’s ever felt in danger on the show, and he says that, while taping the KKK episode, there were some moments during which he questioned his safety. He also describes the procedural steps in arranging meetings with people who, in many ways, exist within the fringes of society, as well as why he even accepted such a job.
It’s at the 5:55 mark that he begins to describe what made the cross-burning so frightening. “We were there for hours, and they don’t light the cross until it’s pitch black. So, we were there for, like, three hours, waiting and not filming. While three or four of them would talk to me, there was a whole ten, 15 other ones who looked like they wanted to kill me. It was like well, once it gets dark, how does this go down?” Elaborating on the conversations he was having with the KKK members, Bell says he was coming from a place of curiosity, as a Black man. “I’d always been curious to, like, what would that be like if you talked to them and hear them and actually let them lay out all their points and how they think? For me, it was everything from explaining to me why you don’t like Black people – and they always go back to the Bible – and I also wanna know, like, how do you light the cross? I just wanted to know all the things.” What excited Bell about asking such questions was the excitement in the KKK member whom he asked, and it was precisely that spark which allowed for such a dialogue to take place. However, he says, “I’m not trying to humanize them.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Bell discusses his recent interview with famed alt-right personality Richard Spencer, the nuances of White pride, what he learned from spending a day with immigrants, the racist undertones to Chicago’s crime problem, and much more.