Hamtramck, Dearborn subjects of Sunday CNN show

Just after the November election, ‘United Shades of America’ host W. Kamau Bell talked to residents of Metro Detroit about the area’s Muslim and Arab population

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Comedian and host W. Kamau Bell visited Metro Detroit the week after the presidential election last fall to film an episode of his CNN show “United Shades of America” to shine a light on the region’s Arab and Muslim communities.

Bell, who starts the documentary-style show with a few minutes of stand-up comedy, explained the topic of the Detroit episode was Arabs and Muslims in America. He visited Hamtramck and Dearborn to talk to folks about their thoughts after President Donald Trump was elected.

“... For the most part the people I talked to ... people were hopeful,” Bell told The Detroit News on Thursday. “I actually ran into some Muslims who had voted for Trump and we talked. But even people who didn’t and who really had an idea of how bad things could get believed in their community.”

On Sunday’s one-hour episode, Bell talks to Muslim comedian and podcaster Zahra Noorbakhsh, who is from California, at Dilla’s Delights doughnut shop in Detroit. He also chatted about life for Muslim women with Dearborn resident Rima Meroveh.

Bell and CNN filmed a rally in front of the Hamtramck Public Library where community members, Muslims and non-Muslims, had gathered just after the election to voice concerns, and he also smoked hookah in Hamtramck with millennial-aged Muslims who were born in Yemen.

“We were all born in Yemen, but you get to Hamtramck and you’ll actually know what it’s like to be an American,” said a young man around the hookah table. “You see the appreciation that the residents have just being able to just live a live without featuring whatever is happening in the Middle East.”

After speaking with Hamtramck’s Mayor Karen Majewski at her vintage store, where she stated clearly that “we’re not afraid of our Muslim neighbors,” Bell visited with resident Susan Dunn.

“She certainly had a bee in her bonnet about the call to prayer,” said Bell, adding that Dunn was very hospitable and even made him and the film crew spinach pie.

“When I’m forced to hear your call to prayer in my house on a Sunday when I’m reading a book I have a problem with that,” Dunn said on the episode.

“The way she practices her good neighbor-ship can be problematic, but she really cares,” Bell said.

Bell also interviewed a Dearborn man who said he left Iraq because of the oppression of Saddam Hussein and voted Republican because of the threat of terrorism, adding that “we should give (Trump) a chance.”

Bell, who will return to Detroit on June 18 when he brings his stand-up tour to the Fillmore Detroit, said he thinks people who are afraid of Muslims would change their mind if they came to Dearborn or Hamtramck.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric in the world, especially in this country, about Muslims and they’re aligned with a lot of evil things, but when you’re there, you’re like ‘these are just super sleepy towns, suburbs, with just incredible food and there’s nothing scary or dangerous.’ ”

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens

‘United Shades of America’

10 p.m. Sunday


W. Kamau Bell at Fillmore Detroit

8 p.m. June 18

2115 Woodward, Detroit

$30 and up

(313) 961-5451 or