When Your Cousin Embarrasses You in Front of Family

By S. Christopher Emerson

I’m starting to think W. Kamau Bell is kinda corny; or at least, not who I thought he would be.

Definitely that’s a subjective statement, and all in all, I’m rooting for the brotha. I ain’t mad at him, but I’m just seeing him and his rise a bit differently these days. The CNN “United Shades of America” star seems to be revealing that the cloth from which he’s cut is a bit blander than I thought.

And let me be clear here; we’re using Bell as an archetype here for Black folx who have spent a little too much time around wypipo.

Watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” which I JUST NOW found out was the last full episode the chef and traveler finished before his suicide, I was inspired to critique on this matter. I’ve been going through all of the episodes in Bourdain’s series (which I enjoy) on Netflix and watching the ones filmed on The Continent and then secondarily, other homelands of people of color. This episode was filmed in Kenya, with W. Kamau Bell joining him.

Now, considering the current sociopolitical environment, I’m careful about giving deference to wypipo, ESPECIALLY when Black folx are present. But… in the episode, it was apparent through post-production that Bourdain was FAR more comfortable and relatable to the Kenyan sistas and brothas and environs than Bell.

Now it’s not lost on me that the chef was a celebrated world traveler and had been to East Africa before; Bourdain knows how to navigate unfamiliar cultural situations- it’s literally, what he does.

But there is an authoritative connection with the people of Kenya, East Africa and the continent as a whole that I was expecting Bell to have that just wasn’t there. ‘Cuz- and I don’t give a damn what some self-“othering” Black folx say- no matter what city, what country, which side, or which cookout you get invited to, there are some intrinsically Black things that slap five across current sociopolitical boundaries. I’ve prepared an inexhaustive list below:

*The “What up, Sis/Bro” head nod
*The time-honored chest to chest “Black DapHug”
*The innate quickening of something incredibly and uncomfortably white going down which culminates in perfect eye contact with a simultaneously perceiving Black person, possibly across the room (where do you think “Sense8” got it from?)
*The “mTXC…” sound of Black people sucking our teeth which either signifies that some food was just extraordinarily satisfying or that a situation is about to get extraordinarily real


I guess I was expecting something like… an instance in which Bourdain would try to introduce the comedian to a food, or to a local custom and Bell would just kinda look at him and say “It’s cool, Bro… I got this.” Then he’d shoot the quickening look to a group of very pleasant locals and bust out laughing uncontrollably. But that didn’t happen.

This big Black dude stuck out like a sore thumb. In Africa, y’all.

Making corny ass jokes… Asking corny ass questions… Making corny ass wypipo pop culture references… I could just feel the Kenyan brothas, in their own still very welcoming way, asking each other “Where they get THIS big Black mzungu from? Dude is strange, Bruh…” And this was no Ugly American culture gap. This was that same gap we feel when some new kid whose hair ain’t done shows up at your school from some private academy that Black parents have been warning yours about sending you to. And that new kid miraculously finds the weirdest, whitest clique to become a part of. Weird.

It got me wondering that maybe Bell thinks that since he looks like a “big, scary Black dude” to White people, his Black card is secure. And he seems like he IS aware of his Black card; he just hasn’t set up his direct deposit yet, so that mug is dry. It occurs to me that he spends most of his public time performing from a wyt centered perspective; possibly unintentionally, but because he’s surrounded by wypipo, he can’t help it.

Don’t get me wrong…There are times when I appreciate his self-deprecating brand of comedic writing and performance; I just have to be in the mood for it. It’s kinda like how many Black people used to watch “Cheers,” but we ain’t finna remember any of the lines; he probably does though. Bell’s persona and style make White people feel comfortable, of which he seems vaguely self-aware.

I was kinda embarrassed for US-born Black folx, feeling like Bell was SUPPOSED to be our ambassador, and he rolled into Nairobi with some khakis and boat shoes on, and he committed the faux pas of being more affable to wyt savior aid workers than his own people. Shit just left me feeling unfulfilled and disappointed; like fried chicken with no seasoning.

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