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. Holdthisholder

    Ya say what you like Eric Holder.... and Obama clarify...
    what say you when we put a monkey in a joke....oh so different...and one sided...seems to be that each and every day now!
    I most of all am not a coward speak the truth to anyone...most really have not much to say cus there always picking up there phone calls....We are not cowards but smart like not having a McCain bumper sticker on a car or house out of fear of people...."the cowards" busting it up!!!!! So smart is NOT cowards!!!!! Get IT!!!!!

    March 7, 2009 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  2. Greg

    What happens in the present matters more than in the past and both races committed crimes. The constant charges of racism against Whites but not against Blacks is a big problem. Until morew Blacks get onto racist mBlacks like CNN's Roland Martin like White people do against racist Whites then we will have a problem.

    March 7, 2009 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  3. Olumadunwa

    I'm always in support of people being vocal and open about the numerous problems confronting us as a people; but it should be done in a very nice manner, bearing in mind that it might be sensitive. As an African, I know that the black race has been segregated in years past and it's still on-going sometimes in a very subtle way. The point I'm trying to make is that the Attorney General needed to have acknowledged the progress that has been made on the issue of race, and not just slam all "americans" in such a manner. What about those 67 million americans who voted unanimously for Obama? It's an insult to them, let's call a spade a spade.

    President Obama did the right thing by trying to rephrase on behalf of the Attorney General, but I personally think the AG himself has got some explainings to do, especially to those that spoke (through Nov 4 election) that Obama is worthy to be their President, in spite of his colour.

    March 7, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  4. Ronnie Patrick

    I agree with the President. Forget what that fool said for sometimes we can be insenative about others and that is just what Holder was.We have enough problems so let's move on to the big picture and that is the big, big economy that was left for us by the Republicans. Let's begin to pray for what is going on and how our President is trying his best to fix it. Give him time for things are for sure going to turn itself around and you will see trust me all will be well. Pray, pray, pray.

    March 7, 2009 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  5. Peter E

    Holder is right. People are too afraid to talk about race, and even try to silence others by telling them that even talking about race is racist. The fact is that there is racial inequality and racial segregation in this country. We may be better than most other countries in the world in integration and leveling the field, but that does not mean that we don't have a problem.
    After the Civil War and Emancipation republicans sold out the blacks they meant to save by compromising them away with the South. It took another hundred years for, ironically, democrats to take the next step through the Civil Rights movement. And still, our society continues racial segregation and discrimination. And not just of blacks, but latinos, and especially the often neglected and outcast asians. How come asians never get the benefits of affirmative action? They and their parents are immigrants too and started working at all those low paying jobs we Americans won't do.

    March 7, 2009 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  6. Serge Crespy (Collingwood, ONTARIO)

    Identifying a Race, identifies a Racist ! ....
    There is only "ONE RACE": "THE HUMAN RACE" ........ 22nd Century thinking, I suppose.

    March 7, 2009 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  7. Juge

    Face up to it folks. Holder is right!

    March 7, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  8. Is It 2012 Yet ?

    Some people love their "victim" status. It's a crutch for everything.

    March 7, 2009 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  9. Proud American

    Why is anyone asking for a "I'm Sorry" from the President? Has there been a Republican asked the samething from their Idiot leader Ruch? I think not.

    March 7, 2009 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  10. Kris

    I am sorry if this sounds bad, but when is today's society not going to have it thrown in their face every ten minutes that blacks have it so bad because of Jim Crow and the rest of the horendous things that happened before most of us were born. I can't change the past I can only help educate the future. Most blacks alive today were not alive when the gross atrocities happened to blacks in the past. And I mean gross. But again I am not to blame. I am not even sure my relatives did anything bad to anyone back then. Concentrate on the future and stop being so divisive and this is for all races. Don't hold us hostage to the past, it is not fair.

    March 7, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  11. CSRealist

    Ha...Obama always seems to be ducking, bobbing, weaving, and sidestepping comments made by loose-tongued appointees. Actually, he's quite graceful.

    March 7, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  12. marcus tullius c

    Sometimes the US hate of the Obama team pops up. Sadly enough.

    March 7, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  13. Peter E

    Ask yourself: how many friends do you have of other races or ethnicities? When was the last time you truly had a talk with them about their race or ethnicity? No, racial jokes don't count! Do you treat them in any way different than friends of any other ethnicity? It doesn't matter if that's in a positive or negative way.

    March 7, 2009 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  14. db

    Good God- HERE WE GO AGAIN.

    I just got laid off from my job and lost almost all my 401K.


    March 7, 2009 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  15. Travis

    There's one thing all the conservative bolggers leave out in their criticism of Mr. Holder . . . He's RIGHT!!

