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. Offended White Guy

    Why can't I be offended? What he said was racist, and I demand an apology. I demand he step down. I demand that the president issue a public statement. That will go a short distance toward healing the wounds that this thoughtless attorney general has inflicted on my spirit. I am hurt and offended. I don't care if he didn't mean it like it came out. He has offended a group and that's verbal genocide. I demand retribution and reparations.

    (I wouldn't have known how to respond to what this man said if Al Sharpton had not taught me).

    March 7, 2009 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  2. Simmy

    Willy Brown,

    It's telling that you are here blogging, where no one knows who you really are, yet you still can't come to terms with your racism. That's true of ck and a few others. If you have a problem say so. But don't continue to call Blacks or any other (so-called) minority group racist whenever they talk about injustices. Holder was correct, and no apology is necessary. Peace.

    March 7, 2009 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  3. Telemachus

    Slavery originated in Africa and Asia and was brought to the New World. There were buyers and sellers – can you guess who the sellers were and where they hailed from?

    March 7, 2009 11:17 pm at 11:17 pm |
  4. Ravi

    I like our new AG, but I have to disagree with his view that people should want to talk about race with each other. Mr. Holder should realize that for some Americans, like myself, the race/ethnicity issue is extremely uncomfortable, painful, and beyond explosive. For me there is no issue in the world that generates as much anger and mistrust as this one. It forces two people to see each other as enemies, instead of as friends and fellow Americans.

    This is why, if someone brings it up with me, I make it very clear that I do NOT care to discuss it or get asked any questions about it, and I definitely don't "joke around" about it, in either direction. It's 100% off limits, at least with me.

    March 7, 2009 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  5. Coherent1

    Blacks and whites alike are tired of the lack of knowledge and understanding on this issue. As Americans, cowardly or not, we will not move beyond this "race" thing as a whole. Some will, some won't–that's just fact. Some– understand the history of our country's atrocities therefore have an understanding of the cause and effects, giving them the ability to forgive and move on; both black and white alike. To the rest of you, who point fingers and are still blaming one another, both black and white...YOU have been left behind. We've completed our Doctorates on this issue and you all are still in the 3rd Grade. The rest of us have a country to fix and we've decided to move forward. Join us when you've figured it out. LOL!

    March 7, 2009 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  6. Randy

    What Holder and most Black Americans forget is that slavery ended over a century or two ago. We need to focus on more important things, like the economy. My black friends need to get over it, plain and simple. If not, last time I checked they are free to leave.

    March 7, 2009 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  7. hoopechu

    Sorry, but America is racist. Mexicans hate, blacks hate, asians hate, whitey hates, natives hate, puerto ricans hate, italians hate, polish hate, germans hate, jews hate, catholics hate, protestants hate, french hate, english hate, arabs hate, africans hate, hippies hate, republicans hate, democrats hate, warmongers hate, pacificists hate.

    March 7, 2009 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  8. Eddie

    Hmm, oddly enough Obama never speaks about his own problems in the black race, like abandoning their children, just like his father did to him.

    March 7, 2009 11:23 pm at 11:23 pm |
  9. Randy

    So why is everyone getting upset over the comment. He did say WE are a nation of cowards correct. That is an inclusive statement but its seems as though whites are the only on getting upset as if blacks aren't part of this nation. We only talk about race when something stirs it up like this comment. No one is a racist until they get behind their computer and can speak freely (how they really feel). Its 2009 lets have an open and honest discussion so WE can move on as a NATION!

    200 years and blacks haven't moved on. What makes you think any level or volume of discussion will change a thing. Face it, it is a crutch that blacks will never lose.

    March 7, 2009 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  10. Larry

    Considering that African American represent only 13% of our total population in United States, I think that African Americans are getting equal to ,and percentage wise,more of their voice heard and representation than ANY other race in the United States.

    March 7, 2009 11:26 pm at 11:26 pm |
  11. Randy

    If Holder was white Jesse and the Rev Al show would already be demanding Holder be fired. they would still be burning and looting businesses in DC.

    March 7, 2009 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  12. Ant

    death to america, you are ignorant! and stupid! Learn how to spell before you try and call someone else stupid. You coward!

    March 7, 2009 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  13. Mike

    Eric Holder had it right and president Obama is doing him a sincere injustice by basically apologizing for tough words that needed to be stated. No I'm not black, I'm American indian and I don't need to say a thing about racial injustice because as soon as you read the words American Indian it gave you pause and so it should. While I'm not out to beat on the long dead skeleton of that horse, I will say that racial injustice in all it's forms is not something that should be swept under the rug and then everyone wipes their hands clean and then have the audacity to get upset when any person that is representing an oppressed race gets offended by something. Prejudice has gone from the 'in your face' form to the 'subtle behind the back' form and I don't know which is worse really. It's high time we as people faced our fears and come to terms with the fact that we are all of this earth and unless one of you starts walking on water and turning water to wine then it's time to get off the pedestal and start showing everyone the same respect that you yourselves want to recieve. And for the love of whatever religion you follow, quit perceiving the truth and have the courage to find out what the 'actual' truth is. Perception is the cowards way of guessing at what the truth is rather than really taking the time to discover it. So yeah, we're a nation of cowards who would rather point the finger and whisper then come out and engage others in conversation to find out what the truth really is.

    March 7, 2009 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  14. Realitycheck

    I've had it!!!! I'm sick to my stomach everytime I hear blacks bring up slavery. For God's sake (He must be tired of it too), get a life. The blacks of this country, I bet 80% +, have been born HERE! So WHY do they call themselves Afro-Americans. They are in fact AMERICANS. And nothing else. You don't hear europeans, asians
    or austrialians, etc. say their born or ancestorial country-American.

