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. Nate Hussein

    @ Charles, Tempe
    Well said, I couldn't agree more.

    February 18, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  2. Kim SC


    February 18, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. Once you vote Black

    The conditions of Black folks in America can be directly linked to how White folks are feeling during any given decade. When whites are comfortable blacks are unemployed, crime rates go up, and education suffers. That is because you folks are in the majority and legislate your way into our lives. How can a majority blame a minority for conditions that are beyond our control? It is the whites who don’t want to have a real conversation!
    Hey TCM, you better get down to the Winn Dixie and get one of those funny antennas so you can watch TV after Feb 09.

    February 18, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  4. Dan J

    Yet another winner appointed by Obama

    February 18, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  5. Gilbert

    Sohpia it's called a freudian slip and it DOES highlight the problem even more than does the blog post. That being that racism is still alive and well in the US.

    February 18, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. Danny G. Boca Raton, FL

    I believe that the promise of America is that we all have at times achieve the necessary courage to deal with our problems, but social and economic... the sense that we are a nation of cowards because our national dialogue on race hasn't obtained a better footing is nonsense... the fact is that we are a mix of 300 million people from the entire world... we represent every country of every part of this world and yet we still manage to respect and recognize our rule of law... I am part of the minority but I refuse to use it as a croch; I work just as hard as anyone and I deserve just as much respect and I try to do the same to everyone else regardless of whom they are... but to call us cowards is I believe too much and I also believe that to advace the discussion is not just to seek acknoledgement but to seek solutions that will benefit everyone that will eventually get us in the right direction

    February 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  7. Sniffit

    @ M, who said "being the 'other' forces you to deal with race"

    You know, there's a lot of honest people out there who have a legitimate fear of being branded with an -ism solely because they fail to agree with the hardline position of whoever is claiming to be a victim of that -ism. That's not cowardice...it's pragmatism. I could just as easily claim that "being the 'white one' prevents you from dealing with race." As usual, neither side seems to understand that their rhetoric contributes to the problem by preventing honest and open discourse.

    February 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  8. eyitayo onifade

    Great challenge to the American people.

    How we respond will prove him right or wrong.

    February 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. Once you vote Black

    It seems like Bill Cosby is bighting the hand that made him so much money. When he started out it was blacks who went to his movies because whites were too racist to do so. Now that he has made $ he thinks it is time to put us down in public. Do you remember the kids in Fat Albert? That is the same people he is now turning against.

    February 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. craig

    I think this is the time to get it out in the open. Our President is black for God's sake. Holder is right Americans are cowardly when the race issue comes up. We treat it like a weapon and give the issue names like "race card"

    February 18, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. In Houston, TX

    I would consider YOU a coward, if you do not go after the Bush administration for their various transgressions. With all that's goin on in the world and our country, the topic of conversation is race? We just elected a black president and have much bigger fish to fry.
    I know you are going through a lot over there but would you shut up and do what yer paid fer?

    February 18, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. Ray Ray

    Gee – I guess the AG isn't proud of being an American? Even MICHELLE finally came around, Eric.

    What do you want?

    An apology from Africans that sold their fellow countrymen into slavery?


    Funny – I remember it was millions of WHITE men (cowards?) that died to free black slaves.

    February 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. DNC

    Jon in CA, DITTO !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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

    gbrown2 February 18th, 2009 3:10 pm ET – No, he's talking about white Americans. He's obviously got some axe to grind. He makes it look all plain and generic, but his true (for lack of a better word) colors will come out eventually.

    The flushing of America continues.

    February 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  15. Patrick

    As attorney general you are not supposed to see the color of skin and let it affect your opinion of people. I have no problem with the speech, but I have problem with it coming from the attorney general.

    February 18, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  16. Luke Brown

    Holder is right about the need to address the issue of race ... but wrong to blame the whole country. Lots of us, especially in the South, have been working to create meaningful engagements on race for years.

    Where has he been?

    February 18, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  17. Michigan!

    Using negative talk like that is never helpful. It puts people on the defensive (as is clear by all these defensive comments). I hope that Mr. Holder uses more INSPIRING language next time he tries to teach Americans to be more brave about discussing race. It's easy to be a critic.

    February 18, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Perhaps people would be more open to talking about race without the likes of Al Sharpton labeling everything with which they disagree with as racist, no matter how far fetched that accusation may be.

    February 18, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  19. Cheryl

    America is "a nation of cowards..."

    I love it! E. Holder is correct about his observations but it's not just one race or two ethnic groups who are guilty of this mindset. The USA is more than just black and white, muslim and jew, christian and mormon. Native Americans, Asians, Hispanic, bi-racial, and other people in-between and who distinguish themselves either racially, by religious belief, or some other sub-standard grouping are here and need to always be remembered in the dialogue.

    Quite frankly, I get tired of hearing about the black man's plight. Seriously, what plight is there? Black folks have come a long way since the Civil Rights Movement. Many African-Americans are professionals with advanced degrees. They are corporate and political leaders, teachers, etc. True, there are MANY who are still very ghetto and choose to stay in the 'hood. However, most A-A choose to be lawful folks just trying to earn a living through honest and peaceful means.

    C'mon. Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and even Anglo folks are feeling disenfranchised these days, moreso, now in today's America. So yes, let's be honest about race relations and how far ethnic groups have come economically, professionally, and other ways that advance causes and personal welfare.

    Maybe, the first step is by recognizing that racial lines are divisive and calling ones' self by ethnicity alone does not a person make.

    February 18, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  20. Wally

    We would all agree that racism doesn't only come from white folks.
    It also comes from others who are not white- who are bitter and feel hatred toward whites.

    Wouldn't we all agree??

    February 18, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  21. KC

    How dare you Mr. Holder. How dare you.

    February 18, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  22. Nicole

    To Jon in Ca.

    Mr. Holder is 100% true but people like you don't want to discuss race in this country because you want to believe your sterotypes that all us colored folks are lazy and looking for a hand out from the government. That is why so many people hate Michelle Obama because she doesn't fit your sterotype of a black woman so you make her out to be angry and mean.

    February 18, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  23. meh

    He's right.

    February 18, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  24. J in NJ

    Hey Eric, we don't talk about it because there is no need to. The civil rights era is over the good guys won. There is even a constitutional amendment. Quit complaining and get back to work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 18, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  25. B

    I agree with Holder and I'll be glad when the black people get over themselves and quit trying to make everything that happens to them racist. I think as a country we look at the actions of a person more than the skin color. No matter if you're black, white, red, or mexican if you act like an idiot and don't care about other people you are a loser. Nothing to do with race.

    February 18, 2009 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
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