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. Marie

    To Larry you say what you want but to some african americans it's still slavery.You still have blacks cleaning your homes and preparing your meals and may I also say raising your kids and now you have just as many immigrants doing the same thing being hired as cheap labor and need I say some immigrants are illegal .That's why there is a nergro college fund and hard working AFRICAN AMERICANS saving to send their children to college to help generations now to make something out of their lives that their parents and grandprarents had the misfortune of not having it.Yes we continue to talk about slavery and why shouldn't we? ...because we are telling you ENOUGH!!!!! ....OMG I'd like to see your face right now when I ask you this question and that is..In you wildest dreams you never thought you'd see a black man as president of the United States did you? Huh?That's what I thought

    March 7, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  2. Pat

    I has been my experience any time race is or needs to be discussed is when there's accusations of racism. It is career suicide. Black racism is accepted in the workplace, but Whites cannot get a single statement even possibly taken out of context. People listen, watch, and learn to avoid negative consequences.
    To all those who would call this racist, I lived and worked with a lot of Black racists in the Baltimore/Washington area, incuding those who demanded a Black Revolution and supported people voicing the murder of all Whites.

    March 7, 2009 10:28 pm at 10:28 pm |
  3. tim

    When a black man gets elected to office why do people still go on witch hunts after people. Could it be that they're racist? But white people in my neighborhood cant say that with out being called a racist cracker openly. How times change.

    March 7, 2009 10:30 pm at 10:30 pm |
  4. Todd

    Thus far, still better than the bush administration.....

    March 7, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  5. Simmy

    Michelle Malkin of TownHall.com is always gearing for a fight. She's another Ann Coulter.

    March 7, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  6. Typical White Person

    A young man opens the door of an establishment he has never entered before. Talk dwindles to silence as everyone in the single room turns to stare. They wait for him to speak. No smiles, no welcome. His face isn't the color of all the other faces. He turns and leaves without ever saying a word or having a word said to him.

    Moments later another young man walks through the same door. Like the man before him he has never been here before. But this time he is greated with smiles and an invitation to have a seat while he waits and asked if he watched the game last night. His face is the right color for immediate acceptance.

    1950's Little Rock diner? No. It's 2009 and a barbershop on the south side of Chicago.

    March 7, 2009 10:36 pm at 10:36 pm |
  7. tk in IL

    Is Obama so out of touch with reality it takes him over 2 weeks to come up with a response to something as controversial as this? Or does this just not rank in terms of his priorities on his relationship with the American public?

    March 7, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  8. Bobo

    He is right! There are many black cowards that will not face the truth! They feel entitled to be lazy. He called this one right!!

    March 7, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  9. 4Eleven47

    The person that told the most truth on here is ELLEN who wrote as follows:

    "I am a white middle-aged woman, and Mr. Holder is absolutely correct. We imitate the military – don't ask, don't tell – and pretend that because we don't act overtly racist that we no longer carry the residue of bigotry in our hearts…"

    Thank you Ellen for speaking those words of truth. I am a 60+ black woman and don't think for one second that black people are not AWARE of those feelings in your hearts. We SENSE it.

    That residue oozes out often and it leaves something green and slimy to the touch...even tho it is invisible.

    This bigotry does not apply to ALL whites but certainly to many. And that my dear, is the problem.

    March 7, 2009 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  10. love is in the air

    @Larry March 7th, 2009 9:22 pm ET
    Why does the President and African American keep talking about slavery ?We have not had slavery for well over a hundred years,yet the blacks talk about it like it is going on today...... It is going on today it is called if you are White You are Right ..and the KKK are now called Skin Heads same tactics same hate cuz of the color of Skin ....now Shut the H_LL UP
    @Willy Brown March 7th, 2009 9:35 pm ET
    Only race baiters I've seen come from the democrat party **and the only RACE Baiters I know are YOU and the REPUBS
    @Independant Thinker March 7th, 2009 9:14 pm ET
    Holder is a DISCRACE to this country and should REMOVE himself from office.Holder is a very Inteligent Man.....and you should be sent to the bottomless pit of H_LLL

    March 7, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  11. Pat

    One church official informed my daughter over the phone that she would not want to attend their church because it was a black church. Racism over the phone and in a place of worship. I guess she did not sound "black enough" over the phone.

    March 7, 2009 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  12. The Rector

    Just for the record, way more european "indentured servants" were bought at public auction and worked in an inhumane fashion, many times to death. Not to mention that any "offense" to the master of the house and your sentance of servtitude could be and very often was extended. The reason that african slavery was developed by the BRITISH, SPANISH, and DUTCH mainly was that they could literaly stand the heat. NOONE in my family EVER owned or lynched anyone. Ninty nine percent of the people who lived during that period of time when slavery was legal in this country never owned or lynched anyone. The net result of slavery in this country has been a legacy of blanket white guilt and incredible opportunity for the decendants of african slavery. When will you people white and black just let go of the past and try to find a way forward

    March 7, 2009 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  13. Ryan

    Holder is right and you know it, so put a sock in it.

    Then again , the nation is coming to terms with the past step by step . So Holder, even if you are right, put a sock in it too.

