W. Kamau Bell’s ‘racist’ Berkeley birthday


An employee from Berkeley’s Elmwood Cafe pounded on a window and demanded Bay Area comedian W. Kamau Bell leave an outdoor table where his wife and 13-week-old daughter were having brunch Monday, according to a post Thursday on the comedian’s blog.

Bell — whose birthday was Monday — accuses the Elmwood Cafe employee of pounding repeatedly on a window and shouting at him:

“Maybe it wasn’t exactly, “SCRAM!” Maybe it was, “GIT!” Or maybe it was, “GO!” Whatever it was, it was certainly directed at me. And it was certainly the kind of direction you should only give to a dog… a dog that you, yourself, own.”

Kara Hammond of the Elmwood Cafe told SFBay Thursday afternoon she was not aware of the incident before Bell’s blog post hit the web. She said the cafe was convening a staff meeting to discuss and respond to the incident:

“I’m appalled by the news that I’ve heard. I’ve just heard of in the last hour. This is hitting us hard.”

Bell wrote that he had stopped back at the Cafe — after eating there earlier in the day — to show his wife and some of her friends with babies a children’s book he had just bought. That’s when they heard the pounding on the window:

“I was stunned. Caught totally flatfooted. My wife saw the look on my face. Later she told me that what I heard was in fact the second round of knocks on the window.”

When Bell’s wife, Melissa Hudson Bell, approached the employee about the incident, Bell writes the employee told her she thought Bell was “selling something,” and that:

“I don’t think it was a race thing.”

Reached Thursday afternoon, Elmwood Cafe co-owner Michael Pearce told SFBay they were still investigating what had happened, and that they plan to be “very public and transparent” about steps that would “absolutely” be taken:

“We’re going to be very public about what happened and what we do about it. We want to open the doors for a dialog and use this as an opportunity to make things right.”

Pearce said he had reached out to Bell’s management but that he had not spoken to Bell or his representatives.

Elmwood Cafe posted a response on their Facebook page Thursday afternoon:

“We at Elmwood Cafe are absolutely horrified to read about the account of the event that took place this Monday. We have zero tolerance for racism. We want to find out exactly what happened and take all steps necessary to rectify the situation.”

Bell wrote on his blog he moved back to the Bay Area last summer from New York after two years. Bell had hosted Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on the FX and FXX cable networks from August 2012 to November 2013.

Bell is scheduled to perform Saturday, Jan. 31 in Uptown Showdown Debate: Dumber vs. Smarter, part of SF Sketchfest 2015 at the Marines Memorial Theater.

Jesse Garnier
Jesse Garnier is the editor and founder of SFBay. A Mission District native, he also teaches journalism as associate professor at San Francisco State University.

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