Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race

BOND: What you're describing is a life where race is very important --


BOND: -- from your youngest years. Now how has race consciousness affected you? What has it done to you?

GREGORY: It's made me. It's made me. I mean, the one thing that makes most black folks crazy is they try to -- you know, I resent going to a conference and race and racism is not on the program. I went to a world conference with Dr. Carlton Goodlett when he was alive on the San Francisco Sun.

BOND: My godfather.


BOND: Yeah.

GREGORY: Brilliant. Oh what a -- and he was in the peace movement before anybody even knew what a peace was.

BOND: That's right.

GREGORY: So I got to East Germany and I'm with Lil and we're looking at the program --

BOND: That's where we met, at his house in San Francisco.

GREGORY: Oh, my God.

BOND: You had on that suit with the vest with the sleeves?

GREGORY: That's right, yes.

BOND: But go ahead, I don't want to interrupt the story.

GREGORY: So I'm looking, and I don't see the race issue being discussed. So I walk up and get on the stage and everybody was there, all the top peace people from around the world, and they had guards there and -- so I walked up on the stage, they're talking in German, and I pushed them out of the way --walked to the mike and said, "I'm Dick Gregory. I'm with the American Peace Delegation. And I resent the fact that 99 percent of all the wars on this planet is over race and there's not one topic." And then I stepped back and I really felt bad, ‘cause it was the first international conference I'd been to where they have interpreters, so it's delayed. And then everybody just broke into screaming and yelling and clapping and hollering and then the guy walked up and said, "Well, we're glad that comrade Gregory saw this oversight and we just want you to know that now race is on the conference, and you're the chairman."

And so, what I'm saying to your question, one of the problems that we as black folks have, and white too, but black, is we try to function in a system without recognizing that this is the most racist, sexist system on the planet. And it has an effect on you, and if you don't react to that, there's something wrong.

In other words, if I'm at the University of Virginia and I'm in a hotel on campus and I hear that three trucks of circus animals escaped last night and they're on campus, when I walk out, I'm conscious that there's some gorillas and some tigers. Now I'm not scared, but I'd be stupid not to be conscious of it. And I'd be stupid not to call my wife and say, "You know, don't come and meet me. I'll meet you in D.C., don't bring the grandchildren. Now, to not, I'm disrespectful to her. I would be disrespectful if you was coming to meet me, not to tell you this.

So when black folks wake up and don't have a discussion everyday -- nothing negative or vicious or mean -- about racism, where is it now, how will it affect me today, how will I be ready -- and that's how you all made it, man. You all didn't wait ‘til you got hit by a white sheriff. You all had classes, man. And one day the world will find out what went into this movement where they put eggs in your head. Who would? Negroes, white folks that was part of the movement. They had a dummy lunch counter and they went through all of that. Most folks don't know that, I didn't. But you was prepared, you was called, the Bible said "putting on the armor." Well, to live in America, black and white, and don't put on the armor, you're a fool.

So everyday, everyday, a day don't pass that I don't factor in racism and sexism. It makes me better around a woman. When I'm sitting at a bar, how can I say to a friend of a friend of yours that own the bar, and she's waiting tables, and I say to her, "Hi tootsie." But if there's a gay that's waiting tables and say to me, "Hey sweetie." Huh? So it makes me conscious. It makes me a better person, factoring in. It also lets me know that just ‘cause this person's white, it don't mean they're racist. But it means one thing to me that if a woman say her purse was snatched when that cop walked in there, his beautiful white brother that's sitting there that would die for me, they going to come to me first before they come to him.