Dick Gregory discusses American politics
BROADCAST: Dec. 17, 1964 | DURATION: 00:50:36
This interview begins with a clip of one of Dick Gregory’s performances, where he talks about nonviolence and Native Americans. Studs Terkel introduces his guest as an observer, explaining that comedians are the best observers in society. Gregory offers extended analogies to communicate his views on a variety of topics, including the Vietnam War, race relations, segregation, human rights, and urban renewal. [The date is unclear, but it has to be after 1970, since the Kent State Shootings were mentioned]
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel Dick Gregory, of course. Dick Gregory offering what? History? Truth? Sometimes not wanting to be heard. Dick, by the way, we forget that Dick is more than an observer of the scene, he's both. He's -- we call him comedian, but perhaps the comedian is the best observer of the scene there is. He's at Mister Kelly's, you have a chance to see him in action, too, until May 24th. And Dick, in listening to this, of course, you're sort of recreating history. It's been sort of buried a long, long, long time.
Dick Gregory Yes, I, I think the Vietnam War kind of recreated history, because the wars that we've been in that we talk about, uh, was not wars of liberation. We felt that the World War One, uh, was a war of survival. I think if you read true history, you'll find out that it wasn't survival for us. But this is what the masses believe. World War Two, I think had we got into it earlier, it could have been a war of liberation. But I think the Vietnam War, where we got involved with a civil war, uh, where we went into an area to, to help solve a social problem under the pretense of helping solve in social problems, uh, when we had not used that energy to solve our social problems. See, if a man's house catch on fire and my house is on fire, and I'm running to his house and not my house, then this man have to think I have ulterior motives. What is it you want in my house that's on fire and your house is on fire? So then, for the first time, I have to look at him as being something other than a humanitarian.
Studs Terkel And particularly if you set fire to that man's house.
Dick Gregory That's right. Definitely.
Studs Terkel You're thinking about us in Vietnam.
Dick Gregory Right, yes. And so consequently, what have happened is is the young folks reacts to a system and systems the way kid react to their parents. Uh, they don't understand why Mommy or Daddy did this, but they can feel certain things. And if the feeling is right, they will accept it. If the feeling is wrong, knowing Momma is mom and Dad is daddy and they still the boss, the kid withdraws and gets to himself. He goes back into his room. He reads a book that he didn't want to read, he he blows on the horn that he didn't really feel like blowing, but if you listen to the sound that comes out the horn, you know he's not practicing.
Studs Terkel You know, that's the blues.
Dick Gregory That's right. He's rebelling. If you, if you look at the way he holds the book and the way he picks it up, and the way he holds his body, you see, any time you see someone reading, and they body is not in a comfortable position, uh, you know is more involved than just him looking at the book.
Studs Terkel And, Dick, Dick Gregory as you're talking, Dick quite obviously is unique on the American scene and the world of quote unquote entertainment, yet we know he's more than that. He is a humorous man, but there's something more involved here. You are tremendously popular on the campuses, and yet in the nightclub, there are conventioneers listening to you too, as though you're able to reach all without in any way compromising. You're, you're telling him what it's about as you see it with your perception and of course, your humor, the humor throughout. Your humor, of course, is what tells the truth too, isn't it?
Dick Gregory Well, I think what has happened on the nightclub circuit is very simple. Any social commentator, when he moves outside of the realm of being safe. In other words, if I came to to do humor at a disc jockeys' convention, and if I research all of the social problems that disc jockeys have, and I can go there and I can do 20 brilliant minutes, if I walked into the nightclub with this same act, I would die. I'd get a few scattered laughs of people that understand various things. But now, if there was a big investigation of the disc jockeys, like we had with the Payola thing, now this act is good because they know enough to follow it. You can go to a nightclub and do 30 brilliant minutes on the U-2 plane. But had you had the knowledge of the U-2 plane 10 years before it got caught, which nobody knew about, you would've had a reaction, because the one thing when you're dealing with the social order, they do not want myths. They want reality, and consciously and ethically, the average American businessman that would come to the nightclubs did not know enough about the social order. Now the newspapers and the press and television have educated him to a level where now he can come and listen to a Dick Gregory and realize I'm not picking on him or I'm not lying about the system. I'm taking a situation that has been created.
Studs Terkel So what's happened, say, in 10 years, is they're catching up with you in a sense, on the part say of on the campuses perhaps much more quickly.
