February 18th, 2009
02:35 PM ET
3 years ago

Attorney General calls America 'a nation of cowards' on race

Holder said Americans need to confront the country's painful legacy on race.
Holder said Americans need to confront the country's painful legacy on race.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Eric Holder, the country’s first African-American attorney general, called the United States “a nation of cowards” Wednesday for failing to candidly talk about matters of race.

In a speech to Justice Department employees commemorating Black History Month, Holder said average Americans remain uncomfortable with race-related issues and need to do more to confront them head on.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we, I believe continue to be in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said.

He said Americans often “retreat to our race-protected cocoons,” a tendency that inhibits fruitful discussion that might lead to racial progress.

“This nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate in a truly meaningful way the diverse future it is fated to have,” he said. “To our detriment this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race.”

Holder said Black History Month itself “is given a separate and unequal treatment by our society" and suggested that February should offer a chance not just for commemoration, but also for frank dialogue between races.


Filed under: Eric Holder
soundoff (140 Responses)
  1. Mike Sheppard

    Freshly appointed, and already running off at the mouth.

    February 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. Sandra Donnelly

    Mr. Holder,

    Hooray for your strong comments on American's who cannot find it in their hearts and minds to just look at "people" as members of the world we all inhabit......equal in all ways. I am a 68 year old white widow who has often been chastised in my life for NOT seeing and treating other humans as lesser in some way. I hope I do not close my life without seeing a much better world view on race, not only in America but around the world. Thank you again for your plain talk!

    February 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  3. China-man

    Race is a dead issue. We have a black president, the most powerful man in the world. What else do you need? You owe me because my kin 250+ years ago was a slave. Bull.

    February 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  4. dan

    Black History Month is given an separate and unequal treatment by our society? Tell me when is Asian History month? When is Hispanic history month? When is Native American history month? You are right it is separate and unequal, the others arent promoted like Black History month is if they even exist. The unequal part is that Black History month is made a big deal compared to any other that may exist. Quit whining, yes horrible atrocities were done to black people systematically in this country for far too long and yes there are still morons among us that long for those days but you will never be able to make everyone "see the light". Quit playing the victim card and accept that there are people of all races that dont like people of a different race. Its not a one way street.

    February 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  5. Scott, Tucson

    'Holder said Black History Month itself “is given a separate and unequal treatment by our society" and suggested that February should offer a chance not just for commemoration, but also for frank dialogue between races.'

    GIVE ME A BREAK PLEASE! you have Black History month and B.E.T, I certainly don't see a White History month listed on any calendars nor W.E.T in my TV guide, and there's no Miss White America beauty contest or the White College Fund. If we were to implement these things than you and the likes of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton will be crying racism! So don't start laying some meek lame B.S. excuse why we should be so accommodating when you're not. And unless you or your father just came over on a boat from Africa, the only Black politician that can truly call himself an African-American is Obama.

    February 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  6. layo24

    @ Alfred:
    If you think that race is no longer an issue, I'm sorry to tell you to wake up.
    I won't let it define me but pushing it under the rug is not an option when I still get judged by the color of my skin and by the stereotypes people won't let go off.

    February 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  7. Judy

    I agree with Mr. Holder. I am not comfortable talking about racial issues. I like to think of myself as someone who looks beyond race and judges people on the content of their character, but I also grew up in the south and was raised by parents who were somewhat racist. It's a hard thing to completely overcome.

    February 18, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. brian

    As a white male born in this country about 51 years ago,I have seen a lot of progress in this area,at least that is what I have read and heard,unfortunatly there are those who do live in the past, that being said,everytime I hear of a matter of a racial nature its always on the side of the blacks or the hispanics,I am not prejudiced,but I do wonder why there is no White history month or a fund set up for only white college people call it the naawp,or lets have a chamber of commerce just for non blacks,that would go over big,most minorities have achieved what is fair for all,lets keep looking in that direction instead of dwelling in the past and rehashing old topics,we really need to move forward and forget the past,these stories of relatives gone by being slaves are just that...gone by..lets move forward people

    February 18, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  9. Jay

    Unfortunately Mr. Holder there are those stereotypes out there that ruin it for everybody else and they come in all colors and races.

    February 18, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. E

    he is absolutely right, and I am thrilled to hear it said out loud. I am sick and tired of white men telling people of color and women that they are imagining race and sex issues. Get over your entitlement and actually LISTEN to what people say (and yes brown people and women are PEOPLE whether you like it or not)!!

    February 18, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  11. Darren T

    Another racist remark by an Obama official.

