[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/28/art.getty.holder.jpg caption="Holder said Americans need to confront the country's painful legacy on race."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - Eric Holder, the country’s first African-American attorney general, called the United States “a nation of cowards” Wednesday for failing to candidly talk about matters of race.
In a speech to Justice Department employees commemorating Black History Month, Holder said average Americans remain uncomfortable with race-related issues and need to do more to confront them head on.
“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and we, I believe continue to be in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said.
He said Americans often “retreat to our race-protected cocoons,” a tendency that inhibits fruitful discussion that might lead to racial progress.
“This nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate in a truly meaningful way the diverse future it is fated to have,” he said. “To our detriment this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race.”
Holder said Black History Month itself “is given a separate and unequal treatment by our society" and suggested that February should offer a chance not just for commemoration, but also for frank dialogue between races.