Dick Gregory Right,
Studs Terkel The young are much, as you said earlier, much more intuitive
Dick Gregory But not only that. You see, what happened on the campus. The kid that I'm talking to on the campus today, let's take him back 10 years. He was in high school. He was in grade school. He would come home. He would turn on the news. He would see Dr. King. He would see the marches. He would hear the comments of the parents around him. Just one thing that they forgot: that kid was in grade school reading American history, and the same thing he read that day, he could turn on television and see it happening live. It was only Black folks doing this. I mean, the speeches that the Black folks is making today is right out of the pages of Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine, and they had the same amount of misunderstanding and malice. You know, something very interesting. Nineteen hundred and seventy there was a group of soldiers that moved up on a college campus. Kent University. There was a group of students that did not want the soldiers on campers. Now, I'm not getting involved with the hangups, just taking a situation that happened in 1970. These kids were so outraged that the troops moved up on campus. They threw bricks. They threw rocks. They threw sticks. Never believing that the soldiers would shoot. The soldiers shot. Four people lay dead. Now, this was more than just four people killed because there were some women involved. Now, let's go back 200 years to 1770. There's a group of British soldiers that moved into Boston to the Boston Common. There was a group of individuals that felt those soldiers shouldn't be there, so they start throwing snowballs, not believing that the soldiers would shoot. The soldiers shot. Four lay dead. Not just four, out of the four was a black man named Crispus Attucks. The whole society was outraged. Now we have to watch now and see if the next six years in America will be as turbulent as the next six years that followed in 1770.
Studs Terkel Of course, what you're doing, Dick, of course, is you're drawing the parallels of past, present, and you call upon a history that is considered academically and not taken seriously. Now, the young kids, you're really saying young kids drew a parallel. You're talking about the kids in school read about that and then they saw it on TV.
Dick Gregory Unconsciously. They drew a parallel. You see, it's a strange thing that happened in America. My mother didn't teach me anything about morality that I'm not teaching my kids. My mother's mother taught her the same thing. My mother's mother's mother taught her the same thing. The difference was, in an economic system like we have, economically, we all had to compromise our morals to eat, to survive. Now we have moved on such a economic level that we have a generation of kids that have come through that listen to the same thing that we all listened to in the cradle, but they do not have to compromise their morals. They not busy wondering where they meal is gonna come from, or which kid the rat's gonna bite, or how cold they will be in the wintertime. Let's take one parallel. Let's take the housing projects in the large urban cities. Now, rightfully so there's a lot of poor people in these projects that complaint. But now go back to when I was a kid. Had we had housing projects then, I imagine the Black race would have increased 100%. Because one thing you don't have to worry about the projects burning down, and see in America, about 90% of all fire deaths in the wintertime happen in the Black community.
Studs Terkel As you're talking this point, you pick up a paper -- I'm on a bus, a LaSalle Street bus where my fellow passengers are going toward their law firms or their real estate firms, and I pick up the paper and it says "Fire," without even blinking an eye, I I know where that fire is. West Side or South Side. Invariably! There are except-- but nine out of ten times, you know it. Now, you know that's somewhere in page 47, you know? But if it were a fire on Lake Shore Drive, it'd be on the front page.
Dick Gregory Like like last Sunday here, the apartment building where nine people died. I flew in town from Kentucky, where I spoke Sunday afternoon. When I saw the headlines on the "Tribune," nine people killed on West Side fire, now, when you say West Side, you immediately think of us. But the fact it was headlined, I knew then it was white.