    March 7, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  16. shannon

    Please, anytime you have to clarify what someone said, what they said is wrong, and probably stupid. They used race the whole campaign to trash the Clintons, I guess they weren't racists anymore when it came time to pick his SOS.

    March 7, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  17. John in Tampa

    Years ago I went to a sensativity training thing in corporate Boston. A black man I admired asked what I would imagine about meeting blacks in a dark alley. I wanted to help cure us of stereotypes, but by coincidence half a dozen black high-schoolers had tried to mug me the night before on the Boston Common. They failed, no hurt to any of us, but I do not count that any type of win.

    I've been waiting forever for a President like this one. There is no point talking. Only being.

    March 7, 2009 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  18. dave

    WOW it only took a month for Obama to say something about this. This AG is the CHANGE will wanted. Give me a break. This is a racist AG. To those who say he is not I ask would you say the same thing if he was white and made a comment like this neg to AA's?

    March 7, 2009 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  19. Alfred

    Holder is a loony tune.

    March 7, 2009 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  20. Texas Proud!

    Eric Holder never once offered to apologize, and this was Obama's golden opportunity to apologize, yet he doesn't. Everytime I turn around Al Sharpton wants someone to apologize for something. Why does it appear this is a one way street.

    I was offended by Mr. Holder's remark, but I think I'm more offended that Obama feels he need not apologize for one of his employees.

    Guess these folks up there in Washington forgot the fact they are public servants and they work for us, the tax payer. You know, the ones that pay you for your service and all your perks.

    P.S. If either one of them did apologize, and I missed it, please tell me where I can find it. If it's out there then I will apologize for being wrong. It's not a hard thing to do, apologize when you're wrong.

    March 7, 2009 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  21. Richard Larson

    While it wouldn't take much sensible commentary to get Malkin riled up enough to go over board, I know that most people who do make an honest effort to accomodate racially sensitive subjects; experience discomfort even when discussing these topics with people who are ethnically different from one's self. You feel that you almost have to ask permission to go there, even if you are certain that no offense will be taken.

    I understand what Mr. Holder was trying to say, but it will take a serious effort on both sides of this coin to really reach that state of affairs that the racial context will be mutually considered to be unremarkable.

    What confounds me is that Malkin is, herself at least twice a minority figure, i.e. non-white and female, but she is so blatantly ready to play the bigot that she has essentially become the squeeky wheel that must be ignored if sensible, rational people are going to make any further progress in ethnic, or minority relations.

    March 7, 2009 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  22. Norcal DM

    I understand and I am in agreement AG Holder's comments. Though, President Obama is correct, this statement could have been stated better. I am sure if the President and AG had discussed this, AG Holder could have found a more polite way of stating this rather valid statement. We have a difficulty discussing issues of race and ethnicity in our country because we are not sure what statements will offend, and cause us to be labeled with the ever negative racist label. This is why many discussed are placed on the back burner. President Obama's speech on race was wonderful, when he was back on the campaign trail. As always, we can leave it to President Obama to make a marvelous speech and give us a different perspective on any touchy issue.

    March 7, 2009 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  23. prowdyank

    I think there are so many black people who are so easily offended by a casual remark that whites tip toe around the subject of race altogether. When blacks are on the losing end of anything, the first thing they do is blame racism. You live in the past.....get over it !! Look to the future and for heaven sake stop killing each other. You are your own worst enemies.

    March 7, 2009 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  24. Michele

    I think Obama is just trying to cover up for Holden's comments. Obama's comments and Holden's words were both totally unnecessary. It seems like Obama is having to make excuses for so many of the people he wants in his adminstration. This is not good. I do not blame Obama for this but perhaps he might look at who he appoints just a little bit closer. I think Obama's intentions are good, but too many of his choices are backfiring.

    March 7, 2009 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  25. Fred Pohlman

    I really feel that the New Attorney General was 'right on' with his comments, although I can understand how some are offended by his comment. is the very 'cowardice' that that he speaks of that makes ' them'.... feel the way they do!. , and he only speaks the truth that is in his and many of our hearts
    It is going to be a long road for sure, but ; we do have an excellent and exemplary human being in office at the moment , and he happens to be a man of color . I believe he is a highly evolved individual that has the moral and spiritual 'right stuff ' to know how to lead this multicultural nation out of chaos. Let's try to look beyond those readily available five and dime sophist pundits that would have us believe that our new President is just a ' flash in the pan' phenomena that will lead us to certain ruin. He is a rare great thinker that has managed to make it to the forefront of World Politics . We should completely trust him to select those men and women who will best serve us in these troubled times, for regardless of the personal opinions that either 'He" or they might hold, 'He' has demonstrated that he has the insight and objectivity to make such appointments with disregard to any personal prejudices that either 'He' or 'they' might harbor..... Let's give this team some ....'space'...... already...OK?

    March 7, 2009 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
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