February 18th, 2009
02:35 PM ET
11 years ago

Attorney General calls America 'a nation of cowards' on race

[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.

Filed under: Eric Holder
soundoff (140 Responses)
  1. Truth Is Truth

    I'm not offended, and I'm a white American. The reason's simple. Truth is truth. Eric Holder told the truth.

    February 18, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  2. Trang, Fremont, CA

    I am not sure if talking about it will help. America does have freedom of speech, so those who want to speak up can, without retribution.

    How do you want us to talk about it?

    Maybe in your position, you can expose some of the injustices. I am just not sure what you have in mind.

    February 18, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. meh

    And I say that as a White American.
    The very fact that people in these comments want to say that the "past is past" and not discuss it at ALL, speaks volumes. We need to get a dialogue going, not sweep things under the rug.

    February 18, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  4. aware

    What a joke!

    Obama mania killed any chance of an authentic race discussion. He has effectively and single-handedly killed any chance of racial healing or discussion! 🙁

    February 18, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  5. destined

    I was brought up in the sixties, watched the marches on TV, was raised primarily in a rural, white community. As I grew older, I followed my heart. I really don't see the world in colors but by values and morals. I choose my friends because of their heart, not their skin color. As I grew older, I taught in primarily minority schools for 20 years, and ended up adopting 2 African-American children. This was not based on any law or demand. It was based upon my heart and what I thought that "my God" was asking me to do at the time. I do not like to hear all of this racial bickering all of the time. It's nauseating to me!! Everyone should be able to look at the past, and move on...we must move forward...to look backwards is debilitating.

    February 18, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  6. billy-bayou

    As a White male born in this country 81 years ago and having served the country honorably during the time of war i don't need Eric Holder or any of his racebating buddies attempting to direct the content of my conversations with my circle of friends.

    February 18, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  7. single mom

    I don't care if you're purple or green, have stripes or polka dots – how you live your life is more important.
    This sounds like a political ploy – distract the public with something like this while something else gets slipped by whether by Executive Order of the President or through Congress.

    February 18, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. Snake eyes

    He could have found a better way of saying this. no need to have made such confrontational remarks on an already sensitive issue. maybe that was his point, but honestly....

    February 18, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  9. Proud American

    Oh boy this one is going to be good. A black guy calling Americans cowards (Black and White). As a educated professional african american I'm just going to sit back and see how this goes. No comment from me on this one.

    February 18, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  10. sydneyj

    Talking about race in this country just means blacks telling whites what racists they are. Whites aren't allowed to talk about race. Whites aren't even allowed to say the word "race" because it's considered racist just to say it. Frankly, I'm tired of hearing blacks complain about race.

    Oh, by the way...I'm black. Just not one of those whining "we shall overcome" "kill whitey" blacks. God, I am tired of this new administration already, and I HOPE the American people will vote for CHANGE in 2012. I don't even care who's running on the Republican ticket (well, maybe except Palin) – they're going to get my vote. I've never voted Republican in my life, but I will in 2012. Obama is a liar, and I'm sorry I ever voted for him.

    February 18, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  11. Proud American

    Jon in CA February 18th, 2009 2:41 pm ET

    Hey Eric – How about you tell your African American race-baiting friends and their congregants to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY and stop blaming everyone else (read: white people) for their problems??

    The African American community is rotting from drug dealing infestation, black-on-black crime, kids dropping out of school, lacking parental supervision or involvement.

    The only man willing to speak the truth is BILL COSBY. And your "community" villifies him for it!
    OK I can't help but comment. Hey Jon, when was the last time you were in the White community?

    February 18, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  12. Morgan

    To all that are confused about Race in America, look at the story in Bellaire, Texas. A black kid gets shot in his own driveway, getting out of his own car by white police officers. The police officer refused to believe he was driving a nice SUV. instead of really considering racial profiling was a factor the police jump to defend against it. Let's have a real conversation about it. Why be cowards and deny racism again and again? Why claim that it doesn't happen all the time? Why call it playing the race card? What's wrong with asking questions and talking about it?

    Holder is right because things like this happen and people want to claim to be color-blind and not racist instead of really having dialogues and admitting to racist actions. Its not easy to do and many of these comments reflect the coward attitude of not wanting to talk about it. Get real people its not in our heads.

    February 18, 2009 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  13. Carol

    He is right since there is no Indian American month, in Irish American month, no German American month...... February is discrimanting against unity and is discrimanting agains blacks by singling them out.

    Cancel it to treat them equally to every one else.

    February 18, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  14. mb

    I can tell by a lot of these comments that we are not were we should be and we still have a long way too go. I heard a lady say that Abe Lincoln should have sent black people back to Africa and just maybe the Native Americans should have sent the white people back to where they came from.

    February 18, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  15. mkn

    All a person needs to do is read the posts here to know that Holder was right on the money.
    Why would anybody feel so threatened and upset by his statements unless they knew, deep down, that they were true.
    Look at these posts. They SCREAM "Defensive".

    February 18, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
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