    Now I would like to talk about something else .

    The weather was nice today wasn't it ?

    Spring is near and a new year filled with challenges lays await for us.

    Challenge's high and low , slowly moving the grey away from extreme's ,re-accepting the alienated , building new path's , creating more opportunity's.

    By the time a surplus has been reached , among the conservatives a new breed wil rise , harboured by hatred and hate spewers.
    He/she will alienate everyone again with the traditional "them or Us ".
    After neglecting the economy and spending the surplus, maybe you will be able to elect a " Woman " for presidency.

    And so the revolving story goes ...

    March 7, 2009 10:47 pm at 10:47 pm |
  14. kelly g arizona

    I'll admit it, I have a prejudice against stupid people. I could care less about what color people are or their religious disposition or sexual orientation, my biggest pet peeve is people who dont have the good sense god gave a pig. There are a lot of people who don't have any common sense.

    March 7, 2009 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  15. Non-hyphinated American

    I'm calling for the resignation of Holder and I want it on my desk on Monday morning!

    March 7, 2009 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  16. The Rector

    So ron, what did you get picked up for?

    March 7, 2009 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  17. lady in the know

    I guess since my ancestors fought to free the slaves, I would like a Thank you from these same black Americans that think we whites are racists. I am sick to death of hearing about their problems and blaming them on us. They really need to remember who fought and died for them all those years ago. They are no longer victims, but as long as they choose to be, they will not be respected. As long as their "heroes" are Sharpton, Jackson and people like them, that respect will be a long time coming, too. Can we talk about it? No. And why? Bacause of these "heroes". Someone needs to tell them that there was only one Martin Luther King and neither Sharpton nor Jackson will ever fill his shoes. And everyone else needs to grow up and get into the 21st century and quit living in the past. As long as you choose to live in the past, there will never be any meaningful conversations. I'm quite sure that all those soldiers that died fighting for your freedon are turning over in their graves and wondering what the heck they died for, a bunch of ungrateful people who keep wanting more and more and want to remain vitctims.

    March 7, 2009 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  18. Derrick B.

    If I am correct, Mr. Holder is the first African-American Attorney General..., so how could this be a "nation of cowards" – when it comes to race relations – when he occupies one of the most powerful positions in government?

    As an African-American, I reject his notion that this is a nation of cowards and would recommend that he have someone review his remarks before speaking publicly about race.

    The advances this country has made with respect to race relations bespeak that of a level of notable evolution and adjustment, not cowardice.

    This nation of cowards has, as its President, an African- American, in case Mr. Holder forgot.

    March 7, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  19. Floyd in New York

    In a recent study at an all black Harlem elementary school the children were presented with white and black dolls. The kids were asked who the good dolls and who the bad dolls were. In every case these black children picked the white dolls as the good dolls and the black dolls as the bad dolls! Now why is that??

    March 7, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  20. Mark

    I think his comments may have been poorly chosen, but I think he didn't mean it as all the over-reacting left/right wingnuts have made it out to be.

    The media of course, couldn't help themselves by making this so much more than it is or ever should have been.

    March 7, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  21. Tom

    Holder did not say the United States is a nation of cowards. He said that when it comes to talking about race, we have been a nation of cowards. I agree with Obama that this still isn't the best way to frame it, but let's be clear about what we're talking about.

    March 7, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  22. Mighty

    Michelle Mal kins you sound like and idiot. You are no making any sense. Communist! How does this comment make you into a communist. DUMB BLOND

    March 7, 2009 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  23. missvicky

    I agree with him. I also think that when he said it he was painting the country with a rather wide brush. As a white woman, I don't think that he meant "whites in this country are cowards", I think he meant what he said: "as a nation WE are cowards" when it comes to discussing racial issues.
    And I have to admit, Yes I Have Been, Yes I Still Am , and Yes I Can Try To Not Be So Afraid Of Being Accused Of "You're Only Saying That Because I'm Black".....(if They are) LOL at self.

    March 7, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  24. RB NJ

    I hear comments like "get over it", "we have not had Slavery for over one hundred years" "Racist works both ways" What if We had a White History Month like Blacks do" What are you really trying to say? I know that you really do not know what you are saying yourself! The dialogue has no substance it all rings hollow to the meaning of exercising common sense and truthfulness.

    March 7, 2009 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  25. Mark

    Tom from Wheaton, IL,

    I hate to respond to others comments, and if moderators will allow me, I have to say; you are just a bloomin' idiot.

    My ancestors nor I did anything to anyone, let alone my fellow Americans of African descent. If someone harbors resentment for the treatment of their ancestors, well, they are wrong. I understand it may be difficult for those filled with anger over their historical past, but, we need to work to get beyond this. It was horrible, it should have never happened, but it did, and thank god, many of the wrongs have been stopped, and we enlightened folks are working every day to end the wrongs that may continue, against all, blacks, whites, gays, etc.

    It sounds like you are either a racist, or stoking the fire. Either way, your ignorance is shining through.

    Read a few books, get some therapy, walk a mile in "their" shoes, and see if you like what you see. Then we can talk.

    March 7, 2009 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
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