March 7th, 2009
07:02 PM ET
11 years ago

Obama discusses Holder's 'cowards' remark

Attorney General Eric Holder came under fire recently for calling America a 'nation of cowards.'

Attorney General Eric Holder came under fire recently for calling America a 'nation of cowards.'

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama, in an interview published Saturday, sought to clarify Attorney General Eric Holder's recent controversial comments calling America a 'nation of cowards' when it comes to race relations.

"I think it’s fair to say that if I had been advising my attorney general, we would have used different language," Obama told the New York Times aboard Air Force One on Friday. "I think the point that he was making is that we’re oftentimes uncomfortable with talking about race until there’s some sort of racial flare-up or conflict, and that we could probably be more constructive in facing up to the painful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination."

In a speech marking Black History Month on February 18, Holder said that while the nation has "proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot ... we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

Read more on Holder's comments

Holder, an African American, said that Americans are afraid to talk about race, adding that "certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character."

And that impression of race in America set off an immediate firestorm of criticism - mostly among conservative bloggers such as Michelle Malkin.

But Obama said Friday that the nation has made "enormous progress and we shouldn't lose sight of that."

"And I’m not somebody who believes that constantly talking about race somehow solves racial tensions,” the president said. “I think what solves racial tensions is fixing the economy, putting people to work, making sure that people have health care, ensuring that every kid is learning out here. I think if we do that, then we’ll probably have more fruitful conversations."

Filed under: Eric Holder • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (258 Responses)
  1. FreeNLovIt

    Look, Black Brothers, I'm not black or white, but from the bottom of my heart, I know your white brothers love you. They give you a lot of respect and prefer you before a Hispanic or Asian. I know that because I see it. So, remember, dont be paranoid!! You're white Bro LOVES you..

    March 7, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  2. If you don't like it go back to Europe!

    Take Steele, now that is a coward! He was afraid to upset Rush and they were not even talking about race. Now a Black women is trying to get rid of him. The GOP is in po shape. Po Shape!

    March 7, 2009 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  3. FreeNLovIt

    Look into Obie's eyes, and you'll see the future. Believe is the word.

    March 7, 2009 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  4. FreeNLovIt

    Yes, slavery is painful and I dont know how you can ever pay someone back after 200 to 300 years of it, but forgiveness and love is all I can think of.

    March 7, 2009 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  5. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Is it racist to harbor negative feelings toward AAs when an overwhelming percentage of your experiences with them and their subculture have been negative? Prejudiced to be sure, but irrational?

    March 7, 2009 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  6. Cheney

    Racism is based in fear,I use it often.

    March 7, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. joe smith

    it's like anything else,we have all been dumbed down to the extent, that expressing ones feelings, (as Holder ) did, somehow gives the impression that he, or anyone else for that matter, is some kind of wacko; but 40 years ago, generally, people would let you have it, and you just swallowed hard, shook yourself off, and made the best of, your branded, not good..

    March 7, 2009 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  8. kid minneapolis

    A great start would be for all the republi-klan posters on this site to finally and openly admit that they hate the President of the United States of America mostly because of his racial background.

    March 7, 2009 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  9. mike, wa

    There is a simple reason for this and that is for a white person to say anything that might be percieved as negative about any minority race they are automatically label a racist. With this stigma why bother discusing it if they are jsut going to call you names?

    March 7, 2009 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  10. Susan

    Poor Michelle Malkin. She wouldn't find anything positive in any comment by a Democrat.
    Holder is right. When is the last time anyone on this board had a conversation about race with a person of a different race?

    Thought so.

    March 7, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  11. Nathan

    Cnn can u please stop sugar coating what holder said. If this was a white republican you would be quick to criticize. Face the fact racism goes both ways. If america is so cowardice then why do u think affirmative action exists. How do u think the obomas got into ivy league schools

    March 7, 2009 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  12. Jeff

    So what if Holder's comments offended and annoyed a few conservative hatemongers. Like that group has ever been delicate in speech.