Dick Gregory I knew that. You know, I was in jail last summer in Chicago. They say it was a man who had opened up fire on the South Side on the police. At first I thought that was Black folks, until the news commentator said, "They have sent for his mother to see if she will talk him out of the building." Now, automatically, I knew that that was a white guy. Then they gave the address of the South Side, and I realized at that point it was a white neighborhood. I was in Honolulu last month. We had been out all day. I came back in, turned on the news, and I caught after they had passed saying "Santa Barbara." Said a college student was shot to death, the police moved in with rifles, and I automatically knew that was white. Then they said, "There's trouble at the University of Kansas." Now when you think of University of Kansas, you don't think of Black folks. They said the police had moved in with shotguns, and automatically I knew it was Black. You see, shotguns have been outlawed in the Geneva Convention as a weapon of war because they too inhumane. The only way shotguns is being used in America today is in the Black community. Now the fact that the white community unconsciously, because I'm sure many of them is not aware of it, now, the way the Police Department has justified this, they say, "Well, we have to take shotguns in to deal with the snipers." Well, a sniper is a man that can put a bullet through the center of your head from 400 yards away, and you cannot deal with a sniper with a double-barreled shotgun, because that's for close range. Now, as this country sits back and let these shotguns be used, one day that same squad car's gonna have to go into the white community and shotguns are gonna already be there and you're gonna have white kids that's gonna be slaughtered with shotguns. Then everybody's gonna get outraged. Just a tremendous outrage, and so I say that to say that if you look at the pattern in this country, you can almost tell what action was in the Black community without knowing or what action was in the white community. Now the kids feel certain things they don't know. It's like your daughter can be laying in the crib sick. She knows she's sick, but she do not have the eloquence to communicate with you. This is what makes child doctors so brilliant, because they can relax the kid to the extent where they can find out where it hurts. Now, what we're doing in this country is equal paralleled to a father that would come home after a hard day's work. His head's bothering him. He's had three cocktails too many, and the baby laying in the crib starts crying, and he runs and say, "Shut up" without having the wisdom to know that kids do not cry for nothing. They cry to get attention. They cry to tell you something. Now, if you walk to the crib and say "Shut up" and this baby is crying because it's trying to tell you that the pin have broke loose in the diaper and it's sticking him in the rump. Now, if you scream and tell the baby to shut up, he will cry that much more. Now, if you keep ignoring it long enough, gangrene will set in and the baby will die. Now, in America today somewhere, we have to understand that we have this father that's hung up with the social order to the extent of making money. That his heads hurts him, his bills are due and he's not listening to his kid cry.
Studs Terkel And the pin is loose.
Dick Gregory The pin is loose.
Studs Terkel And the pin may cause gangrene.
Dick Gregory Pin might cause gangrene. And if the kid die, when you're dealing with a whole country, then the [future?] die.
Studs Terkel Yeah, this is interesting, as Dick Gregory is talking, quite obviously the truths that come through are very simple and articulate, you yourself, I'm thinking about you, I'm going to come back to you, remember you 'way back when you wrote the book, your autobiography, St. Louis and how it all began, and bit bit the windows were opening, you sense now windows are opening very much among the young? Do you think?
Dick Gregory Yes, I would say that the most important window a man has is his mind. That I meet young kids today that has the same racism and the same bigotry that their mother and fathers had. The difference is, is a young kid has a a brilliant where you see, let's take Mississippi. Let's take a five-year-old white kid, and a five-year-old Black kid, and the white parent decide that they do not want this kid in school with my son. Now, at five years old, if this kid dislikes my kid and my kid dislikes the white kid, both of them has a confrontation with an eraser or some sand. Now, add 19 years to that. And they will draft this white boy into the army, and put him in the army with my son that has a bazooka on his side. And so now, young white kids are beginning to say, what all of the racism and all of the hangups, you do not give me protection anymore, because I hear you sitting around the house talking about them niggers, them lazy, shiftless this. And then now, with integration of colleges, that extent it is today, I end up in college as a white student with all of my social hangups I brought from home and there's this Black cat sitting there with his long natural, with no smile on his face like I looked at the maid and the butler and now he's telling me, you know, I mean, "Why are you looking at me, Whitey?" Well, this kid is saying to mom and dad, "You give me no protection, and all I'm saying that even if I keep my hangups, I want to know that other side, that society and the system never taught me, because here's a Black cat sitting there making straight A's, dig it? And he's doing all of the normal things that I've been led to believe he couldn't do, so now I have a tremendous mental hangup. You see, if I come to your house as your friend, and your dog attacks me, I deal with the dog right now, but you and I got a thing, baby, because you exposed me to this creature that I thought you had under control." And so the young white kid's there, if he looks around he's caught from all types of angles. You see, basically all kids are good. The kid today in the white community, the well-off white community that's worrying about poverty, he's no more morally dedicated today than the white kid 50 years ago had he been exposed to slums. Now, television have added an ingredient where the slums can go to the white suburbs. And this kid relates with this, he relates with hunger at one time, with my belly full and not seeing no ungry people, I could not relate with hunger. But today this this hunger march comes into my house. And when I opened up my icebox, I think about the hungry people.
Studs Terkel So
Dick Gregory He's reacting to this.
Studs Terkel What's happened are more awareness has made this kid outwardly more humanistic. He always had it in him, but didn't know! You're really talking about knowledge, aren't you?
Dick Gregory Right.
Studs Terkel Knowledge.
