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Who Is This Restaurant For? Pt. 4: Why Comic W. Kamau Bell Doesn’t Wear Hoodies To Restaurants

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Oct 14, 2016

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

(Editor's note: This is Part Four of our special series on race and culture in restaurants. We recommend staring with Part One.)

Sometimes the signals a restaurant sends to let customers know if they're welcome (or not) are subtle.

A tablecloth tells you you’re expected to talk quietly, to know how to peruse the wine list. Loud music says, "If you like to party, come on in!"

But sometimes they're not:

"Somebody on the inside of the restaurant knocked on the if to say, 'Get out of here!'"

That's comedian W. Kamau Bell recalling the experience he had at a Berkeley, CA, cafe last year, when he met up with his wife (who's white) and a group of her friends (also white).

"It just reminded me -- wherever you go, you’re still black," Kamau says.

(The photo below was taken a few hours after that incident.)


In the fourth (and final) episode of Who Is This Restaurant For?, we talk with Kamau about his experiences with race as a restaurant customer.

Kamau and his wife Melissa later wrote about that incident, and they channeled the ensuing public outcry into a community forum on implicit bias and an episode of This American Life.

But race is also an important theme in Kamau's stand-up comedy, as well as on his CNN show United Shades of America and his podcast Politically Re-Active (with Hari Kondabolu).


When Kamau is on the road performing, he often finds himself in small towns where dining out means standing out in a mostly white crowd.

"If I walk into a restaurant...a lot of times in small towns…they might blink a couple times, and you go, ‘OK I don’t know if I want to sit here for an hour.’" Kamau says. "You become super aware of how to de-escalate the tension in the room."

One way Kamau de-escalates that tension is by dressing up when he goes out to nice restaurants.

"Mark Zuckerberg and lots of other people can walk in [wearing] a hoodie and jeans," he says. "If I walk in dressed that way, it just means something completely different."


Listen in to the episode to hear what signs Kamau and his wife look for in restaurants to know if they'll be welcome there.

And Kamau tells us why he often slouches and speaks softly in restaurants.

This week's episode of The Sporkful podcast is up! Listen through the player or iTunes/Podcasts app. (And please subscribe!)

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Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:

- "Can You Dig It" by Cullen Fitzpatrick

- "Feel Real Good" by William Van De Crommert

- "Legend" by Erick Anderson

Photos: John Nowak/CNN, courtesy of W. Kamau Bell

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