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Comedian W. Kamau Bell talks about racism in alternative show at Cal Poly

Comedian W. Kamau Bell performs Tuesday night at the Performing Arts Center as an alternative to Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk at Cal Poly.
Comedian W. Kamau Bell performs Tuesday night at the Performing Arts Center as an alternative to Milo Yiannopoulos’ talk at Cal Poly. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

It was a case of alternative world views at Cal Poly on Tuesday night.

While right-wing pundit Milo Yiannopoulos promoted his white men’s-only grant program and railed against abortion in one campus theater, comedian W. Kamau Bell entertained his audience in another theater with his “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in about an Hour” show.

The Cal Poly Office of University Diversity and the student government hosted Bell’s free show in response to outcry over Yiannopoulos’ appearance sponsored by the Cal Poly College Republican Club.

The 1,289-seat Christopher Cohan Center was nearly full for Bell’s performance, with the crowd laughing repeatedly as the comedian discussed race in a variety of contexts, including sports, politics and identity.

Bell told jokes with an accompanying PowerPoint, talking about everything from inappropriate questions about African-Americans’ hair to racist mascots.

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“I can prove racism and distill it down into two words: Cleveland Indians,” Bell said.

To audience applause, Bell said race is “not a real thing” but a social construct.

When talking about racial categories, Bell showed a picture of President Donald Trump on the screen: “Which brings me to the need for a new category: orange Americans.”

Mikayla Kunesh, a second year sociology major, and her roommate, Sara Lesher, a second year English major, both attended Bell’s performance. Both also said they knew people who planned to protest Yiannopoulos’s performance.

Kunesh said she doesn’t support Yiannopoulos but would’ve been interested in attending his talk from a sociology perspective. She said she appreciated Bell’s ability to tackle tough racial topics, such as when he asked white members of the audience to say “I’m white and I’m proud.”

“It’s important he made us feel uncomfortable,” Kunesh said.

Lesher said going to Bell’s performance earned her extra credit for a class, but she probably would have been interested in the show anyway.

“It’s a group of people coming together in a positive way,” Lesher said.

Cal Poly students protesting right-wing speaker and Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos outside the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Yiannopoulos was at Cal Poly as part of his national speaking tour at college campuses.

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