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. Craig

    I think the Attorney General ought to direct these remarks to African Americans :

    Don't get too sensitive , testy , violent or argumentative so people won't be afraid to talk about race.

    We shouldn't play the victim card forever because its not right.

    March 7, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  2. debbie

    I'm white and I knew EXACTLY what Holder meant when he said it. And I agree with him. When my black friends talk about being black, it makes me nervous....I start to wonder "are they doing this because I said or did something that makes them think I'm racist?". It's just silly – I should ask them but what if they say "yes"? We avoid the conversation as if to bring it up would be insensitive or rude, like pointing out the zit on the end of someone's nose. Well YEAH you're black...I'm not...and where do we go from here? I would like to be able to say to my black friends "you know, slavery sucks and it's something that no American can be proud of, but on the other hand if not for that you wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't be friends".

    March 7, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  3. RTB

    Holder's comments were indeed peculiar. Particularly in light of the fact that he is a lawyer ,"the mouthpiece". The one who ought to know the weight of his comments is the attorney general. Perhaps he isn't the person for the job.

    March 7, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  4. Texas Teacher

    I think that President Obama has a different look at the issues of Black and White. He was raised by White Grandparents and his White Mother. I am sure he understands the issues that make Blacks feel the way they do. And much is justified. But thankfully, Obama is a man of the People for the People. He understands both sides of the coin. I respect him. But I think he will have to be apologizing for a lot of his Black friends and workers in his administration.

    March 7, 2009 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  5. sngeorgia

    Garry, I'm sorry, I should have also pointed out that the surgeon and the traffic light was just a couple of things that people don't know but has become an intricate part of everyone's life. So for some that hear derogatory terms to describe them as a person, this information is important to them.

    March 7, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  6. white

    Yes it is trie we do not have a white history month, and LORD HELP US whie people if we had one, it would be the end of it. black people get away with everything in this country, becsuse if they dont we all would get sue, and pay the a bunch of million just like the moron rodney in california, and then he got homself into more trrouble, I am so tires and this . This attorney general does bot know how to choose other words instead of calling us white cowards. We are people that came from Europe (number one) and other countries and we build this country. WHO IS HE CALLING COWARDS? Does he has any respect for the American white people? I am really piss off at his commen//HE SHOULD APOLOGIZE and resign his position, we dont need anyone like him to express such a nasty opinion

    March 7, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  7. Logan

    What is really funny is that blacks think obama is black. If he were not bi-racial he would not have gotten elected. Holder is bi-racial also, just look at the man, does he look really fully black to you? Ron you are a racist pig.

    Ps – just because nobama won the election, it was not any where near a landslide victory, or a mandate from the public. It was 52% to 48% so that means that millions upon millions of Americans did not vote for this socialist.

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

    Anyone offended by Holders remark are only guilty because they are fearful of anyone who does not look like them and suddenly they feel they are losing control–my God we have a non-white President for Heavens sake! However wouldn't be a problem for these same offended souls to claim to compare a black person to a chimp or picture watermellons on the whitehouse lawn–aww we was only funning! The jerks! Holder is correct in his remarks and you just might as well swallow that bitter pill!

    March 7, 2009 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  9. texas teacher

    The election was about race. 95% of Democrats voted for Obama based on race. They wanted to make "history" by voting in the first black president. It was either that or they felt "guilty" if they voted against him. They did not vote based on experience. Even Obama brought up the race card several times during the campaign to make it an issue. African Americans are more racist today towards white people, than the other way around. Of course Eric Holder won't mention that now will he?

    March 7, 2009 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  10. Carli - Seattle, WA

    I agree with Eric Holder. It is a delicate subject that no one wants to discuss. However, I am not such a PC person – I want to open up these conversations to... I don't know... just get past this whole race issue. I honestly believe we're all members of humanity, not members of a race.

    A time ago, I had asked an African American friend of mine a point blank question (keep in mind, I prefaced it by saying I didn't want to be inflammatory, but was very curious). I first told him that I thought the n-word was an insult. But then I asked him why it was okay for he and his black friends to call each other that. He explained that it was a friendly name when it was used in the brotherhood, but not by Caucasians because coming from them it was an insult. He also told me that I (a Caucasian woman) could call him a n--r anytime I wanted and that he would not be offended because I was a friend.

    In an odd way, I thought that was a sweet statement, but explained that I could never use that term because I was conditioned that it was a bad word.

    Those are just my two cents.

    March 7, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  11. usualone

    Mr. Holder's words were obviously not the best choice. However, no one should be offended by them. If so, he has hit a nerve, there must be some truth in which he speaks. In my opinion it was pretty clear what he meant, as President Obama stated. Those who are offended by this talk are most likely those who don't see us all as Americans. Having seen many decent people make detrimental remarks about my religion, I have been a "coward" to call them to task. They are in the majority and do not know the damage they do to others. If I did speak up, I would not change their undeniably prejudiced opinions. Perhaps a dialogue by those in authority would change a few opinions regarding this and the same thing could be said of race. As times get worse economically, as the comments in this and other CNN articles indicate, the prejudices are really increasing, or people feel safe showing their hatred anomously on the Internet.

    March 7, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  12. Necie in OKC

    And.....Mr Holder is correct. This country was built with hard work – on the backs of slaves, yet they were treated worse than dogs.

    Its not realistic to believe that racism will end, but at least we can have the guts to discuss it openly (without fear of retaliation or being labeled a racist) and treat each other with dignity and respect.

