On Thursday (May 5), the host of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” asked guest W. Kamau Bell* what unknowningly racist behavior he thought was most hurtful. Bell gave a fantastic response: 

Starting a sentence like this: “I’m not racist, but…” [Laughs]. I think the minute you try to pretend, especially as a White person in this country, you try to pretend like you’re not actually benefitting from racism and White supremacy, the minute you try to except yourself from that, you’re leaning into racism.

The comedian and host of CNN’s docu-series “United Shades of America” also talked about his show’s infamous premiere episode, during which he met with Ku Klux Klan members and White supremacists (Bell also addressed that episode in this Colorlines Q&A). Bell also delineated the difference between racism and prejudice:

Colbert: Is there a particular racism that Black people engage in that you’re aware of? 

Bell: Here’s the thing. When you say the word “racism,” a lot of people who are way smarter than me, like Cornel West … they don’t believe you can be racist if you’re a person of color, if you’re a Black person. We can be prejudiced, but “racism” implies power and institutions behind it. 

Bell finished the interview with a dig at White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner host Larry Wilmore. Referencing the fact that Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” replaced Colbert’s Comedy Central show, Bell said that while he likes Wilmore, he didn’t appreciate the jabs at CNN during his speech

Bell: I didn’t appreciate all the CNN jokes, that’s my new network. So, he said he remembers when CNN used to be a news network, and I feel like that’s a shot at me, you know?

Colbert: Very specifically you.

Bell: And I just want to say that I remember when the show that followed “The Daily Show” used to be funny. So…

[audience groans]

Colbert: [Laughs] ”Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn” was a very funny show. [Both laugh].

Watch the full interview above. 

*W. Kamau Bell is a former board member of Race Forward, the organization that publishes Colorlines.