“Just being a Negro doesn’t qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine.” —Dick Gregory
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting either of my paternal grandfathers. My father’s dad was named Bobbie Lee Thomas Sr. a.k.a Hook (mad country I know LOL!) and though I’ve never met him, I imagine him to be a lot like my pop, and me for that matters. Black and full of pride, he had a big bright grin, an earth shattering laugh and big eyes with a bigger vision for life. I have always been amazed by stories about Hook’s life and marveled at all that he did at such a young age.
My mom on the other hand, well, her dad was named Smokey. He wasn’t her biological dad, but from her tales of him, he loved her a million times more then her father probably ever could. I’ve heard stories of Smokey my whole life, though he is a mystery to me. At the same time, he feels familiar because of the look on my mom’s face when she speaks of him and how he raised her. It almost makes me feel as if I got to know and love him through her.
So, some time ago, in my head and heart at least, and mainly because I’m just boss like that, I decided a while back that the venerable Dick Gregory would be my unofficial grandad (like I said, this is all in my mind y’all so don’t judge me) and officially, as Khalilah would say, he’s my Baba.
Baba: The word Baba in Yorùbá context is much beyond the English word “Father.” Baba in Yorùbá includes a biological father, a non-biological father but an age mate or peer group to one’s father, an authority figure in a setting regardless of the actual age of the concerned individual (as in a young Oba/king), the leader of a group, society or organization and the custodians and pillars of uncommon knowledge about religion, science or any particular thing.
Now I know some of y’all out there looking at me like, “ Vito, you just out here looking for father figures and ishh.” To which I’d reply “Hell nah dawg.”
But Dick Gregory, in my opinion at least, is the archetype for the Black grandad or elder. Think the grandad from Boondocks:
What I am saying is that if cool, calm, confidence made a baby with beautiful Blackness, and at the same time, if comedic satire and Black consciousness were to make a baby and if somehow these two beautiful progressive, vegan, vulgar BLACK babies found each other and made a baby; well, then that baby would be Richard Claxton Gregory, A.K.A Dick Gregory B.K.A., my dope ass Baba.
Comedian. Activist. Social Critic. Writer. Entrepreneur. Purveyor of Wypipo and their Bullshit (or what y’alls call a conspiracy theorist).
Richard Claxton Gregory was an ICON.
The epitome of Black entertainment excellence is none other than the late great Dick Gregory, who was born on this date in 1932.
Before I go any further, this all deserves some context. Dick Gregory was not merely a standup comic; he did way more than tell jokes about the realities of Black people living in White supremacy. He was the first Black comedian invited to perform at a White comedy club, a role he secured after impressing Hugh Hefner at one of his performances. Hefner then offered him a gig working as a regular comedian in the all White Playboy Club in Chicago.
To break the color barrier for entertainment is dope, but doing so while maintaining one’s own integrity and love of self is something else. In his own words, he was the “first black comedian to be able to stand flat-footed, and just deliver comedy.” In Black Comedians on Black Comedy by Darryl Littleton it states:
“You had other comedians back then but they always had to do a little song or a dance or whatever, Sammy Davis had to dance and sing, and then tell jokes. Same with Pearl Bailey and some of the other comedians. But Dick Gregory was able to grow on television, sit down on the Jack Paar show — and sit on the couch and actually have a discussion, and that had never happened in the history of television.”
I’m sure when this OG, Double O-G, triple O-G’s name is brought up in casual conversations about Blackness, the first thing that comes to mind is his COMEDIC GENIUS and while you’re partially correct, I would challenge you to expand that definition to encompass BLACK INTELLECTUAL. I grew up understanding that my Baba was funny as f**k, but I was always too damn young, to understand the cultural underpinnings of Blackness juxtaposed against White supremacy, in such a satirical and straightforward way.
All I knew for sure was that he was funny as hell and he cursed a lot.
My aunt Niecey (she wasn’t my real aunt, but Black people always got unofficial aunties and uncles and such) was in love with Dick Gregory and always described him as a Black, cuter, conscious version of George Carlin.
Yea aunty, I can see the resemblance. LOL!
