(CNN) - Outbursts like Donald Sterling's recorded rant or Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's controversial comments are not the real problem, says Attorney General Eric Holder.
"More subtle" forms of racism that "cut deeper" cause the real harm, he argued Saturday.
In a commencement speech at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Holder used the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated schools to highlight inequalities that persist today.
Follow @politicaltickerFollow @ConorCNN
Referencing the "systematic and unwarranted racial disparities" of the criminal justice system and the "moral failings" of voter identification laws, Holder argued legitimate problems usually get lost in the din over major public incidents.
Most recently, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling caused outrage after he went on a racist rant in a leaked audio recording. Bundy, who is challenging the federal government over land fees, suggested blacks may be better off as slaves.
While it is good to see such remarks condemned swiftly and widely, Holder said, it often misses the point.
"If we focus solely on these incidents - on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter - we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines," he said.
"Policies that disenfranchise specific groups are more pernicious than hateful rants," he continued. "Proposals that feed uncertainty, question the desire of a people to work, and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outbursts might raise. And a criminal justice system that treats groups of people differently - and punishes them unequally - has a much more negative impact than misguided words that we can reject out of hand."
The attorney general went on to speak to specific issues.
In particular, he addressed the higher incarceration rates and longer sentences that African-American men face. African-American men have received sentences that are nearly 20% longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes, said Holder, citing the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Black men are also more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated, according to the Pew Research Center.
While schools may no longer be segregated legally, some districts have moved in that direction, said Holder, also arguing that disciplinary policies often unfairly target young black men.
"In too many of our school districts, significant divisions persist and desegregation has reoccurred - including zero-tolerance school discipline practices that, while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers," he said.
Laws may forbid racism, but "there are other policies that too easily escape such scrutiny because they have the appearance of being race-neutral. Their impacts, however, are anything but," he said.
To Holder, voter identification laws exemplify the problem best.
"In too many jurisdictions, new types of restrictions are justified as attempts to curb an epidemic of voter fraud that - in reality - has never been shown to exist," he said, and instead they "disproportionately disenfranchise African-Americans, Hispanics, other communities of color, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly."
Holder even went after Chief Justice John Roberts. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Michigan law banning the use of racial criteria in college admissions. Last June, the court struck down a key provision of the historic Civil Rights Act.
At the time, Roberts said that the section was no longer necessary because "our country has changed" for the better. Holder disagrees.
"Chief Justice John Roberts has argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether. This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn't need to be actively confronted," he said.
Holder concluded by calling for a national conversation about race. More dialogue, he argued, can lead to more progress.
–CNN's Evan Perez contributed to this report.
Wow, what world do some of you livein? If one cannot see that racism is alive and well, aimed squarely at all of the white race then that person is blind! This AG is and president are setting a dangerous example. Their agenda has been about race from the beginning. Iam deeply offended by this president.
You want to see a prime example of racism goto a city ANY city as a white person and walk down the streets of the inner city neighborhoods and I guarentee you will be harassed or beaten or robbed or even killed just because you are white or non black.
Then "imagine" this! Imagine what the response would be to a "white" Miss America pagent? Imagine a "white" history month? How about a "white" entertainment channel? When a person of color chooses to segregate his or herself of his or her own free will it's acceptable. However, its racist if a white person does so. When an underperforming school in a black school district fails, its gotta be the white people that made it underperforming, right? Get a clue! Racism is alive and well!
Cry me a river....
We need more intelligent legal minds such as Sarah Palin who can deal with common sense issues like any well endowed trailer trash .
God gave us this planet to exploit til there is nothing left . Have more Tea Party Baby's is the only way to overcome the lefties !
Hmmmm. It's funny that he's speaking to an all black college abt racism. In this country there are two groups of people that you cannot speak up abt, African Americans, and the gay community. Every other group is fair game. FYI I'm not an Anglo American.
The last thing I want to get is a lecture on racism from one of the biggest racist – next to Obama. They both hate white people.
What do you call it when a group comes up with some defamatory educational agenda around something called "white privilege"? I would bet a dime to a dozen, Barry Soetoro Obama and Eric Holder have had lives far more privileged than most "white" people. No one ever gave me anything nor did they give my family predecessors in the coal mines anything either other than a JOB, this is just some more of a racist divisive myth to segregate the American population. Most people I would believe are too savvy to fall for this crap, only the low information voters and ignorant would fall for this ploy. The Democrats have nothing to offer, free phones, free healthcare, free housing, free food for "minorities" while an ever shrinking and over burdened middle class continues to pay for it all, they are kaput one way or the other!
Mr Pardon Gate is right, racism is not the issue, a crooked DOJ is the issue. Who's bright idea was it to quote this creep? Sterling is just the latest "Lost Flight" Cnn has to chase till the Clinton-Stench of people Bill and Hillary put into ABSOLUTE power escape office by the hair of their chinny, chinn chinns....or not.
Tell this to the bus driver in Detroit.
Wow! This guy is the first to say that pernicious racist actions are worse than racist rants. I am in disbelief.