(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.
Subtle forms of racism??? Wow after awhile breathing maybe racist.... Sorry but E Holder is the problem along with the progressive lemmings running this government
Oh my god finally someone who sees this the way I see it. How many minorities are in jail for marijuana or marijuana possession? Why was marijuana illegal for so long while the far more dangerous drug alchohol was legal? How many driving while ganja'ed deaths has there been in Washington or Colorado since it was legalized? How many driving while drunk deaths have there been since? This is the absurdity of injustice. Holder understands the disparity doesn't lie in racist comments but from racist actions. But then again racism is a conundrum. One on hand people feel proud to to be of a certain ethnicity. At the same time this pride is what ultimately creates racism. When we have pride in being human is the day racism ends. Its a paradox. It's not wrong to be proud to be Jewish or black or Asian. In fact its often celebrated but at the same time this pride is actually the very reason racism exists.
Dont get me going but im not going to bow down to no man no matter what he thinks . He is the problem .
The true racists are people like Holder, who refuse to admit that most racism today is black.......and NOT white!
I Have to side with chief justice John Roberts . I think he knows whats up with all of this .
Sterling is just another democrat they are all racists anyway, Holder certainly is.
Donald Sterling is just another democrat they are all racists anyway, Holder certainly is.
Holder critiquing another racist democrat is almost humorous.
@ Chris-E, you and Roberts are what is so wrong with our country.
Are you a corporation too?
All you people did was shyte all over sterling but hide the poct concerning the fraud of a US Supreme Court Justice and corrupt bar members robbing relief granted citizens by congress in the Civil Rights Act.
Roberts Fraud of robbing the relief granted the economically disadvantaged and minorities by the US Congress and signed by the President is a criminal act.
Scientists first believed they had successfully cloned a Palin voter. But upon further investigation, it was just an amoeba.
The best resume of racism is an all white jury!
Holders pernicious views for not pursuing any criminal action to date concerning Roberts is more proof of their damage for false accolades . Holder doesn't walk the walk. crow.
The Civil Rights Act relief granted by Congress was nonnegotiable-
As bar members and judges committed a knowingly fraud and abuse of power.
Another Clinton Whitehouser already in the pipeline, as they say, who needs to be out of office because he stands for all things against the rule of law. Unless you want to accept Sharia Law, of course. He wants to hand over the vote to immigrants as well as US benefits, without citizenship. Has anyone read Absolute Power lately? Maybe it's time to remind yourselves how ALL of the dems that followed Clinton stay in power. Refuse to resign....their motto. If still in doubt, read up on Clinton's last day in office pardons list (140) to get a real idea of the stench in this pipeline.
Attorney General Holder is right. it is amazing what racists say or do when they are with people that look like them. Racism is alive and well the more browner our country gets the more uneasy racists become. It will not be long before minorities are the majority in this country.
Rick-Another insane, and unprovable comment. Chris-E..Then I take it you agree with Cliven Bundy's views on black people. Justice Roberts is a pimple on Americas butt.
@ marie corps make jobs where we can work an feed our own families dems do have a problem with that . They want to bite the hand that feeds them among other things if your down wid dat .
Dems are so self destructive on all fronts ! In the mind and the actions.
This holder freak is a looser just like 90% of all africans
what initiative has morgan state taken to integrate its student body. has it issued affirmative action scholarships to assure a large percentage of students are white? the real problem is people like holder who pull out the race card no matter what they are complaining about instead of addressing the real problem. want better students?–then make better parents.
Did not know that Holder was responsible for participating in Pardon Gate. When is a RICO investigation going to be done on the DOJ? This is getting to be ridiculous! How can this coward tell states which laws to enforce?
Wow, god forbid aa black official talks about racism,, that must make him/her a racist. These are obviously partisan attacks. Even if he is a racist, he's still right. Every group has its racists- what to do about it is the question..pretending it doesn't exist is not an option.
holder is right on. The right wacko;s hate him. This smart black man takes no crap from the right and has had to deal with their idiotic remarks from day one.