March 7th, 2009
07:02 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama discusses Holder's 'cowards' remark

Attorney General Eric Holder came under fire recently for calling America a 'nation of cowards.'

Attorney General Eric Holder came under fire recently for calling America a 'nation of cowards.'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama, in an interview published Saturday, sought to clarify Attorney General Eric Holder's recent controversial comments calling America a 'nation of cowards' when it comes to race relations.

"I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Obama told the New York Times aboard Air Force One on Friday. "I think the point that he was making is that we’re oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there’s some sort of racial flare-up or conflict, and that we could probably be more constructive in facing up to the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination."

In a speech marking Black History Month on February 18, Holder said that while the nation has "proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot ... we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

Read more on Holder's comments

Holder, an African American, said that Americans are afraid to talk about race, adding that "certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

And that impression of race in America set off an immediate firestorm of criticism - mostly among conservative bloggers such as Michelle Malkin.

But Obama said Friday that the nation has made "enormous progress and we shouldn't lose sight of that."

"And I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions,” the president said. “I think what solves racial tensions is fixing the economy, putting people to work, making sure that people have health care, ensuring that every kid is learning out here. I think if we do that, then we’ll probably have more fruitful conversations."


Filed under: Eric Holder • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (258 Responses)
  1. Emilio

    Who gives a toss what the idiotic deniers think! Anyone who cares about race relations know fully well what Holder meant. Yes, face up to the truth and move on. As for the likes of Michelle Malkins, these are people with a blank space where their soul has gone awol.

    March 7, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  2. Little too late????

    Hey CNN...why don't you ask HOLDER clarify his remarks vs. his boss!!?!?!? I can speculate ALL day what he meant, but that doesn't clarify it...and neither can BO!

    March 7, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  3. bk

    While I didn't like some of Holder's comments, i.e. referring to cowards, I think Obama's "solutions" are inadequate. Racism is the negative extreme of the social need we all have to feel accepted and be part of a group. Unfortunately that need can create a mindset that says that if a person is different from me then he/she can't be trusted and are even inferior. We need to acknowledge that all people have these tendencies (not just one race) and then become proactive in learning about the positive aspects of other races or cultures. This is much more than a black – white issue, but we must also learn from the injustices that have been done to minorities especially the atrocities against blacks.

    March 7, 2009 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  4. I think black history month should be changed to we all suffer month

    why single out one race for history, we have all had a tough history

    March 7, 2009 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  5. jeff

    When it comes to race relations, and the conversation on race relations it is a one sided conversation.
    African Americans have one side.
    Whites have another side.
    African Americans can say how bad they have been treated, and can stereotype whites, as racists, but if whites stereoptype african americans as lazy, uneducated and criminals they will be vilified in public.
    There are millions of well educated whites and well educated African Americans but there are many more African Americans in jail than whites percentage wise. Not due to the injustice of the system but because they are more likley to become involved in gangs and drugs.

    March 7, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  6. republicans hate america

    Nope America is not afraid to talk about race there are plenty out there that show how much they hate black people just fine

    March 7, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  7. Bubba Brown

    Glad Obama immediately commented on the statement....shows how strongly he feels (3 weeks later)

    March 7, 2009 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  8. 'Professor' MoFo

    Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, has more of a right to be here on this wonderful world than anyone else! We are ALL God's children, no matter what color we may be. Love instead of hate or we're all doomed!

    March 7, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  9. Andy

    Why the explanation and why now? To bad if you say anything race related and you are republican you're considered a racist.

    March 7, 2009 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  10. ck

    Blacks seem to be the biggest racists of all.

    March 7, 2009 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  11. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    It makes me wonder why so many people went on the defensive. Thank you President Obama for breaking it down for everyone to clearly understand what Holder was saying. It was simple for me to understand and therefore it was not offensive.

    March 7, 2009 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. Independent_me

    It seems as if people in high government positions need to go back to school and learn some communication skills. Its not what you say, its how you say it!

