“The Indians called them “Buffalo Soldiers” because they had woolly hair like buffalos. The blacks and the Indians were just like two chickens in a cockfight. What they should have done was team up and peck their real enemy to death instead of one another.”
Now, Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae artist—he was a brilliant musician and songwriter. Brilliant. The minute he opened his mouth and started singing, you’d know it was him, and people all over the world knew him and loved him. Still do. But let me tell you why I first said no to working with him.
One day, I got a message from Bob Marley’s office. They wanted to give me forty thousand dollars to be his opening act at Harvard Yard. I told the guy, “Tell him I don’t want to work with him.” Now, what happened next was kind of interesting, and it showed me the beauty of Bob Marley’s humanity. He got on a plane and flew to Massachusetts, where I was living at the time, then called me and came by my house. He said, “Man, I just feel so bad. With all the admiration we have for you—I feel so bad that you refuse to work with me.” He said it with no viciousness. None at all.
I said, “Well, it’s simple. It’s because of the fact that you write a song that becomes the number one best-selling hit, ‘Buffalo Soldier,’ and you didn’t know those black Buffalo soldiers were sent west by the Pentagon to kill the buffalo to starve the Indians to death?” He said, “I didn’t know that.”
After that, I agreed to open up for his concert and we remained close until he died.
Buffalo soldiers were black soldiers the U.S. government organized in the nineteenth century, right after slavery ended. You know the people they fought against half the time? American Indians. Now, think about that. Europeans and white Americans enslaved blacks. Slavery started in America over one hundred fifty years before America was a country. And after America became independent, slavery went on for eighty-nine more years. So, all together, slavery in America lasted almost two hundred fifty years. Then, when it was finally over, what’s the first thing the government does with those free blacks? Organizes them so they can fight against the other group the government had been abusing and slaughtering since the beginning: Indians. How do you like that? And the black soldiers went ahead and did it. The Indians called them “Buffalo Soldiers” because they had woolly hair like buffalos. The blacks and the Indians were just like two chickens in a cockfight. What they should have done was team up and peck their real enemy to death instead of one another.
But it wasn’t the black soldiers’ fault. Not really.
Because, look here: black folks are always being compared to Jews. “How come black folks can’t get themselves together like Jews?” I’ll tell you why. When your baby is six years old, does he act like you act when you’re thirty-seven? No. You see how simple it is? So, we’ve had our so-called freedom for 150 years, and we’re going to compare ourselves to people who have been liberated for 9,000 years. I say go back to the first 350 years after Jews were liberated. They acted the same way we do now, because the slave mentality was still in their heads. It’s the same with us now. That slave mentality is still in our heads. That’s why the white man frees us from slavery and then tells us to go kill some Indians, and we almost kill ourselves trying to do it.
Because we don’t value ourselves. Look here: black folks are the only people on the planet who call our women “strong” but our cars “beautiful.” Something’s wrong with that. A white man tells me that if my woman doesn’t look like his, she can’t be beautiful. And I believe it. I may see something in her, but I don’t call it “beautiful.” I call it “strong.” We don’t value ourselves. And it’s because we’ve still got that slave crap in our heads.
Now, fast-forward. All these cops out here shoot blacks in the head, but they don’t mess with black folks’ cars. You ever had a black man come up and tell you, “A white racist cop took out a night stick and started smashing my car?” No? Why? Because black folks tell cops what they can hurt and kill and what they’d better not touch, because of what we value. If a cop hears you call your car “beautiful” and your woman “strong,” whom is he going to hurt and what’s he going to leave alone?
That’s what’s going on. But you all walk around in the middle of this mess every day and still don’t see it. I didn’t always see it, either. I spent millions of dollars doing all kinds of research. That’s why they can’t stop me from saying anything I say, because they know they’ll be in trouble if they do. And as far as the white man killing me, they’ve tried that; it doesn’t work. I say, “You guys, come on.” I’m in the phone book. Never had a bodyguard.
See, there’s a universal God that says to black people, “Death is better! I made you, but you let these crackers send you to war and you think you have to go instead of thinking, ‘Death is better’?”
Now, think about the hundreds of thousands of blacks they tried to enslave who jumped ship. They don’t tell you about that. Jumped ship, man. “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave”—yeah. Black people today say that, and then go right back to work for white folks. And not just work for them—go out and kill for them. Buffalo soldiers fighting Indians, black soldiers going over to kill yellow people in Vietnam, brown people in Afghanistan and Iraq—and why?
It’s because we don’t know to value ourselves. We know how to make potato salad and do all kinds of other BS. We know how to dance. But we don’t know there’s something inside us.
Look here: In the civil rights movement, we took on the mightiest military force that ever existed in the history of the planet, the U.S. government. Martin Luther King Jr.—I was with him. Nobody ever heard him say anything trifling about white folks. He was just as meek and humble—and brought them to their knees, man. But we don’t talk about that.
Because we don’t value ourselves. We don’t know what we can do, even though we’ve already seen it.
~ The Honorable Dick Gregory