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. Connie

    What the hell?? So what exactly does he want? Isn't good to know that our AG thinks of us as cowards! WoW didn't take him long to dog Americans! Can't wait to see what he has in store for us!!!

    February 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |

    I myself think that race is playing a big role in Oboma presidency. All eyes are on him trying to look for any and every mistakes he might make. This is so unfair, Bush was not under this kind of pressure his first month in office. Oboma is doing a good job. I know there are people that just can"t wait till 2012 to try and vote Oboma out of office because of his race.

    February 18, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  3. Ken in NC

    Attorney General Eric Holder told the truth. It was blunt but none the less true. America has not faced up to it's race issue like countries in Europe. People say that racism does not exist in this country but it is just as present today as it was 10 years ago. I grew up in the 50's and 60's and I will admit that we have made progress but many refuse to accept the reality of the fact that racism is wrong and that "ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL".

    i applaude those that have accepted change and chalange those that have yet to allow themselves to see people as "PEOPLE". We all have histories and cultures in all races and that includes the white race and we should all be proud of our culture.

    February 18, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  4. Keith, Co

    Couldn't agree more! We have let stereotypes dominant our opinions of each other for far to long! Well said Mr. Holder.

    February 18, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  5. Richard A. Spomer, Alexandria, VA

    What because your black you deserve more, were is the frame of equality, which you deserve what you get. There are illegal people from Africa they are black; President Obamas Aunt is one of these individuals.

    There are more white collar crimes committed today by black, look at Senator Burris from Ill., white, Asian, India, and others which are directly passed on to the constituents of the USA...

    February 18, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  6. Robert

    The main reason that America is a nation of cowards is because certain races get whiny and sometimes even violent when some topics are discussed. Most people would rather not deal with the headaches involved so the "cowardice" continues.

    February 18, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  7. Edward

    Race is an emotionally charged topic. I've witnessed a number of fellow co workers, who attempted dialogue on the subject and expressed their viewpoints, only to be labeled as racists and fired. If we are a nation of cowards, Mr. Holder, it is due to the consequences of the policies that hang over our heads.

    February 18, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  8. Jay F

    I can't stand Sharpton but that cartoon is definitely racist. If the artist can't see that perhaps he should consider another line of work. Maybe he was on steroids.

    February 18, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  9. M

    ...why do i have a strange feeling that most minorities are going to agree with Holder and many whites are not. As a black male, I agree with him. Being the "other" forces you to deal with race.

    February 18, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  10. platteman

    Wow, I didn't know Rev. Al was in the justice department. guess he missed the fact that the messiah won the election, Michael Steele won the election to head the Republican Party.

    This new guy, oh yes, the one who said Mark Rich was ok to get a pardon, despite not paying taxes and such, is now in charge of racial trials and such.
    Now if the great messiah fails, I am sure holder will be the first to hollar racism, just like Rev. Al. where is Rev. Jessie in all this, oh yes, I know visiting CA and his child out there.

    February 18, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  11. Beverly in Atlanta

    Jon, all that you wrote about the problems within the black race is DOUBLE that of the white race. Basically you don't know what you're talking about. And for the record, there are a large number of black people who agrees with Mr. Cosby. Now white American needs to find someone to speak the truth about the white problem.

    February 18, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  12. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    America has a pathological anxiety--it is demonstrated in the past--it exist in the present--and it will exist in the future-unless America changes it.

    February 18, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  13. Sophia Beck

    take a hike mister.

    I find it interesting you took the assumtion that Holder is talking about Whites when he said "Americans are Cowards"-what that tells me about you-is you believe Americans are only white-

    February 18, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  14. Barbara

    Mr. Holder – Please stop the wacky comments! Past is the past stop talking about it and get better.

    February 18, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. gbrown2

    TO COWARDS TAKE A HIKE!!! Obviously, you are having a serious problem with reading!!! He said AMERICANS not WHITE AMERICANS!!! At least get it right before you criticize the Atty. Generals point.

