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. Crazy in NJ

    Another amateurish move by an amateurish administration.

    March 7, 2009 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  2. If you don't like it go back to Europe!

    It is hard to talk race with someone you don't know. That is why sports and the military work better with race. People are forced to get to know each other. I am sure most Klansmen are nice people to each other. If they took time to know Black folks I am sure they would like us also. But if not, they should go back to Europe!

    March 7, 2009 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  3. Frank

    Until this country addresses it's ugly past, face-up, there will always be a general mis-trust. And it's not about blaming the current generation or other before, just admit the horror and we can move on.

    March 7, 2009 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  4. WJS

    We're replacing the "painful legacy" of slavery and Jim Crow with new forms of discrimination and hatred. "Civil Rights" has become the billy club of people like Jackson, Sharpton and others who can attack anyone they want on the front page of the New York Times and never have to apologize. They can make horrific remarks against Jews, Hispanics, Whites or anyone else, and nobody holds them accountable. We have huge statistics of black-on-black crime, and it's blamed on whites. (?!) We're a nation of cowards because we've let the so-called "Civil Rights leaders" become bullies who tell everyone else what they are allowed to say, think, or do.

    March 7, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  5. william mcdonald

    I feel the man hit the nail on the head. One of the problems as I see it there is a fear you might offend someone and lose your job. There seems to be a double standard. When Jesse Jackson reportley said on a open mike he would like to cut off the presidents family jewels and used the N word there was no out cry. He did say he was sorry. On the other hand when a cartoon was posted about an ape and the stimulus package sorry wasn't enought. Some of the black leader wanted them fired. The race card is alive and as long as it is used there is little hope of serious conversation." You don't invite someone to dinner if you think they are eating your lunch"

    March 7, 2009 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  6. Stop Your Whining

    I love our President-I don't understand HOW biggots like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, among others, publicly wish he would fail. Thank GOD those idiots are not in the White house. It's people like THAT who the Attorney General is referring to. Could he have said it better? Sure. Is it true what he said? Absolutely! Actions speak for themselves. Case in point, all the racial comments made about our President. Even the NY Post took racial aim at Obama by [slyly] referring to him as a chimp, or monkey. There is no way they can sit there and claim that was a mistake. Being a journalist requires the knowledge of many marks in history; especially in politics. People like that figure they can get quite bold at these underhanded jokes and if the public gets upset, they can throw the election in our faces and claim racial harmony. While just two weeks ago, CNN did a story about the huge rise in hate groups. Nation of cowards? Things like that make me agree with Holder's comments even more.
    And as far as his comments offending people, I SURELY was not offended. He said "WE", not a certain [group] of people. Of course it didn't offend me because it does not pertain to me. A safe bet to make would be that the the comment offended only those to whom it pertained.
    Oh, and as far as idiots like Rush Limbaugh who wish our new President failure, that says a lot about him because people like himself, Palin and Jindal hate the President more than they care about our nation's citizens. Why would one wish failure on a President who's trying to create more jobs, fund stem cell research, educate our children, and most importanly, make sure EVERYONE has health care??? I'm still trying to figure out why these same 'people' didn't wish Bush failure when he spent 8 years running this nation into debt and helping the big companies get over...maybe I'M the one who's not thinking here. Who knows? What I do know is that I totally agree with Holder's comment. And for those who wish Obama failure, just know there are PLENTY of us who are gratefuk for him and support him all the way. It's a great feeling to finally have a President back in office that cares about the [little] people.

    March 7, 2009 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  7. Viola

    It is amazes me when non-blacks try to have a dialogue on the topic of race and how African-Americans are "too sensitive". That's rich coming from descendants of slave-owners speaking to descendants of slaves. That is almost as ridiculous as stating that a Jew is too sensitive about what happened during the holocaust.

    March 7, 2009 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  8. D

    I think many rational people know this to a true statement. However, he could have put it better. This statement applies to almost every country, many others more so than ours, including countries in Europe...I feel like when compared with the majority of countries we are about status quo. which doesn't mean that is ok, its just that coming from an administration that is supposed to be positive, I felt like this was an extremely negative way to approach the issue.

    March 7, 2009 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  9. connie

    I try to look at each person as an individual, regardless of race. This helps me alot.

    March 7, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  10. Andy

    Holder's "cowards remark " is blunt force trauma to the American psyche.

    March 7, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  11. Ralph

    FreeNLovIt wrote:

    Yes, slavery is painful and I dont know how you can ever pay someone back after 200 to 300 years of it, but forgiveness and love is all I can think of.
    ------------

    My ancestors fought and some died a hundred and fifty years ago to free the slaves. (Indiana Volunteer Infantry) I love my African-American friends, but I have no need to “pay back” anyone !

    March 7, 2009 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  12. No Hillary = No Obama

    First we get arrogance from his administration, then he sprays the air freshener so everything smells good. Stink is still stink.

