At age 73, comedian, author and civil rights activist Dick Gregory is as feisty and passionate as ever about race issues in America. The St. Louis native continues to talk about racism in American and has thrown in his two cents?”or more like three bucks and some change given his wide knowledge of issues and events?”on a host of topics. Gregory was recently in Chicago, and spoke with the Austin Weekly News during a September visit. Having grown up fatherless and poor in a family that included six kids and his mother, Gregory went on to become one of the first socially relevant comics of the 1960s.

Unlike some comedians, who focused their humor on family and funny characters, and a few others who remained confined to the old black minstrel “shuckin’ and jivin'” routines, Gregory took a different route. His comedy focused on politics and segregation, using the tools of satire and observations rarely seen by black comics in those days.

Today, he still uses biting humor to help make his important points:

On racism and Hurricane Katrina:

“I think the number one problem facing America today is racism and sexism. It’s not talked about enough, and the biggest fault I put on black folk. When Katrina hit New Orleans, I can understand white folk not believing black leadership. … Why would white folks who don’t like Jesse [Jackson]?”or any of us who’s telling the truth?”assume that [the response] was race and wasn’t economics? … Then you had Colin Powell come out and say, ‘It didn’t have nothing to do with race; it was economics.’ That was comfortable for them. They couldn’t say it was nothing, so they blamed it on economics. Well, is this the same Colin Powell who lied about the war? Colin Powell went to the [United Nations] and lied about weapons of mass destruction. He’s the first black man in the history of America that got these many white dudes killed and white folk ain’t complaining. They’re not complaining at all.

Can blacks be considered racist?

“I could never be a racist as a black man. I could dislike you because you’re Irish, Catholic, Polish or Jewish?”that’s prejudice. Racism means the ability to control somebody else’s fate or destiny. So because I don’t like white folk don’t mean that all their children are going to go to bad schools. But I can have a white-racist mentality.”

and the black church:

“The two strongest voices in the black church all my life?”and I was born in 1932?”were black women and black homosexuals. Then when white America decided that there was something wrong with them, the black church came out and was like, ‘Jesus Christ, what happened? … Where’d they come from?’ Even black homosexual preachers [came out against them]. Because when I was growing up, you didn’t know that much about them except the ones you could tell [were gay]. The ones we knew were schoolteachers, doctors?”they were successful. We kind of looked at homosexuals, and we didn’t know what they did, but we just looked at them as living good.”

On conservative Bill Bennett’s
comments about “aborting black
babies” to reduce the crime rate:

My answer to him is: If white-born boys [who grew up to be] gambling addicts were aborted, Bill Bennett wouldn’t be here. … But in all fairness to them, 99.9 percent of their audience is white. So if 99.9 percent of my audience is coffee drinkers, why am I going to try and sell them Kool-Aid? You cater to your audience.”

White attitudes toward racism:

“When you start to think about it, we have let white folk be so comfortable with racism, it’s almost like it don’t exist. I had a guy say to me one time, ‘Oh Dick, we just love our maid, I mean we just love her.’ So I said, OK, have you ever carried her to dinner? Have you ever carried her to church? Have you ever brought her by your house and let her sit in the dining room and eat with the family? [He never had]. That’s a strange kind of love.”

His memories of everyday racism:

“When I was a little boy, black men who were married to light-complexioned black women, if they saw a cop coming [while they were driving] they’d make the woman duck down because people might think she was a white woman. … If you were a black man, and you bought a hat from a store, put it on and said, ‘Well, I don’t want this, I changed my mind.’ There was no such thing as exchanging it?”not if you got it from a white store?”because no white storeowner was going to resell that hat to one of his white customers. So whatever you bought, you better make sure you’re going to use it. That’s just the way it was.