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. Tom

    So, what your saying is that we should do away with all the ethnic history/recognition months/weeks/etc.? That is fine by me, maybe that will cut costs that are being needlessly wasted.

    February 18, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    I support Obama and Holder fully, but let's be real: as a white irish catholic heterosexual male, I'm pretty much not allowed to talk about race or gender or sexual orientation without risking a scarlet letter.

    February 18, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  3. Morgan, Colorado

    Holder is right on the money. From my experience as a facilitator of racial dialogue groups I know its very difficult for people to ge out of PC language and truly open up and talk frankly. You hear people talking about race card this and that when people start to talk about race. That completely shutsdown any conversation and people can go back to hiding their thoughts and feelings.

    BTW thanks Alfred for proving your own statement true with your comment. There is nothing foolish about what he said or means.

    February 18, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  4. Massachusetts

    Okay Eric, instead of black and white, let's use smart and stupid. You unfortunately, fit in the latter category

    February 18, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  5. Debby

    I'll second Alfred's fool comment. Holder should realize people have better things to do in life than think about someone's race. I hope having a bi-racial President isn't going to bring out the wacky comments in people as this guy just did.

    February 18, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  6. TjayeInLA

    He's very right. Nothing foolish about it. Many whites would like to think that because THEY personally aren't racist or don't realize they are racists that it must not exist. That is tantamount to thinking that because WE are Christian or consider ourselves to be Christian that other faiths aren't real. Not talking about it won't make it go away. And it tends to prohibit those who are negatively affected by it to not address it because many will retaliate against them for bringing up the "better left unsaid". He is correct and we need to take our heads out of the sand, because we can't fix a problem we won't address.

    February 18, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  7. cheryl from Cali

    I agree with you on that subject. During the election I experienced a lot of racism. I believe that racism is why the stimulus bill had such poor participation. It's sad.... I think it's The Forty Acres And a Mule Syndrome.

    February 18, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  8. Independent_me

    Mr. Holder is correct.
    It is only white bigots who refuse to acknowledge the problem by denying that the problem exists in the first place. However, many, many whites have died for the freedom and civil rights of blacks and other minorities.

    Unfortunately the bigots mask themselves in the guise of legitimacy and emerge as talk show hosts, editorial writers and cartoonists who hide behind freedom of speech. The NY Post, with their racist slur against President Obama, is a great example of this.They contribute greatly toward keeping racism alive, and the honest discussion of it stifled. Corporations support them by supporting their talk shows and media outlets by buying their advertising time.

    We the people can demand change and stop them dead in their tracks if we boycott the corporations that support them with their advertising dollars, and stop supporting the politicians who manipulate us by using religion and "morals" to continue their hate-fill ways.

    February 18, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. Obama America's President

    you may be right mr. holder, and the republican party is a good example, most of them are racist.

    February 18, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  10. MSM

    I am sorry Alfred, I think the only fool here in this situation is a person like you who would make a comment like that. America is a nation of cowards when it comes to race and race relations. Mr. Holder speaks the truth and those that don't want to acknowledge the truth all always find ways to say silly things like the sentiments expressed by yourself. All minorities that have been oppressed are told to get over it and move on. People cannot just get over a system that was set up to keep groups of people down.

    February 18, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  11. sg

    Ya know, I don't spend too much time thinking about race lately. I'm more concerned with how I'm going to keep making my mortgage payments after I lose my job in 1.5 wks. How much courage did it take to burn all those women and children in Waco Mr. Holder? Weren't they mainly white women and children Mr. Holder? Surely you weren't involved with that were you?

    February 18, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  12. Simpliticus

    This just might bode poorly upon the Bush administration. If Holder takes this point of view, then actions accounting to in-depth investigations can only be the result. Why would someone say such without being able to back this up with appropriate actions? To say such words only means that actions will come which points to further insights into judicial actions deemed unfair or illegal. Hence, expect investigations into the Bush administration if Mr. Holder's words can be parsed accordingly! That is unless the New York Post's intrudes in here and that is reason enough for his words!

    February 18, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  13. laurie m

    Mr. Holder is right. But his appointment is a move forward. Hopefully, intelligence will shine over all in this new, fresh, bright, diverse administration.

