W. Kamau Bell was chatting with his wife, his baby girl and his wife’s friends at an outdoor table of the Elmwood Cafe in Berkeley, Calif., when an employee assumed that he was “harassing” them. This happened on Jan. 26, 2015, his birthday. According to Bell, the employee knocked on the window from the inside in an attempt to shoo him away from the group of white women. He wrote about the incident when it occurred and addressed the issue with the café owner, Michael Pearce.
“We had a community forum and he said that it was wrong, it was racist, it was implicit bias,” Bell says. He went on to explain that Pearce made promises about training his employees and providing programs for the community so that what happened to Bell would never happen to anyone else.
“Once the headlines went away, Michael Pearce didn’t do any of that stuff, and the Elmwood Cafe just went about business as usual with lines out the door,” Bell told The Root.
Three years later, the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks prompted Bell to share his story again, in an effort to explain that these incidents go beyond coffee shops.
“Racism is not a Starbucks problem, it’s not an Elmwood Cafe problem—It’s an America problem,” says Bell.
Amid the Starbucks controversy and nationwide uproar, pressure began to rebuild against the Elmwood Cafe, eventually prompting the café to close its doors permanently. But the storm isn’t over for Bell. Former patrons of the Elmwood Cafe accuse Bell of capitalizing off the Starbucks controversy and blame him for the shutdown.
“Racism catches you coming and going,” he says.
W. Kamau Bell stopped by The Root’s offices while promoting the third season of United Shades of America, which premieres on CNN on Sunday. Watch part 1 of his interview above.