    March 7, 2009 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  15. Texas Teacher

    I truly believe that most people voted for Obama because he was an intelligent human being who had the answers we wanted to hear! I didn't care whether he was Black, White, or Green! I still do not care. He is intelligent, articulate, and he is fighting for the little man... NOT the top 5% of the rich! And I think the Republicans HATE that! So they are ready to jump on anything that he or anyone else says! What's new? Seriously..... 🙂

    March 7, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  16. Helen, NY

    I was told when Barack brought in his candidacy for President that he was not black enough and blacks did not want to vote fo him. Is he black enough?

    March 7, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  17. Cal

    I agree with Holder. The day Obama was elected prez and Holder became ag we became a nation of cowards because we're being lead by cowards. This from a minority that the feds consider too successful to get affirmative action.

    March 7, 2009 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  18. Carol

    Yes we are a nation of cowards because we are so afraid of listening to someone else's opinion if it is not what we like. What happened in Illinois when a Democratic governor appointed a Democrat to fill the seat of President Obama right before he was impeached? Instead of people being allowed to agree or not Congressman Bobby Rush makes the appointment about race. What do all the political hacks say? Mr. Burris is a wonderful man, but we don't think he should be appointed by a man who tried to sell the seat. All we heard was praise about Mr. Burris's sterling character, but what do we know now. He lied under oath. He has given 3 different answers. Now anyone who talks against him is a racist. Well, in a state that has elected 2 Black senators, ahould this have even come up? I no longer will vote for a Black candidate as long as the likes of Bobby Rush and his group are in Illinois because they feel that once a Black is elected no other race has the right to hold that seat.

    March 7, 2009 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  19. Pat

    I has been my experience any time race is or needs to be discussed is when there are accusations of racism. I lived and worked with a lot of racists in the Baltimore/Washington area, incuding those who demanded a Black Revolution (no Whites in Power) and supported people demanding the murder of all Whites.

    March 7, 2009 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  20. M.R.

    I agree that most people are reluctant to talk about race – but I wonder if the AG realizes why? It's because if you make a remark or gesture that can be twisted to be seen as racist in even the smallest way, you'll have Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton calling for your head. So, everyone just keeps quiet and keeps believing what they believe, without interacting with other points of view in an honest discussion.

    March 7, 2009 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  21. thomas gardner

    You could not give those peoples what they want unless you are willing to give up what you have and take a back seat in the bus.
    And if they don't get what they want they will burn you town down.\

    March 7, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  22. Charles

    I do not frequently talk about race because I do not care or think that much about it. How does that make me a coward? And I do not believe our AG knows how prevelant my attitude is in America.

    March 7, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  23. Proud American

    I am an American. My ancestors have been in this great country since the 1600's. I am sure some of them owned slaves. But what people need to realize is that slaves were possesions back when it was legal. It was no different than someone today owning any possession. It was a way of life back then It is not an accepted way of life now...just like it is not acceptable for a 30 yearold to marry a 14 or 15 year old. All that was legal when slavery was legal. Times change. I could understand it if we still had someone alive today that was a slave...he/she would have a right to be bitter. Not a single descendant of a slave living today has a reason to be bitter. Their ancestors have already moved on to a better place. What needs to happen is for people to all get along and put the past behind us....or we are doomed to repeat it. More people need to read history books, like John Adams & 1776 by David McCollough. It puts alot of things from the slave times in perspective. The past was horrible.....but the future can be awesome....we have alot of great people in this country.

    March 7, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  24. cappicola

    Do African-Americans really and truly in their hearts want to discuss the issue of race with their white brethren OR would they rather keep all of white America in an ever-apologizing mode, off-balance and moving backwards on its heels?

    Exactly WHAT is keeping the African-American population from initiating an honest, candid and intellectual dialogue about racism?

    Could it be that the reluctance of whites to openly discuss race has become a very useful tool for African-Americans to ultimately get far more leeway?

    When I didn't vote for Barack Obama because I could not align myself with his policies, I was summarily labeled a "racist". Now, that he is President, his Attorney General openly calls white people – as in "me" – a "coward".

    Have any African-Americans come forward to publicly denounce these tactics? Where is THEIR outrage when the flames of racism are deliberately being fanned? Mr. Holder apparently has the balls of a burglar only because his boss is an African-American. Does he not see himself as being an Attorney General for ALL Americans?

    No, the collective silence of African-Americans everywhere is deafening.

    March 8, 2009 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  25. Typical White Person

    This whole obsession people have with their ancesters is rediculous. My grandmother did a lot of digging and you know what? I have a Scottish queen in my family tree. That doesn't make me a leader. I also have a bootlegger in my family tree. That doesn't make me a criminal. My grandfather was illiterate until the day he died. That doesn't make me illiterate.

    I am not a product of my ancesters. I am what I am today because I've worked my butt off since the age of 16. My ancesters didn't do squat for me when I took algebra, I did the work and made the grades.

    My parents could not afford college and I didn't want to start life in debt, so I didn't go until I was in my late 20's. I went to school at night while working fulltime during the day with 2 kids at home under the age of 4. I graduated with a 4.0. My ancesters didn't stay up until midnight studying or working on projects, I did the work and made the grades.

    Every person in this country has access to an education that will get them out of poverty, but it only works if they take advantage of it. A person's attitude is a far better predictor of success or failure than their skin color. Just ask any black person that has succeeded how they did it and they will tell you the same thing a white person will – they worked for it.

    March 8, 2009 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
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