    March 7, 2009 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  13. Tim Story

    Eric Holder is right. I'm glad somebody in Washington has the balls to say it. We walk around on pins and needles when it comes to race. Nobody is comfortable with the subject. If a white person talks about it thier either insensitive or racist. If a black or hispanic person talks about race, they are either seperationists or the "loud black/latino guy." Asians unfortunatly dont even get listened to that much. Its honestly sad that Obama is helping to make this country weak. I was hopeing that with him in office things would get better betweent the races. He just seems to be intensifying the issue or ignoring it completely. I'm behind Eric Holder all the way. We need a strong Attorney General who knows what he's talking about. Eric Holder is that guy.

    March 7, 2009 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  14. Agatha K.

    BEING RACIST GOES BOTH WAYS. I DON'T DISCRIMINATE, BUT I HAVE FOUND THAT A BLACK PERSON WITH A CHIP ON HIS/HER SHOULDER WILL FIND SOMETHING TO CRITICIZE.
    Example: My husband brought home his black boss for dinner. He starting walking through rooms looking at wall hanging. I had an old antique picture on the wall in one of the back rooms of a little black girl eating a watermelon. He was so upset he pulled it off the wall and asked me if I discriminated.

    My answer: If I discriminate, you would Not be having dinner in my home.

    March 7, 2009 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  15. jdp

    Holder was right. It's too bad being blunt and honest is not acceptable to mainstream media.

    March 7, 2009 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  16. An American

    I don't know about anyone else, but I am an American.
    My thought is that if people are calling people by Black, White, Mexican or etc, they are more than likely referring to a "bad person". Bad people exist in all ethnic backgrounds and all levels of income brackets. Bottom line, when you are referring to a bad person, we are referring to the person's behavior, the dress, the attitude, how they take care of house, free loading and etc. After all, when you are told to describe a criminal this is exactly what you are doing by color and race. If you are living by the American’s Values and Standard, colors and races do not normally play a part. I am surrounded by all types of Americans and we all have the same beliefs, we go to work, involved in our kids, schools, churches, and etc, have expectation from our children, talk and help our neighbors. With this all said, I think America needs to move to the next level, we don't need Martin Luther King Day, Hispanic Month or African American Month, we need American Month, where we promote attitude, behaviors and to be an American Way. People need to know what America is about it is not about handouts it is about freedom, but that freedom still comes with expectations of the norms.
    Next time they ask you your color, we are American!

    March 7, 2009 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  17. Logan

    I admit I hate nobama because he is 1/2 black! If he claimed to be bi-racial then I would tolerate him. I hate Eric Holder for his comments and he is also bi-racial. I am not a coward, nor a racist. My girlfriend is black and from South Africa. Blacks have got to stop blaming other races for all their problems!

    March 7, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  18. Gop

    Susan March 7th, 2009 7:24 pm ET

    Poor Michelle Malkin. She wouldn't find anything positive in any comment by a Democrat.
    Holder is right. When is the last time anyone on this board had a conversation about race with a person of a different race?

    Thought so.

    Yes Susan you got us all on that one. But then again I don’t speak about race because I do not see any difference in people no matter what color their skin happens to be. Because no matter what color they are they still can be a jerk.

    However, the truth is I find Democrats to be the racist people in this country.

    They are the ones that want to see racism in every one that does not agree with their views.

    As an example if you do not agree with Obama and you are a Republican then that makes you a racist.

    Now any one with a working brain cell would understand maybe it is the policy of Obama that we do not agree with.

    Not sure why any one would agree with socialism, but then again for the life of me I cannot understand why any one would be a Democrat other then they are just ignorant!!

    March 7, 2009 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  19. Martha

    Were we all cowards including our elected President to bring up race during the campaign. Furthermore, there is no doubt there is racism, when 99% of the Blacks voted for him. Now those were cowards that took color over than qualifications. You talk about race, what about what Hillary went through. This campaign brought out race, sex, and age. A disgrace when this is supposedly protected by discrimination laws. Well...maybe.................

    March 7, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  20. cobra

    I didn't use to be racist but with all the racists in Washington now they have made my into a screaming rasist and I love it.

    March 7, 2009 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  21. Huh?

    "O called him "my attorney general"….., he's "OUR attorney general". Watch YOUR words."

    Bob,

    I could, of course be wrong, but I interpreted the use of the pronoun “my” as the President's way of taking responsibility for comments of a man who serves under the Obama name – and, most importantly, for the United States of America.

    I, will, of course, be happy to use the pronoun “our” in the future if you publicly object ( though I fear its use might stir up the unwanted ire other, more conservative commentators ).

    🙂

    March 7, 2009 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  22. Mark Fowler

    Why should we be owning up to slavery. I did not own slaves obama was not a slave. The past is the past. Lets get on with the present. I dont feel anyone owes me anything and I certainly don't feel responsible for something that happened in the yers and years before I was born, Get over it and get on with reality

    March 7, 2009 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  23. phoenix86

    I remember when the media blasted a republican for calling us a nation on whiners. Where is this indignation now?

    March 7, 2009 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  24. Dumas McGee

    how long did it take for him to discuss this?

    March 7, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  25. Targar

    Some white folks love and care for you no mater what color you are. I think about 15% of white people really do 85% just pretend just because of the law.

    March 7, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
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