    March 7, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  13. mc_trump

    You got the right to vote before wemon and were not slaves as long as the Irish or a many number of people who have moved on.

    March 7, 2009 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  14. Irishny

    I dont agree with a lot of what Obama says,but in this instance hes on the money.
    Laboring the race siiue,doesnt help anyone

    March 7, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  15. Tinker

    Will someone please enlighten me as to why bi-racial Negro/Caucasian "Americans" have to be singled out as "African-American"?
    How come we don't all name ourselves from whatever country/countries our forbears came from?

    Why is there such a distinction, and why are people that are half Negro and half Caucasian, automatically "black and "African American"? There are other countries in Africa where people are not of the Negroid race.

    Eric Holder has only his "own people" to blame for "cowardly behavior", if there is, from non- negro people. Heaven help anyone who might offend one of them! Even and including Bill Cosby who had the hutzpuh to tell is like it is.

    March 7, 2009 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  16. Reginald

    I believe the Attorney General and President Obama are correct. We don't discuss this issue. People are afraid of this subject for some reason. It's our history. Fixing the economy will resolve the race issue only if the wealth is evenly distributed and everyone is treated fairly. And if you do that, it will change the social-economical dynamics in this country.

    March 7, 2009 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  17. John G

    I'm not afraid to talk about race. I just happen to think there are more important things to discuss.

    The economy is in the toilet. We are still actively fighting two wars. The government is haphazardly spending trillions of dollars that it doesn't have.

    And we worry about things like color....

    March 7, 2009 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  18. Rick

    Its time for Mr Holder to step down for his remarks, Its time for Obama to step up to the plate and ask for his resignation, today

    March 7, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  19. Lilly Rose

    AG Holder is only partially right. Since Barack Obama's run for and election to the presidency, America has been much more open about race. It was wonderful to see as many white Americans listen to him and vote for him as African Americans did. This would not have happened decades ago for various reasons. It was amusing to see the Republican party behave in a business as usual manner in regards to race, ignoring the changing landscape and getting the shock of their lives when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton emerged as viable candidates. I agree with AG Holder in that America is afraid to talk about race, but really, it has gotten much easier.

    March 7, 2009 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  20. Joe Unger, San Francisco

    Based on what Holder said, doesn't Obama's comment show him to be a coward?
    No Drama Obama strikes again.

    March 7, 2009 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  21. New Mexicana

    On several levels I think Mr. Holder got it right. We would love to avoid uncomfortable conversations and situations. What would be enormously helpful is more comprehensive education about what happened to African Americans through all 400+ years of their presense in North America.

    Most Anglos (I'm one) are woefully ignorant of the many facets of injustice and sufferinig inflicted on African Americans, including lynching and "all-white" counties and towns not that long ago. If we cannot understand the depth of pain experienced by the ancestors or even current generations of our neighbors and co-workers we will never be comfortable discussing race issues. We will never be brave enough to talk about distressing topics.

    March 7, 2009 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  22. Ed Chilton

    Ok. Bold race talk. I'm tired of the paltry number of black women who marry Asian men. This cowardly behavior has got to stop.

    March 7, 2009 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  23. Rosemarie Heimer

    Being half Blackfoot Indian , I find myself feeling at a loss when I am suppose to feel sorry for any other nationality. My people were hunted down, raped and viciously murdered wiped out by genocide. What small numbers survived were then were herded up like animals and taken from their land and placed where there was no food to hunt, no water to drink. Our numbers, as well as all American Indians remains nill, yet we remain proud and do not play a race card EVER!!!

    March 7, 2009 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  24. Bruce

    It's just those kind of comments from kid minneapolis that racil tensions are so bad. I'm a Republican, proud of it, and I have bi-racial grandchildren that I love. So now tell me I'm racist. Race relations will NEVER get better until BOTH sides admit they are wrong.

    March 7, 2009 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  25. Amanda

    Reverse Raciscm......at it finest!

    March 7, 2009 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
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