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Kathleen Cleaver on Human Rights

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From the Du Bois Institute 'Conversation on Race' 1997

My question is, how do you have a conversation about race that does not succumb to the dictates of the subtext of white supremacy? Especially now when we have Republican goon squads out there fighting like hell to restore not only the symbols but the substance of white supremacy complete with chain gangs, racist murders, church burnings and destruction of every legal barrier erected to prevent racial discrimination?

As W.E.B. Du Bois has noted and many other black scholars and a very minuscule number of white scholars, white supremacy certainly has hindered people of color but it has harmed whites even more and what it did to the white workers was convince them not that they should want brotherhood and community, but they who have power over others and hate blacks. And actually the word he used was "hate niggers."

Lillian Smith, a famous southern writer, coming out in a book that led to the end of her career in publishing, that the white man's burden was essentially his childhood and it is the level of hypocrisy that that childhood contained in learning how to treat blacks as pets and believe that they were still Democrats and Christians.

The famous autobiography slave narrative of Harriet Jacobs, she points out why was it that the slave masters could talk so eloquently about the blight of their cotton crops and not see what the evil system was doing and the blight it put on the children's soul? So how can those of us like me who are impatient with repetitive conversations about the same old same old, put our energy towards eliminating these foundations of white superiority and elevate human rights as the program of political action and introduce social, economic and political justice into lives of ordinary Americans who do not enjoy the privilege of whiteness and how could we as people on the verge of the new millennium discuss these things such as whiteness and then they can point the finger at others who are a race.

I, for one, would like to pass conversation into action into throw right wing would have you believe was the worst thing that ever happened to America. In any case, we are going to have a conversation about this profoundly human problem I think we have to get clear about what is at the root of the problem first.

Kathleen Cleaver

The Black Panther Party

San Francisco ~ May 1969

Altman Photo

Life's Work

To many, Kathleen Cleaver is best known for marriage to Black Panther leader and Soul on Ice author Eldridge Cleaver. Since the couple's divorce in 1987, however, she has staked out a reputation all her own as a law professor and expert in African-American history. By transforming herself from expatriate revolutionary to respected scholar, Cleaver has brought her unique perspective on critical issues of race, gender and class to a wider audience than was previously possible, while maintaining her commitment to social and economic justice.

Kathleen Neal was born on May 13, 1945 in Dallas, Texas, the oldest child of Ernest and Juette (Johnson) Neal. Unlike many of her future fellow revolutionaries, she did not grow up in poverty. Her father was a professor of sociology at Wiley College, and her mother held an advanced degree in mathematics. Soon after Cleaver was born, her father accepted a job at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he served as director of the Rural Life Council, teaching sociology and planning community development projects. Cleaver was raised in a somewhat-sheltered, segregated, middle-class black community. After six years at Tuskegee, Ernest Neal joined the Foreign Service, and the Neal family spent the next several years in such exotic locations as India, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Philippines. Cleaver would be forever changed by her childhood experiences abroad in countries populated mainly by people of color.

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