    March 7, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  13. Robert

    Personally, I love his comments. It's using extreme language that catches our attention prompting us into discussions on race. It is precisely what he was trying to accomplish. In my opinion, when it comes down to it; the word "racist" has become a tired cliche. We have all had preconceived notions based on someones race whether we would like to admit it or not. That makes us all racists. I believe that the real enemy we should combat is political correctness. It is this idiotic concept that keeps people from airing their concerns for fear of perception and brutal judgment. How can we ever make any progress when people have to be careful with every single word that comes out of their mouth? In an attempt to lessen racism, we have only disguised it.

    March 7, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  14. gerryluimes

    I am always amazed at the content and diversity of the comments rendered on questions like race.As "a man in the street" who has had the experience-and joy- of black friends,white ones,christian ones and muslim ones I soon learned that we are all HUMANS with specific human traits. That experience eliminates any notion of wanting or needing to belong to a certain ethnicity.Rather than thinking "American" or Israeli,or whatever,focus on being a cosmopolitan! I agree,it requires a certain level of maturity,something that is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in this century.
    gerry,edmonton,can.

    March 7, 2009 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  15. Irishny

    And by the way,for those people talking about how white people are descended from slaveowners and black people are descnded from slaves.
    Studies have shown that the average "black" american is about 20% white.(mwaning that theres a good chance they;re descended from slaveowners)
    Also millions of whites only came to this country AFTER slavery was abolished,why should people descended from eastern European Jews,or people descended from starving Irish and Italian immigrants who came through Ellis sialnd feel bad about what happened in America before their ancestors even arrived??

    March 7, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  16. jjj

    Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican, and a great man at that.

    March 7, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  17. JB

    I hate to say it, and I do only because I am in cyberspace (otherwise, I would fear accusations), but we don't talk about racial issues, because if someone white says something a black disagrees with, the white is accused of being a racist, regardless of the thought. Being accused of being a racist in todays society is a scarlet letter. Nobody wants that, and therefore people shy away from those conversations. If african americans weren't so quick to call racism, it would be a more hospitable environment.

    March 7, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  18. bk

    Mercedes, the argument that Sunday at 11am is the most segregated hour is an outdated argument. Sure, decades ago when blacks or others weren't allowed or welcomed in white churches it was valid. However, people now choose where they want to attend ... many people choose churches according to what they were raised with or what seems relevant to them. People need to feel part of a group they identify with, whether according to culture, perceived needs, generation, etc. When speaking about church or religion, people choose churches they perceive as refuges from the tough realities of life. If you were to really study demographics according to urban megachurch attendances, which are now the majority, the "segregated" theory no longer holds water.

    March 7, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  19. Matthew

    Holder is a jerk. He is also black, but that does not change the fact that he is a jerk.

    As for looking back on the legacy of slavery, I have no particular interest or reason to do that, and that does not make me a racist. It just means I have no interest. I do have interest in looking back on the legacy of the american Indian, as we did steal their country form them in the most horrific fashion

    March 7, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  20. Robert

    I love reading these comments!!! Isn't the anonymous feature of online discussion great?! Without it we would all be to afraid to say what we're really thinking. Does that make us cowards? HA!

    March 7, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  21. Bob From Missouri

    FIRST THING OBAMA APPROVED EVERYTHING HE STATED.

    JUST MORE FLIP FOPING.

    WHAT IS THE MATTTER WITH THESE PEOPLE. WELL WE ARE FINDING OUT , YOU HEAR AND HEARD WHAT IS ON THERE MINDS .

    JUST SHOWS THEY ARE NOT RIGHT FOR HOLDING A HIGH OFFICE. JUST MORE LIKE CHICAGO POLITICS.

    March 7, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  22. John

    Holder was right on target. It is true that many people of all races in America feel uncomfortable talking about race. It is a pity that Obama wants Holder not to bring up the issue anymore because it would be great if some of the people leaving comments were honest with themselves about how they feel uneasy talking about the issue.
    I don't have any problem talking about the subject. The main issue in this country is that we need to be more open and talk about each other. I think some people don't realize that if your skin color is different, that doesn't mean you don't have feelings like every other human being. It is sad that we are still struggling with race and racism. I'm tired of hearing the same old platitudes about race. I judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of the character. We should discuss more about race, but we should try to remember what we have in common, too. We live on this planet together. We all should have a responsibility to uplift each other, not just our own ethnic communities, unless we want America to go down the drain.

    March 7, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  23. Tom in S.A.

    As a white guy growing up in a black neighborhood there is a problem. I had to run from the black guys until I got to my black friends that would protect me. I didn't do anything to them but I was white.
    Now I'm older and all I see at company get togethers or even just a lunch gathering is the blacks CHOOSE to sit amongst themselves. They do not have to but choose to.
    Another subject,
    I hate the name African American. There are white people that come from Africa. Can they call themselves African American??

    March 7, 2009 10:24 pm at 10:24 pm |
  24. Typical White Person

    @Ron – the reason why there are more minorities in prison is because more minorities commit crimes. Black defendents don't get a fair trial? Give me a break! Does the name O J Simpson mean anything to you? There was way more physical evidence against him than against Scott Peterson and which one got off? Both were guilty, but the white guy ended up on death row.
    And, DNA testing is clearing white guys, too. Prior to the advancements in DNA testing the evidence in most rape trials was based on victim identification and, just to be fair, the victims may have gotten the face of their perp wrong but they didn't get the race wrong...so drop that line of argument cause it don't fly.
    If you don't like it that so many black men are in prison then tell your black sons to stop committing crimes, stay in school, and get a job.

    March 7, 2009 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  25. Cheney

    This reminds me of the Jay Leno show,when he does the "Jay walking skit".Many of the people on here are probably still watching "Heehaw' reruns though and believe it was reality.We need a better educational system and fast.

    March 7, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
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