    February 18, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  14. no corporate politics

    "failing to candidly talk about matters of race"

    So he missed this last election when Obama brought race up in some form or another in most of his speeches? And his followers talked of little else but the historic election?

    The only people afraid of race right now are those afraid to express any criticism of our president for fear of being clled racist.

    This is going to get ugly – no politician can keep all their promises and Obama has made it clear he will blame race to avoid the image of failure. And he has his surrogates ready to whine.

    February 18, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  15. Joe in Austin


    February 18, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  16. Charles, Tempe, AZ

    I agree with Mr. Holder. While his comments were stern, I think what he says is true. As a white male, I myself have underlying stereotypical characterizations of other races and I believe a more open discussion is necessary if we are going to overcome this. But its going to take ALL sides of the issue to listen, understand and overcome. Political Correctness is the theme de jour and I find it is often the "Cocoons" we escape to. We need and open, frank discussion. Say whats on your mind. Get it out in the open. Overcome it.

    February 18, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  17. Shari, NY

    The NY Post is not coward on the race issue. It's brazen cartoon sattire has drawn Al Sharpton's tongue. I guess business is slow so it uses controversy and distaste to bring attention to itself.

    February 18, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  18. Makin hay

    Guys on CNN what about this don't you agree with it? You think Obama being pres and Holder being A.G changes anything. And he did say Americans not White Americans so bring down the controversy level a bit

    February 18, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  19. STEVE R


    what a joke.

    whenever we talk about race someone somewhere gets offended by something and then there are all the race baters and then the protest...and so on and so on......

    the first black this........the first women that.........
    I look forward to the day when the first of any race to do this that or the other thing does not matter or even makes the headlines. That will be the day........

    until then everyone will be in line for some type of grip

    February 18, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  20. drh49

    Holder must be talking about himself.
    I am not surprised after all it is the Blacks that always bring up the race issue.
    Why Can't the black people move on?
    What more do you want?
    Look at the government handouts and see if the majority of benefits do not go to blacks.
    Look at disability payments and see if the majority does not go to blacks.
    It is time for the blacks to put on their big boy pants and help carry the load in this country instead of constantly complaining about something.
    It is time for you to give up the slavery issue, none of us living ever owned slaves so drop it and move on .

    February 18, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  21. DB

    I totally agree, Mr. Holder. Just reading the comments on some of the CNN blogs reveal very quickly the racist beliefs that many people hold and some of what I see written (nasty stereotypical comments about President Obama) shows how far we need to go to even begin to think we are "post-racial." I know that I have to be careful with some of my own stereotypical thinking (i.e., why does it seem like all nasty comments from Republican politicians are spoken with a Southern accent?) and I need to re-evaluate my thinking so as not to be guilty of the same thing that I accuse others of perpetuating. This country is not ready for an honest debate on race and while I have seen improvement over my 58 years, we still have a long way to go.

    February 18, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  22. america first

    holder is right.

    February 18, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  23. Merman Hunster

    This is a most unfortunate statement. One of the reasons that whites avoid race issues is because of statements like Mr. Holder's. I have a lot of black friends, I socialize, visit their homes and discuss race and haver read considerably about race. Nonetheless, it is extremely difficult to conduct a conversation on race with many black people because whites end up getting called racists at every turn. The onus for being"cowards" lies more with black people than that group is willing to admit. Calling people cowards is not a way to encourage civil discourse. It also does enormous harm to President Obama who has been above this type of language and has been dealing with the problems of all Americans in a respectful and civil way. Maybe he made a mistake in his choice of Attorney general.

    February 18, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  24. Tony Blevins

    I am completely surprised by this comment; Mr. Obama ensured his campaign was not about race, but about a nation in need. I am Caucasian and voted for, campaigned for, knocked on doors for Mr. Obama and as I stated, his cabinet begins to bring race into the picture? I hope and pray Mr. Obama gets a handle on this issue and informs his cabinet, this is not about starting race issues and lose focus of the real problems this nation faces.

    Thank you


    February 18, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  25. Unfortunately he's right

    Alfred E. Neumann just proved why Eric Holder is 100% right.

    I do think things are getting better though – they certainly have just in my lifetime – and as President Obama says we can continue to perfect our Union.

    Good for AG Holder for speaking out on this. I hope he doesn't apologize – he shouldn't.

    February 18, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
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