Whenever I heard Wypipo speak on his comedy, it was always referred to as “negro humor,” a tag that I assumed meant that he only made jokes for the mythical people of NEGROLAND. What I did know was that he said curse words and other profanities that hadn’t made it to my lexicon of words and so I was HYPEEEEEDDDDDD. It was definitely LIT. LOL!
While the amalgamation of curse words was amazing, I realized that I needed to dig deeper into the life of my Baba.
So what did I do?
What all smart people do when they want to learn and internalize things on a deeper level.
Take an Africana studies course at a liberal college campus?
I just consulted the Google (Khalilah voice) and from there it connected me to the Poor Man’s University: YouTube.
One quick search of “Dick Gregory and funny sh*t” brought me instantly to his hilarious standup comedy act, Black Power, Brown Strength.
No White Liberalism in the movement, 1969
Now being the Black is beautiful, I eat my fried chicken in front of Wypipo with my watermelon drank on the side type of Blackity Black dude that I am, I was like “ZAMNNNNNNNN BABA. You go hard.” My OG is up on stage in front of a packed house, getting paid to make jokes telling Wypipo about how they be White-peopling and ish. Jokes about how Wypipo oppress Blacks. Jokes about what Black people think of Wypipo. Just jokes for days. HE HAD A Revolutionary N****S DREAM JOB.
Dick Gregory was the first Black entertainer I saw who was as intelligent as he was unapologetically Black, and that White people couldn’t check in all of his Black GLORY. He wasn’t a shuckin and jivin type of Black man like so many from his era.
In fact, I believe audiences, both Black and White alike, realized from his very first television appearance as a part of the documentary, Walk In My Shoes (1961) that Dick Gregory was a special talent and a leading mind on Black consciousness.
(Play from 15:15-19:05)
He was truly in a class all his own. Don’t believe me?
DICK GREGORY FOR PRESIDENT
Entertainers running for president ain’t nuttin new y’all; well that’s unless you’re the White supremacist p***y grabbin’ ragging twitter antagonist type of entertainer.
Remember that time Dick Gregory ran for president?
DICK GREGORY’S BAHAMIAN DIET
As of late, it seems like Black folks have realized that we eat a lot of bullshit. While the rest of us are just being put onto game. Guess who had already been in the know?
DICK GREGORY’S HUNGER STRIKE
My baba was an activist to the core, and was very outspoken in situations regarding human rights and particularly the Vietnam War. He was so devoted to these and other issues involving human suffering that on multiple occasions he participated in fasts and hunger strikes to show his commitment.
I often sit and have the conversation with myself in regards to our contemporary Black Elite, and the way in which they use their platform as a way to call out White supremacy and the oppression of Black people. I’m sure a lot of you have these same conversations.
In these conversations, you hear things like, “Ali went to jail and boycotted the war for his beliefs. What would Lebron James do?” Or “Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte used their acting as a way to speak to the issues affecting Black people in America. What is Chadwick Boseman doing? Dick Gregory used his humor for a purpose and not just profit, But what is Kevin Hart doing?”
I pray that I am blessed enough to develop even half of the character that my Baba embodied.
His willingness to be unapologetically Black in face of the greatest adversity.
I pray to be half as funny as him and twice as compassionate.
I pray that I can be as committed to the purpose and cause that is greater than even myself. I pray every day to be as Black, beautiful, and brilliant as Baba Gregory was down to his very last minute of life.
I pray to be as strong in the face of White supremacy, White oppression, and White hate.
On August 19th, this amazingly beautiful soul left us to take his rightful place as our spiritual elder. Thinking about his life and all that he experienced, all that he sacrificed and all he endured, I prayed to have Baba Gregory’s soul and to be guided by him.
“I chose to be an agitator. And there’s one interesting thing about being an agitator – and I tell people – the next time you put your underwear in the washing machine, take the agitator out, and all you’re going to end up with is some dirty, wet drawers.” —Baba Dick Gregory
I choose to be a disruptor. An agitator. A lover of a Blackness and Black people. I choose to be a proud Black antiracist in the fight against White supremacy and the oppression of Black and Brown people.
What do you choose?