Dick Gregory On a system, you see, a free democratic society is a free democratic society when you add the ingredients of knowledge, because, see, in a system where man has freedom of speech, that gives him the right to call me nigger as freedom of speech. But I'm saying today, please don't spit on me. I will honor your rights under the Constitution, but not at the expense of you violate mine. Now you get the other thing. You have -- the United States Constitution guarantees all of its citizens the right of freedom of expression. Racism is nothing more but an expression. Individual racism will never affect me. It's the institutionalized racism that affects me, and that's what we talking about dealing with today. Now, in a system where you have a democracy that talks about free speech and rights of man. Now we have to have a tremendous educational system, not from the standpoint, see, in America, we do not educate, we indoctrinate. That will get your democracy in trouble in the long run. In America, we do not have schools to teach kids how to live. We teach them how to make a living. The only function of a school in a free democratic society is to create the type of knowledge and our individual citizens that he will not unknowingly violate my rights, and I will not unknowingly violate his rights. Now the problem we've had in America is through ignorance. The masses of the white folks have violated my rights, and for so long I thought he was doing it because he was white, because I could not believe he was doing it out of ignorance. And that's why today in America we have less of our rights being violated than ever before, because a system that gives you the right to demonstrate means no more than I -- you see, if you go to a doctor and he examines you and find out you have cancer, at that point you're in good shape. But the doctor still do not have a right to put a pistol on you and make you take the cure. For 10 years we've demonstrated to America that she had a cancer. Now, we do not have the right to make her take the cure. But now we're in a situation where we finding out that it was her cancer that made me sick. Now I have to deal with this, you see.
Studs Terkel But also the doctor has no right to say that it's just a little pimple, either.
Dick Gregory No, but the doctor have been saying it, because
Studs Terkel I know, that's the
Dick Gregory Even the Black doctor, the Black maid and the Black butler have been saying what white folks wanna hear instead of what they need to hear. Now, most doctors in America will tell you what you want to hear instead of what you need to hear. Now, it sounds
Studs Terkel He'll say, "Put a little salve on it, a little ointment on
Dick Gregory That's right. It sounds good to me for the doctor to tell me I have a headache instead of a brain tumor. And if I go home and use aspirin, I'm gonna die. If America tries to treat this horrible cancer with the same looseness you would treat a hangnail in America, we're done.
Studs Terkel Way, way back, one of the earliest observers of the American scene was saying what Dick Gregory says now, different way, De Touqueville was saying, never has been a society, where's there so much freedom of expression and so little independence of thought. We come back to knowledge and ignorance
Dick Gregory Yes, very much so. And so consequently, in a free society, in a democratic society where we will put the money in building highways, see what happened in this country, is we got so hung up on capitalism, we forgot about democracy. In a capitalistic system that controls your democracy, you will put billions of dollars into highways so the capitalist will have a place for his automobile to run on at the expense of putting billions of dollars into your school system. Now, here's what happens: if I spend billions of dollars to build a highway for a brand-new car to drive down at the expense of that five-year-old kid getting the type of quality education he needs to make a democracy function, 15 years from today, that brand-new automobile will be in a junk yard. But 15 years from day, that five-year-old kid will be 20 years old and he will turn your society into a junkyard.
Studs Terkel And so the question is, property values against human values.
Dick Gregory Right.
Studs Terkel And if you distort human values or nothing, something's gonna happen to your property anyway.
Dick Gregory That's right, you see, we cannot have a society where we put property rights over human
Studs Terkel Well, this leads back to one of your, by the way, RCA Victor has a remarkable album, it's a rich and rewarding of Dick Gregory, and a coup-- aside from it being an LP album, there are several 45s, and we heard at the very beginning your voice, Dick. You were talking to students at some college about the American Indian, and naturally this is related to the question of demonstration, it raises the question of Watts and Detroit, Newark, and of course, the question comes up, doesn't it? Must a group that has been oppressed have to commit an act of violence in order to be seen, in order to be recognized?
Dick Gregory It shouldn't be. Before I get to this, let me go back to the tail end. The one horrible mistake of putting property rights ahead of human rights, is property is controlled by man, and humans is controlled by nature. Now, if you misuse man's property rights, he will retaliate immediately because he has a time limit on his trend of thought in his life. Nature do not have to retaliate immediately, because she is [has?] time. Now, if you put a property, which is a shoe, if you put a tight shoe on nature's foot first, you'll get a corn. Not because nature wants to hurt you, because nature's law is she refuse to have anything rub against her own without a reaction. Now, that corn will hurt your foot. Not because the shoe, but because when the corn comes on your foot, all live organs breathe in air. Now, when you can't get air in that spot because that corn is there, that's what hurts because it's choking. Now, if you don't heed that message, the corn will turn into a bunion. Eventually, the bunion will turn into a callus. Eventually, the callous will wear the shoe out. There have never been a man-made shoe that have ever made, wore out, a nature-made foot. Now, this this foot goes through pain, the body goes through misery until a certain point. Now, in America, we, for some reason, have had a nation where we've always needed to play cowboy and Indian. This is a very violent game, and one day, the Indian said, "Great white man. Me don't want to play Indian no more."