    February 18, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  12. Chuck

    As a white 50 year old male, he is absolutely right. All you had to do was listen and watch the people waiting to see McCain and Palin. It's all on Youtube. The racial slander and disgusting behavior exhibited by these people was a disgrace, and made me embarrassed to think that this was still the consensus of White America. However, it goes both ways. I heard just as many racial slurrs from people of color regarding McCain and Palin. Not to mention how easily all races tend to bash gays. America has a lot of growing up to do. I hope the newly elected president was a start.

    February 18, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  13. NY republican

    And this to one of the first non-African countries to elect an African-American as President.

    February 18, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  14. tjp, valley forge, PA

    I thought the election fo B.O. resolved all that?? Maybe he can sign the Reparations Bill next so the government will have another excuse tfor another round of handouts.

    February 18, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  15. Shucks

    As a white 50 year old male, he is absolutely right. All you had to do was listen and watch the people waiting to see McCain and Palin. It's all on Youtube. The racial slander and disgusting behavior exhibited by these people was a disgrace, and made me embarrassed to think that this was still the consensus of White America. However, it goes both ways. I heard just as many racial slurrs from people of color regarding McCain and Palin. Not to mention how easily all races tend to bash gays. America has a lot of growing up to do. I hope the newly elected president was a start.

    February 18, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  16. political girl

    Harsh language, but true.

    February 18, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  17. Obama Victim

    a lot of barve men and women fought and gave their lives so this clown can run off at the mouth.............cowards?? sell crazy somewhere else

    February 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  18. Mike H.

    He's right that we are cowards to the extent that white folks are afraid to make critcal remarks about blacks even when they are justified. We are cowed by political correctness and no longer willing to speak the truth even while we watch black crime destroy our inner cities and our schools and make our neighborhoods unsafe.

    February 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  19. GW BUSH 2001 1.35 trillion dollars TAX CUT for the RICH

    Technically, Eric Holder is right....americans dont like talking about race issues because they are cowards.

    talking about race in the cocoon of your closet is NOT talking about race issues or having a friend or sister or brother in-law who is white, black or hispanic!

    we need to confront race issues head-on, not in the month of February but all year long!!!!

    we need to unite, and NOT divide America by race!!!!!!!!!

    February 18, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. Kpawlak

    Using the race card and labeling people racist if the story is too close to the truth is why people won't engage in talks about race. During the campaign it was not uncommon to be labeled a racist if you did not agree or vote for Obama though over 90% of blacks voted for him. If over 90% of whites voted for McCain, you bet that would be a racial issue. What a crazy world we live in. Holder is a hypocrite.

    February 18, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  21. Pee Wee

    If folks like him wouldn't constantly bring it front and center, we'd be much further along than we are now. Why not get rid of Black History month? Or, at least give every other hyphenated group a month of their own.

    A white person can't criticize a black person without being called a racist, regardless if the criticism is strictly based on one's actions. That's the problem.

    February 18, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  22. jj

    Is there a white history month, or a Mexican history month or a Japanese History month? Who's being racial, expecting better than the rest of society. There are black only colleges but if there was a white only or a mexican only college we would be called racist. People in America need to be AMERICAN period. NOT AFRICAN AMERICAN, MEXICAN AMERICAN, JAPANESE AMERICAN. Whites have gotten past that, we are just Americans, don't expect special treatment and are tired of being blamed for something that happened generations ago. We aren't Polish American or Russian American or swedish american, we're just plain AMERICAN. IF ALL THE ETHNICS WOULD JUST GET BEYOND THEIR OWN SKIN COLOR THEN MAYBE EVERYONE ELSE WOULD. President Obama's father wasn't from Africa, so why is he called African American, because you've looked at his skin color. Look past it.

    February 18, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  23. NY republican

    As a white male who marched with Dr. King I would appreciate an apology, those police dog teeth were quite sharp and their handlers carried some PRETTY big clubs!!!! Fire hoses can rip skin, too. Maybe Mr. Holder should have been there to witness our "cowardice".

    February 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  24. gw

    As an African American, I agree there are very serious areas of racist practices in companies, institutions, schools, government and people through out the US. More then some people want to acknowledge. However, to slam the entire nation at this time in history is not right.

    If the entire Nation was like this we would not have a Black President today. There's nothing worst than getting blamed for what someone else has done wrong. Your're only apart of rasism if you turn you head and allow it to continue. A lesson WWII should have taught all of us or the United States the big (US)!

    February 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  25. Sophia Beck

    Good for him-The White Elephant has been noticed. Even during the campaign the hegemonic racial attitude was very much in the for front.
    Race matters every single day-I am Mexican but can pass as white. It is very interesting what kind of comments I hear they are cruel and not very spiritual. I love telling them I am Mexican-they just freak out. My father was very very dark and he was treated terrible for a good long period of time. He was in the Army in WWII and he was still not allowed into specific diners. Why? Because of his race and color of skin. American has such an emphasis on race-other countries do not exceed in this race issue as we do.

    February 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
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