Richard Pryor Routines...or Why Pigs Are Pigs
Revolutionary Worker #928, October 19, 1997
The following is an excerpt from "Hill Street Bullshit, Richard Pryor Routines, and the Real Deal" by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP. The complete essay, written in 1983, is in the book, Reflections, Sketches & Provocations by Bob Avakian.
Recently I was reading reports of police assaults on Black people and of Black people fighting against the police in Memphis and Miami. This called to mind a story I was told a while back. A rookie cop was riding in his police car with his veteran partner when a report came in that there was a Black man in the vicinity with a gun. As their car screeched around the corner, a young Black man suddenly appeared sprinting up an alley--into a dead end. "Shoot him!", the older cop screamed, "Go on, shoot him-- it's free!"
"It's free!" Think about that for a second. "It's free!" In other words, here's a chance that gets a pig to sweating and salivating with anticipation--a chance to "kill a nigger" with the already provided cover that a Black man--a Black man, any Black man--was reported in the area with a gun. This is an opportunity too good to pass up: "Go on, shoot him--it's free!"
Well, in this case, the rookie was not ready for that--perhaps he was one of those rare ones who joins a police force actually believing the "serve and protect" bullshit--and that particular Black man did not die that day. But one of the most telling things about this whole incident is the fallout from it: The rookie cop had to resign. If he wasn't ready and willing--if he didn't have the proper attitude to do what his veteran partner was calling for, what came naturally to the seasoned "peace officer," what any pig in his place and in a pig's right mind would do--then there was no place for him on the force. It was he, the rookie who hadn't learned, and couldn't learn it seems, what it's all about--it was he who was the outcast and felt he had to resign.
Pigs are pigs. Of course, that's an image, a symbol--in the most literal sense they are human beings, but they are human beings with a murderer's mentality, sanctioned, disciplined, unleashed by the ruling class of society to keep the oppressed in line, through terror whenever necessary and as the "bottom line," as they like to say. Terror against the oppressed is even a special reward for "carrying out the dangerous and thankless duty" of being the "thin blue line" between "civilization on the one side and anarchy and lawlessness on the other." Think about it once again: Terror against the oppressed is not just part of the job, it's also a reward. That is one of the deeper meanings of the story at the start: "Go on, shoot him--it's free!"
Maybe some liberals (of the "left" or "right") will object that these stories I've recounted are after all only stories, and even if we allow that they themselves are true stories, still they are only a few cases--the famous "isolated incidents" perhaps. Well, anyone who still really thinks that, or says it, has got to answer one basic question about the following Richard Pryor routine:
"Cops put a hurtin' on your ass, man, you know. They really degrade you. White folks don't believe that shit, don't believe cops degrade;--`Ah, come on, those beatings, those people were resisting arrest. I'm tired of this harassment of police officers.' Cause the police live in your neighborhood, see, and you be knowin' 'em as Officer Timpson. `Hello Officer Timpson, going bowling tonight? Yes, uh, nice Pinto you have, ha, ha, ha.' Niggers* don't know 'em like that. See, white folks get a ticket, they pull over, `Hey, Officer, yes, glad to be of help, here you go.' A nigger got to be talkin' 'bout `I AM REACH-ING INTO MY POCK-ET FOR MY LICENSE--'cause I don't wanna be no motherfuckin' accident!'
"Police degrade you. I don't know, you know, it's often you wonder why a nigger don't go completely mad. No, you do. You get your shit together, you work all week, right, then you get dressed--maybe say a cat make $125 a week, get $80 if he lucky, right, and he go out, get clean, be drivin' with his old lady, goin' out to a club, and the police pull over, `Get outta the car, there was a robbery--nigger look just like you. Alright, put your hands up, take your pants down, spread your cheeks!' Now, what nigger feel like havin' fun after that? `No, let's just go home, baby.' You go home and beat your kids and shit--you gonna take that shit out on somebody." from That Nigger's* Crazy, 1974
The question is this: Why, at the crucial points of this routine, does Pryor's audience erupt in tense, knowing laughter, coupled with prolonged applause? Can it be for any other reason than the fact that Pryor has indeed captured and concentrated--with humor, higher than life, as art should be, but the stone truth, all too true, at the same time--a situation that is typical for the masses of Black people in the U.S.? Something which, if it has not happened directly to them (and the odds are pretty good that it has), is subject to happen to them tomorrow, or the next day, and has already happened to a relative or friend. To anyone who wants to defend the police, to say nothing of prettifying them, showing them as just ordinary human beings, etc., etc., ad nauseam; and even anyone who wants to raise pious doubts and petty amendments about calling them what they are, without reservation or apology; you can't get around this question: you have to confront it straight up. And don't tell me Pryor's audiences aren't a fair representation: The response will always be the same from any audience that includes a significant number of the masses of Black people, or other oppressed masses (as, in fact, is the case with the audience for Pryor's live performances).
A relevant fact here, drawn directly from "real life." I read in a recent RW, the report about the announcement by the Los Angeles District Attorney that--once again--no charges would be brought against the two pigs who beat and choked a 28- year-old Black man, Larry Morris, to death without any justification, even according to the authorities. The RW article went on to expose that "This is just the latest in more than 200 `investigations' of police murders [that is, murders of people by police] since the forming of the D.A.'s `Operation Rollout.' This program has so far endorsed the police's right to kill every time." And after everything else, we're still bound to hear from some quarters how this is just Los Angeles, where the police are known to be particularly brutal etc., etc. This really shouldn't have to be answered, but it does, so let me answer it by turning again to a Richard Pryor routine, this one from the same performance, in Washington, D.C. in 1978, as the one cited at the start of this article:
"Police in L.A., man, they got a chokehold they use on motherfuckers. Do they do it here, do they choke you to death? (Voices from the audience, many voices from the audience: `Yeah!') That's some weird shit. Cause I didn't know it was a death penalty to have a parking ticket."
But for the masses of Black people in this "great land of freedom and justice for all" it can be--and it has been for hundreds, at least, every year. Of course, this kind of freedom and justice is not reserved for Black people alone in the U.S., though they are special "beneficiaries" of it. It also lashes out and ensnares millions of the masses of other oppressed nationalities, immigrants (so-called "legal" as well as so-called "illegal") and in general those who are without wealth and therefore without power, including many white people, for whom Officer Timpson is hardly a friend, either.
In short, the armed force of the bourgeois state exists for the purpose of suppressing, by force and arms, the proletariat and all those who would step out of line and challenge this "great way of life" founded on robbery and murder, not only within the U.S. itself but throughout the world. And that, simply, is why pigs are pigs, and will always be pigs--until systems that need such pigs are abolished from the earth. A hard truth--but a liberating truth.
* This material is reproduced here as it was performed by Richard Pryor at the time, including the use of the word "nigger"; this is for the sake of accuracy and not out of any disrespect for his feeling, after a trip to Africa, that he should no longer use the word "nigger" because it is dehumanizing.