Studs Terkel Dick, just -- this is just for a break. We merely hold this, this is, I get accustomed to doing this, to have this, to the moment, take a time out, we'll hear from our announcers and we'll come back to Dick Gregory talking about cowboys, Indians, our history and ourselves. [pause in recording] Talking to Dick Gregory and, of course, I guess, to describe Dick Gregory is not comedian, but satirist, commentator. In fact, one of his colleagues here said, in a way, Swiftian. He -- I guess about as close to Jonathan Swift in our day as we can get. But with the new media, the media of the nightclub, or the media of the college campus, that's a media too, medium too, as well as TV and radio. A new form takes place, but the records, by the way, of Dick Gregory's art, artist on Poppy Records. And one is called "The Light Side: The Dark Side," it's a talk at Southampton College in New York, and parts of which you heard concerning the Indian. And the other is "Dick Gregory On:," which was a Washington, D.C. nightclub appearance, Poppy Records, great to have around the house to listen to, both for the parent, certainly for him as well as for his son and his daughter. You were talking, Dick, about about the Indian, about our history, about ourselves.
Dick Gregory You see, as I said, we always been a nation that needed to play cowboy and Indian. One day, which is a very vicious game. One day, the Indian say, "Great white father, I no wanna play Indian with you no more." "Why? Can't you take it?" Says, "I can stand your viciousness. That's your game. But you keep saying I'm the savage." Now, King Edwards [sic] had a document sent over here which offered £16 for an Indian man's scalp, £10 for the woman, £5 for the kids. Now, we've led a whole nation of people to believe that the Indian was the scalper. He was retaliating because if we gonna play the game, I got to use your ruse since you the boss. So the Indian decided he wasn't gonna be the Indian no more. We needed a Indian down through the years. The Jew was the Indian. He stopped being it. The Italian was the Indian, and if you just go back and read Sacco and Vanzetti, you will see he was the Indian. The Irishman was the Indian. The Black cat was the Indian. Now, the only difference is, is in the whole game of cowboy and Indian, the Indian was the only group that was the Indian that after he withdrew, he didn't join the other side and make the new group the Indians. He just withdrew and got out of it. Now, today the Black man was the best Indian he had other than the Indian, because like the Indian, he could recognize me. The Jew didn't make a good Indian because, when he didn't have the Jewish name that I look for
Dick Gregory He passed, and when he didn't have the nose, he passed. So consequently I would catch myself sometime in the society, going, getting the Jew as just another white man to get this Jew with me. And so my camp got weak. Now, when the Black man decided in 1960 he would no longer be the Indian, he needed a Indian, he'd used up all of his Indians, and now he's turning and making his young white kid the Indian.
Studs Terkel Now the young white kid becomes the Indian. The long hair,
Dick Gregory Look at television. You see what has happened. Now when you get to the alternate plateau, what used to be, see, when you use up all of your things, what used to be a minority problems have become majority problems. At one time only, the minorities had to worry about finding good housing in America.
Studs Terkel So in looking for scapegoats and looking for people to suppress, you eventually will be scapegoating and suppressing yourself.
Dick Gregory Because it comes around, it's a circle. You see, it's a circle, you know, if you miss 12 o'clock now, just wait long enough 'cause it's gonna come back around. You might not be here, but 12 noon will be here. And so consequently, what is happening now is at one time the only people had to worry about quality education was the minorities. Now the majorities have to worry about where they're going to send their kids to school. At one time, the only people had to worry about a good job was the minorities. Now the majorities will. At one time, the only people you had to worry about getting clubbed in the head at a demonstration was the minorities, and now you look. And not only do you see the white kids getting clubbed to the ground, but man, the clubs are longer now. They got a long club now. Them, they got a club now look like two yardsticks put together, and they hitting harder, they hittng harder now than they ever hit. Because this Indian is not Indian. The Indian is him. And now when you got to whoop yourself, man.
