To comedy fans, W. Kamau Bell is a rising star in the world of political satire. To the wait staff at Berkeley's Elmwood Cafe, he appeared to be nothing more than a panhandler harassing a group of white women. Besides the obvious implications of the faux pas, one of those women happened to be Bell's wife.
Bell says he was shocked when the employee tapped on the window from inside the café and indicated that he should leave the area. The employee apparently thought Bell might be trying to sell something. Bell said he was dressed in a dark Oaklandish-brand hoodie at the time.
The comedian wrote of his experience being rudely asked to leave the restaurant, of which he was a patron, on his blog, accusing the establishment of racism. “It is the definition of prejudice,” said Bell, a Berkeley resident. “They looked at me, they judged me against other people, an idea they had in their head about what a person like me is going to do, and then they acted in stupidity and ignorance.”
Bell detailed the incident in a blog post, which quickly went viral and prompted hundreds of people to leave angry Facebook messages and one-star Yelp reviews for the establishment.
Addressing the irony that the incident happened in Berkeley, a city known for its liberal values and tolerance, Bell wrote: “We were bothered by the fact that we [were] currently standing in Berkeley, California, a city so allegedly liberal that even the most progress-y progressives make fun of it, and yet thanks to you, it is where I as a Black man was being told to ‘GIT!’ like it was 1963, Selma, Alabama, and I was crashing a meeting of The New Moms of the Confederacy.”
Michael Pearce, the owner of the Elmwood Cafe, said he was “horrified and appalled” at what Bell said happened. “I want to speak to [Bell] so he can relate to me exactly what happened,” said Pearce. “Anything I can do to make this right I will do. I want an open and transparent discussion, possibly with the community and the press, once I find out what we did wrong. I want to be able to fix this.”
After initially saying he doesn't feel "any great pressure to wrap this up in one day" and stating that he and his wife would no longer patronize Elmwood Cafe, Bell later agreed to speak with Pearce.
“My wife & I just talked to Michael Pearce, the owner of Elmwood Cafe, & we’ve decided to have a public conversation about this. Details soon,” he wrote on his Facebook page, adding that, “I do believe that everyone has the ability to learn and to do better, and that includes Mr. Pearce and the Elmwood Cafe.”
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(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for New York Magazine)