    March 7, 2009 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  13. Edward

    No one discusses race because most African Americans are too sensitive. You can't criticize them so what is there to discuss? You either agree with them or you're a racist or an uncle tom, one of the two, because obviously all of their problems are the fault of someone else. Furthermore, there really is nothing to discuss. Some people need to get their act together and then there wouldn't be any problems because who can you blame when you're successful and realize that no one's holding you back? As for self segregation, people do this, it's natural. People self segregate based on personal beliefs, interest, morals etc ... it has nothing to do with race. Lastly, Eric Holder is a moron and lost any semblance of respect I may have had for him. CNN forgot to mention that he also said that on weekends America of today is no different than the America of 50 years ago. Really? Idiot.

    March 7, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  14. C W

    I would add that what helps solve racial tensions is making the effort to actually get to know someone who is different than you. Reach out to the common humanity you share, and you'll find that what truly divides people is not race, religion, gender, age, ethnic background, culture or sexual orientation – what truly divides us is character.

    I've had the good fortune of knowing people from all walks of life and from all over the world – and I've learned there are good people and bad people everywhere. The only way to tell one from another is by getting to know them. And that takes time and courage.

    March 7, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  15. Gerry

    You could be discussing something at work with another employee and a third party overhears what you said and is offended with what you said and you may loss your job. It may have been to do with race sexual orientation, gender or etc. Do I want to take a chance of loosing my job because someone did not understand what I was saying or only heard a short part of what I said.

    March 7, 2009 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  16. Bob

    O called him "my attorney general"....., he's "OUR attorney general". Watch YOUR words.

    March 7, 2009 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  17. Letty VanKleeck

    In 2009 I believe it is time for all of us to accept that what we are and what we become is in our own hands and mind.Not in the hands of the government. All of our ancestors had to over come many adversities. Many times I feel and wish that those in the large cities would leave and come to see what life is all about in the Midwest. Our ancestors started in caves and sod houses and kept evolving and upgrading over the years.We are hardly an arcadian society.

    March 7, 2009 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. Gene

    No one is a coward! The issue is that the "race card" is ALWAYS played by the African descendant, if there is the slightest indication that it will "help their cause". White people don't play the race card, Black people do! It goes back to that feeling that they are "entitled" because of LONG PAST discrimination. YOU EARN RESPECT! It is not an entitlement! Stay in school, get an education, stay inside the law, and PULL YOUR PANTS UP! Don't attempt to draw unflattering attention to oneself!

    March 7, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  19. kenny cole

    Yes the president has say it all

    March 7, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  20. Yogesh

    Myself being an immigrant from India, I personally feel that US has changed a lot. Potential Americans are getting opportunities based on their talent not by race. Name one country other than US where a minority is elected to the top post by majority. There are some instances but none were directly elected by the people unlike here in US. Hence, everyone should appreciate the diversity of this country. I personally feel that some African American leaders use race to enhance their career. This should not be the case. This is land of opportunity and everything should be based on the individual potential not by race. Americans have proved this by electing a talented President.

    March 7, 2009 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  21. miguel

    I think Holder is absolutely right

    March 7, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  22. Denise

    It's difficult to say anything that isn't construed negatively by someone. Besides, if he has that opinion, he's entitled to it.

    It would be nice if people would give the benefit of the doubt instead of pouncing so quickly. That's politics.

    March 7, 2009 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  23. Alex

    I think Holder was on the money. Problem is small-minded people think there is only one connotation regarding the word "cowards". In fact, as Scottish comedian Billy Connolly once stated - and I agree with him 100% - the whole idea of "political correctness" is the language of cowardice, because people are afraid to face truths. In our society we are frowned upon if we talk about race, about sexual orientation, about religion, about political philosophy even. And it doesn't seem to matter if we're being positive or negative about it.

    March 7, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  24. cnnnewser

    Eric Holder has a right to his own opinion, also to speak his mind. It's freedom of speech at its finest.
    P.S. I do agree with Holders comments.

    March 7, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  25. SAW

    Holder was right, is right, and always will be right. As a "European-American" (I'll soon be forced to call myself that, right? Gotta be politically correct and all), I've found it hard to discuss issues of race without someone questioning MY ethics and accusing me of being racist because something I said could have been interpreted in more than one way... BTW, as a "European-American", I was born in New York, NY, and have lived here in the USA all my life. Are "African-Americans" like that too?

    March 7, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
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