Studs Terkel It's, comes to whipping yourself. You know, as you're talking, I can't help but think of that poor woman, a blue-collar white woman carrying a picket sign against the busing of the kids, and the word "busing" was dispelled, and then she met with her friend, said -- meantime, the women, white women who were picketing for integration, for busing in incidence, which has its pros and cons as I know you feel too, coming back -- this poor blue-collar woman, her friend saying, "We gotta learn to talk better." Isn't it interesting? This is a group that didn't want Black kids in their white kids schools, yet they knew their own education was no good, perhaps as a result of all this you're talking about.
Dick Gregory You see, the interesting thing about busing is for 50 years in America, this country have bused Black kids past white schools to put them in Black schools to keep schools segregated. They have bused white kids past Black schools to put him in white schools to keep the schools segregated. Now, what have happened is the moral forces in America have said, "Let's take this same bus that we have used. Now, we're not looking at the marriage of right or wrong. Let's take the same bus that we've used to create an immoral situation, and let's use it to create a moral situation, and we don't know how lucky we are, 'cause very seldom can you use the same vehicle that was used to create immorality to create morality. You know, the doctors was able to do it in the operating room. The same knife that was used to cut life away from people in a fight, was used to give life back on the operating table.
Studs Terkel If I could say, I suppose the brilliance of Dick Gregory is precisely this, is that he hits truths with certain analogies that are so clear that people start laughing, because sometimes the truth becomes filled with laughter, the laughter of irony. The irony is here. So your approach, if I could just ask you this, Dick, your approach throughout is people listening to you, and it's serious talk, it's always serious, all of a sudden there's an explosion of laughter.
Dick Gregory Right. Because you look at a situation. Let's let's take a very interesting situation. If President Nixon had been saying some vicious things about the kids, I say vicious for this reason; to call, for the president of the United States to call a college kid a bum. But he's never called the syndicate hoodlums a derogatory name. He's never said anything bad about whores, pimping and prostitution. He's never said one derogatory statement about the dope pushers who have to be a far more menace to our society pushing heroin to kids, than burning down a library. Now, then this is not consistent. If you said it about all, then it could be accepted in saying it about the few. Now, Agnew have made the same statements. Now, the humor is this. All at once, Hickel sends a letter in. Everybody gets surprised. the prize. Attorney General Mitchell a few days ago made a beautiful speech about how we need the kids to save this society. The Secretary of State, Rogers, made a beautiful speech. Secretary Finch. Now, the humor is this: do they still think the way Nixon thinks? Or have they changed? Or is it because Nixon and Agnew is the only two that have Secret Service protection? And the rest of them don't. And so let it look, baby, you all say this and we say it, but when you all go across the country, you got your bodyguards. And when I go mad, I'm left open with nothing to protect me but myself. You better know I'm gonna send me a letter here, and you better know I'm a start saying some things about them kids, that, see, Hickel's letter is his bodyguard. You understand? And so this is the human. This is the irony in it.
Studs Terkel This comes back to what you were saying earlier about the, about the man and the dog and the protection.
Studs Terkel Comes back, and you're really saying is that sanity, you're saying that sanity, humanity are our best bodyguard.
Dick Gregory Our best bodyguards, and you have to also understand one thing: that nations, after a certain period of time, take on the same characteristics of people, and nations have the same way of going insane as people. And when a person goes insane and a nation go insane, both of them reacts the same way. The only difference is, is if I, Dick Gregory, go insane, the same authority or in control or control the hospitals and the straitjackets when the nation go crazy that the insane individual controls the hospitals and the straitjackets. Now, what would happen in our mental hospitals if the insane people, you know, controlled the hospital and controlled the straitjackets? The doctors wouldn't stand a chance.
Studs Terkel You know, there's another way of your saying, [unintelligible] way of saying what Erich Fromm has said, that when an individual says, "I am the greatest person in the world. My wife is the most beautiful person in the world. My family is no, the best family in the whole world," the rest of you in theory, you say, "He's a nut, you gotta put him away." But if says, "My country is the only country in the world, is the greatest that ever was, ever will be, all the rest should be like mine. Anyone who challenge me is a nut," we say he's a patriot.
