It’s 3 am and I can’t sleep though I usually am dead to the world by 9:30. I keep thinking about Dick Gregory, who gave us so much and lit up even more. I have a theory that public people pass over just when the world most needs to receive the message of their lives. So when figures I deeply admire die, I try to hear what’s being said.
In Mr. Gregory’s case, he had jokes but was not pop culture; he was culture, pure and sharp. Sharp-dressed and sharp-toothed with kind, sad eyes that scarcely blinked when it came to taking it all in. “I’m not a comic; I’m a humorist,” he said, and showed us the difference. With his kindly, kindling wit, he never sang for his supper but cracked on love and hypocrisy, diet and addiction, and, always always, race. He talked about our blood legacy, the generations of backs that refused to break, the greed and loutishness that was as American as apple pie. He was a bridge who assessed the toll already taken.
And today he passes, just when we are grappling with everything that lives right below the surface of these never-united states. The reality that every person living on U.S. soil, regardless of their race, religion, or where their ancestors lived 150 years ago, is impacted by slavery – its unmerited entitlements for whites; its dehumanizing exploitation and abuse of people of color. He used to say that the only good thing about the good old days was that they were gone. But he also showed us past was always present in this country, haunting us like a ghost (in a white sheet, no less).
So here we are, with Nazis marching in public squares and a white supremacist treating the White House like it’s his personal toilet. It’s eclipse season, and everything unhealed is bursting forth like the roaches who emerge while we sleep. With Dick Gregory’s death, we are being reminded to resist with grace and style, love and truth. Don’t look away, he’s saying. Make your life mean something. Own up. WAKE UP. Above all, don’t fucking blink.