Letter to the Editor: Activist used humor to focus on injustice


Comedian, civil rights and social activist, record-setting collegiate runner and diet guru Dick Gregory, who died Aug. 19, employed humor, non-violent protest, and long-term hunger strikes to awaken America to the realities of social injustice.

Gregory was sometimes described as a “subversive,” and he no doubt was one, in the most positive sense of the term. “Subvert” derives from a Latin word meaning “to turn from beneath,” which is literally what social activities propose to do: to enable to those members of society who are perceived to be on the lower rungs of the social ladder to “turn the world upside down.”

He showed that positive subversion may be accomplished by transforming the meaning of words. He titled his autobiography with the degrading, limiting, and demoralizing “n” word and dedicated it to his deceased mother, assuring her that could she ever hear the “n” word again, she would know that folks would only be talking about his book!

In this way, Gregory transforms a racist term into one denoting pride and accomplishment. Without repressing free speech or freedom of expression, he employs creative humor to neutralize the power of the word to offend. In this way, free speech and freedom of expression can be maintained in America. Both are currently in great jeopardy. R.I.P. Dick Gregory.

John Clem, Edinburg