Dick Gregory Right. Yeah. You see, there's a difference between a patriot, patriotic and neurotic. See, we, like the lady said, we do have to learn how to talk. Now, I tell you something that's very interesting. If a person has a mental problem, you will take that person to the right qualified doctor, and that doctor will not hit him with a stick. The only people that whoops mental patients is the orderly, who do not have the wisdom and the knowledge in dealing with him, so he's afraid. Now, when you bring this person to the right proper doctor, the first thing that doctor will do, will sit him on the couch and he will let him talk, and when he talks, he will observe him from his conversation and he will know the right treatment to give him. Now, when nations go insane, other nations sit back and watch him on the couch, they absorb him and observe him, and then they'll know the right treatment to give him. "Do I need to get my big bombers ready?" "Do I need to tighten up my defense?" "Do I need to start lying to this cat?" See, the beautiful thing about America today that had it happened in Nazi Germany, we would have had a different world today, had the young German kids walked out into the street and challenged Hitler to the extent where Hitler would have had to gas German kids and beat them with rifle butts and shoot them in the street, the whole world would have started getting their gas masks ready. The whole world. Anytime great nations start going insane and starts jumping on other countries, you teach every other nation in the world two things: one, you're teaching your insanity level, and the other for the first time you give them a device to measure the strength of your armament. And this is what has happened in the world. The Asians know one thing: that the white country that we fought never understood; that if America can trick you into the air or into the sea, she will destroy you. But if you can force her to stay on ground, because they eat too well that you can, you can tie 'em down, now the first test we had of this was Korea. They refused to go up in the air. They refused to go in the water. So that ended up being a draw, the biggest, most mightiest nation in the world, dealing with a country that wasn't even recognized as a power. And we had a tie. Now we in Vietnam, now here's the horror of Vietnam: if a five-year-old kid shoots at me upon my stage while I'm performing in front of a room full of people who are all my friends and my sympathizers, if I jump off the stage and slap the gun off this five-year-old kid's hand and knock him down, there will be a few people that will assume I used too much force dealing with a five-year-old kid, but they will understand I reacted out of fear and anger. Now, if all of my audience leave the room and they come back a year later and I'm still slapping and jumping and trouncing on this five-year-old kid, but the five-year-old kid is still fighting back to the extent I haven't killed him, now all of my friends and my sympathizers start reevaluating my power. Because how can I, two years later, be in the same spot dealing with a baby? Now, in America today, what we would have let happened the first year in Vietnam is alienating and it's embarrassing because it's only human nature for people to react to the underdog, and regardless to how wrong we might feel the underdog is, there's a certain time limit I'm gonna give you. If your son creates a wrong, and as a father and I'm your friend you spank your kid, I will tolerate that. But when you go beyond that point, then I will react to you and become closer to your kid even if your kid had created a wrong against me. Now, what has happened in Vietnam today is the same thing as a [parallel?]. Now, let me show you how underdogs, people react to underdogs. If you're sitting on a bus and you might be an individual that would run from a fight, if you're sitting on a bus, and my five-year-old daughter have just shot and killed my wife, and I put her on the bus to take her to the police station, and on the way there I start stomping and beating and kicking my daughter, everybody on the bus will attack me, because I have brought up a humane thing in you that would not permit you to sit by. Now, any individual that sits there and let you attack this five-year-old kid in its presence, then you can automatically start realizing you're dealing with a sick, frightened, degenerate individual.
Studs Terkel And what goes, perhaps even a step beyond your analogy, Vietnam is this, not even your kid or my kid.
Studs Terkel The attack is on a stranger's child.
Dick Gregory And you see, we got to compensate the way man thinks. If I [created?] a crime today and was sentenced to the electric chair, there's a whole lots of people who would say "He deserved it." But if I created a crime today and was sentenced to be whooped with a whip, 50 lashes every two hours for a year, the whole world would be outraged. It is something about a whooping that horrifies folks more than
Studs Terkel To carry your analogy even further, just because we are devouring and cooking other children, as a result, we're doing to our own children here, witness Kent.
Studs Terkel See, it has to come, this is your circle, this is the circle you're talking about.
Dick Gregory Right. Now, this is not the first time this has happened. It happened before. You see, let me tell you when it happened. The Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, all of them was too strong to be destroyed from without. But they crumbled from within. Now, if we want to know where America's going today, we go back and we get a book, it's in three volumes. I understand now they have the three volumes in one volume. It's called "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire." Now, let's check it out. It says "Nero fiddled while Rome burned," and we laugh at that. That was urban renewal. See, they did not have bulldozers and tractors and machinery. So consequently, when they got ready to redo the slums in Rome, they burned them down. Now, we redoing our slums today.
Studs Terkel What we call urban renewal.