    February 18, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  16. Darryl

    Thanks but no thanks. Although his comment is insightful even during down economic time race will rear it head. See, when thing aren't going well American we play the blame game. I live in a racially mix area and I love it. I have Mexicans, White, people from the middle east to say life is algood if you have a job, good neighbors, schools and opportunities. But the sad truth is not everyone can wear the same shoes and at the same time.... As my friend will often say we must take baby steps ..............

    February 18, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  17. Ted

    @ AKRON, OH:
    Shame on you, America? Uhh...we elected him.

    February 18, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  18. Regular Dude

    I strongly disagree with these statements. The issue of race is in the mind of the individual. Some people, like this gentleman, perpetuate race as an issue because it is in his mind. My generation does not feel inclined to openly discuss race as an issue because we dont think of race in those terms. To us race is not an issue but a fact of life. It is about as important as the color of your hair. We were not around during slavery or the civil rights struggle so we don't have an issue or hold ill will toward a particular race. We need to do away with the "race issue" as our 44th president has clearly show us you can be ANYTHING you want in this country regardless of the color of your skin.

    February 18, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  19. Mike in NYC

    He is, of course, aware that whites have been browbeaten to the point where they think saying anything critical of "minorities" is illegal.

    On the other hand, Holder may end up hearing things he won't like. I'm ready to air my grievances.

    I hope the inevitable "hate" speech laws aren't retroactive.

    @Paul, Riverside, CA:

    Numerous "progressive" European countries have fined and/or jailed people for saying things that are deemed racially offensive. Such is the price of having "far better race relations."

    February 18, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  20. Jim

    A nation of cowards led by a gang of gutless thieves (from both parties). How did we get here? It is time for change but I'm afraid this isn't it.

    February 18, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Gerry in Va. for Obama.

    Mr Holder, with all due respect, I don't think you want to go there. Even your own color have, or maybe I should say show, little respect for each other. Don't take what I say the wrong way. I have, and have always had, great respect for the black race and believe they deserve a respectful place in society but when your people use ethnic dialogue that is unacceptable in society as a whole, to address each other, how does your race expect the rest of society to accept that ?

    Before you place the blame on society as a whole, try working on your race to improve their own image of each other. Ask them, especially the young crowd, to learn to respect themselves first and then work on respecting other people. That takes a lot of work, to learn to respect ones self, but until your younger generation can accompolish that, by getting an education (even if it is very hard to do) abiding by the law, getting a job and becoming a valued member of society, the rest of the world will only keep judging you by what you (your youth) say they are.

    I am so proud of President Obama and did work very hard in his campaign and I do believe he will be the best president we have had. As you know HE worked day and night and gave up so much personal time to accompolish his journey. I know that he will not be the last black president this United States will have, but the black youth MUST take this same hard journey President Obama has taken IF they (and you) are to arise to those great expectations.

    February 18, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. Sniffit


    Hiding behind illogical, irrational hatred and disdain based on the color of a person's skin, their gender or sexual orientation? COWARDLY.

    Hiding behind the ability to claim victim status, pointing a finger, failing to take responsibility for self-determination to the extent possible and perpetuating a culture of learned helplessness? COWARDLY.

    February 18, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. Matthew, Detroit

    Holder is correct.

    "Even black history month itself is racist".

    They gave african americans the shortest month. Whats up with that.

    I think we need a white history month. March.

    We also need a Mexican American month. May

    Chinese what month do you want? Eurotrash Month, Eastern block month, Canadian month, Arabic month, Japanese need a month, We need to think this out. Everyone deserves a month...

    February 18, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  24. LEFT out in the cold

    Mr Holder, when the country is trying to survive, why are you trying to divide it even more???

    I try to see America as the Melting Pot...all of us who are here LEGALLY are Americans, regardless of color (...and other ACLU terms...). When you throw out comments like this, you are just as dividing as someone waving the "Rebel Flag" saying the south will rise again.

    This is 2009...When you call Americans "Cowards" regarding race, you are just another bigger part of the problem, regardless if you are the AG or not.

    February 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. Terry in NY

    Getting real tired of the poor me attitude some have. Stand up be men and women, get a job, pay taxes, stay out of trouble, be a responsible parent and that goes for white and black and you'll be treated just the same as any other person. Stopping trying to fine the easy way out!

    February 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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