DVR Chronicles: United Shades of America Ep. 1

If you had to pick eight places where a large, middle aged black guy either a.) usually doesn’t go (for good reason), or b.) shouldn’t go (usually for the same or better reasons) what would be at the top of that list? That’s the premise of the new CNN TV documentary series United Shades of America, with W. Kamau Bell. That’s according to Bell, himself, at the start of the first episode.  The official site states the series will explore “the far corners of our country and it’s various subgroups and cultures,” but I like Bell’s definition more. This past Sunday, and the next seven Sundays coming up, he’ll continue to flesh out that list.

What’s #1 on this list, if we’re to believe the order of the episodes? How about a KKK cross burning.

Oh joy…

The show delivers on the tagline, for sure. Here’s 10 other thoughts I had from the opening episode.

  1. Bell’s willingness to challenge and press people on controversial statements, while remaining conversational and non-judgmental, was refreshing to see. Surprising even.
  2. Seeing a cross lighting burning is still alarmingly disturbing, no matter at what distance. The thunderstorm brewing in the background only added to it.
  3. ”New Klan”= not anti-black, but pro-white BUT…
  4. Interracial marriage is apparently worse than murder because it’s “an abomination in the Bible.” Whaaaa???
  5. Using his stand up as transitional material is a nice touch
  6. The really nice klan robes go for about $125
  7. Kerosine = klansman’s cologne….charming
  8. Seeing a white woman literally stop in her tracks with shock and delight because it had been so long since she had seen a minority in her town was hilariously honest.
  9. Some Klan chapters can get a hilarious number of “K”s in their name
  10. The epic spit take I did when hearing a klansman say, “I wish my ancestors picked their own cotton,” is destroying my keyboard.

CNN is known for how well they do these documentary mini series, and this is yet another example. It treated the KKK as a group to be discovered, rather than fuelling and feeding preconceived notions about the group. It’s a very subtle act to pull of when both approaches lend to the same conclusion, but Bell’s line of questioning in the episode pulls it off. It delved very nicely into how different communities handle having the group’s presence in their town, from open arms to an open fight. I learned much about these fellow Midwestern communities, which is the tagline yet again delivering on its promises. Can’t wait for next week, which features the inmates of the San Quinten State Prison. United Shades of America airs new episodes every Sunday at 10p.m. EST.


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