Dick Gregory Urban renewal. Now, if you read the third volume of "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire," you find out the money got bad. They started taking the seals out the money, putting copper in. You've seen our new quarters now with their little brown spot around? Now, right before the Roman Empire fell, the garbage collectors refused to collect the garbage. Now, when when the Christian world reads where a great plague came over Rome, we assumed that was the hand of God. Now, let's go back and put the pieces together. Before Rome fell, there was a plague. The garbage collectors went on strike. Now, Martin Luther King, it wasn't important that he was killed. The important thing was, what he was killed over. Garbage strike. Right? Now, the rat is the only creature on our Earth that has a governor in his heaad. This governor in all rats' heads determines to the amount of food it eats the number to the litter. Now, rats in America eat more in poor communities because there's more food laying around. We have less food, but we're loose with it. We don't have good garbage collection. I have too many things on my mind to make sure all of it gets in the can. Plus, we had many rats in our house, but my mother -- we never knew about the rats biting the kids, whenever you read where the rats bit the kids, you know that's a house with no food, because if you have any food, you leave food for the rat. Any time a rat is well fed, he's afraid of noises. Any time he's hungry, the noises do not distract him. Now if we went to stick up a bank and we really didn't need the money that much, the first time we hear a noise, we will split. If we very hung up to get this money, we hear a noise, I will send you to check the noise out. We won't run. Now. The rat, when he becomes very hungry, the noise do not bother him. Now, let's go back. A rat has a governor in his head which decides the amount of litters according to the amount of food. Now, when the garbage collectors go on strike, the rat for the first time eats more. Now, that governor opens up, and what was normal in America for 9 to 12 rats per litter, when the garbage collectors stop picking up the garbage, that governor opens up and the litters are 20 to 30. Now, by the time those litters are due, the garbage collectors is back picking up the garbage. So for the first time, you have more rats than a supply of food. Now, the rat will move out of the poor ghettos into the wealthier areas where you have good garbage collecting, you have garbage disposals, you have all the facilities where the rat can't eat. But you have pets. You have birds. You have dogs, you have cats. Now the rat will bite the dog. The difference is, if you come home from studio today and your dog is bleeding, you can't assume that a rat bit him. So now you hugging and petting the dog. That's where the blue bonnet [sic: bubonic] plague comes from. Now, everybody laughed in New York when a little thing happened after the garbage collectors went back to work. It made headlines all over the world, and a few people that knew got scared to death, got they passport and left. When the rats moved up to Fifth Avenue, everybody thought that was cute. Everybody smuggled [sic] and made headlines and Chicago papers and everybody laughed. The poor folks said, "Yeah, baby! Get 'em!" Now, dig the parallel, baby. Where are we going?
Studs Terkel Of course. So we come again to Dick Gregory and drawing upon histories. At the very beginning of this program, this hour that has gone so quickly and yet is so rich, at the very beginning you spoke of the Indian, the non-violent Indian. And only at that moment when he or the Black says "Look at me. Look at me!" The man who ignores him does only when his property is affected. And you're talking about Rome, and you're talking about rats, now the rat that is part of the black ghetto, you say is said in everything you said, becomes also part of the posh suburb just as killing a child in Vietnam would eventually result in killing and devouring your own child here.
Dick Gregory Right.
Studs Terkel So it comes -- so we can't evade -- you're really saying we can't evade our humanity or inhumanity, our best protection then is our sanity and our humanity.
Dick Gregory Definitely.
Studs Terkel You know, this is Dick Gregory. It hasn't been too much laughter on this show, there has been a great deal of smile, I suppose, of recognition, or the shock of recognition as he's talking, and we haven't played the thing I wanted to play, we'll do that on a forthcoming program, Dick and a box and police at the door, and it's quite hilarious, of course, because the truth of it is there. It's Dick Gregory On:," that's Poppy Records, the other albums are "Light Side: The Dark Side." I'm giving all these statistics. At Mr. Kelly's until May 24th. Any postscript, anything you feel like saying before we sort of sign off gradually? Very reluctantly.
Dick Gregory No, I would just say that I would hope that we would realize for the first time today at any time a father has two kids, there comes a time that he can survive being wrong without listening to his kids. But any time that father takes a Boy Scout troop out and there are 500 kids, at that point, he must bury all of his hangups and listen to those kids, or they will destroy him. Today, America, who's the mother and the father of her youth, is outnumbered for the first time, and she better listen.
Studs Terkel Dick Gregory. Thank you very much.
Dick Gregory Pleasure.