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. Proud American

    kid minneapolis shows his racist sentiments yet again

    March 7, 2009 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  2. ancient rvr

    I generally find that African Americans in general are alot better at articulating/expressing their actual thoughts and feelings. I think alot of white American culture tends to sculk about cloaked in metaphors and euphemisms and dances around it's true feelings in ways they themselves don't even acknowledge to themselves. The directness of African Americans is often threatening to Whites and their more oblique communication style. And I think African Americans are often annoyed by what they may perceive as the lack of directness of whites which reads to them more as dishonesty. I think the Holder statement and the responses to it are pretty compelling proof of this. I was part of a biracial couple for 20 years, so I was pretty priveledged to see both sides.

    March 7, 2009 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  3. Jeff

    Bob, your comment doesn't make much sense. AG Holder is our AG, but he is also Pres. Obama's AG. He was hired by, works for, and continues to serve at the pleasure of, President Obama.

    March 7, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  4. Joe Fattal

    My question is, why Mr.Attorney General didn't say that himself before being appointed as attorney general?. I can answer that myself, because he was a coward himself.

    March 7, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  5. Griff............... on The Truth...

    It does not matter what you say or do. There is no confidence in Obama. None... You can live with dreamers. But the World knows better.

    March 7, 2009 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  6. Lori

    I believe that some Americans are 'cowards' when it comes to the issue of race. We don't address the fact that some Republicans are so angry at our President not because of his policies but the underlying reason of his race and they are upset at how excited America was to elect BO and his landslide victory. They mask it under the 'socialism' banner but it goes deeper than that. Some Palin supporters calling him a 'terrorist' and a 'monkey' during the elections shows it. That is why I will never vote Republican again and that is why the Republicans are having a hard time right now. Jindal and Steele would have never been paraded around had Pres Obama not won.

    It doesn't matter how successful BO is or not (which I'm sure he'll do fine), the GOP will have a hard time because racism is so deeply entrenched in their party. Holder is right.

    March 7, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  7. Silvio

    This is an American preoccupation. Two hundred years from now we will be fighting about race relations. Why fix something that had become an entire industry employing thousands. Of course the the way our economy is going this is a moot point. We will all be working for the Chinese by then.

    March 7, 2009 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  8. slp

    If you are white and live in this country then it is a very dangerous thing to discuss race. Anything you say could be used against you at any time. Anyone could take anything you say out of context and your life is negatively altered forever. Am I a coward? I wouldn't call it that. I am just very cautious. However, any one of any race can say whatever they want about white people and it is considered their right to do so. There is such a double standard.

    March 7, 2009 08:57 pm at 8:57 pm |
  9. Erica

    He was right... Cowards... and Obama thinks the same but is just doing damage control. Honesty is the best policy.

    March 7, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  10. Bayousara

    I understand what Holder meant.

    People who profess to not know or understand are not very bright or racist or Republicans.

    March 7, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  11. max

    How about the Choccolate city??? is the Mayor Nagin (New Orleans) excused as well? Blacks are more racist than anybody else. You people alway think it is about race and you alway play victim of the past without looking at the future because it is more conveniant. Pittiful and shame on you PEOPLE

    March 7, 2009 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  12. RobK

    It is mostly liberals who look at race. Most (>95%) conservatives consider political beliefs more important. All else being equal, I would prefer a black conservative president over a white liberal president any time.

    March 7, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  13. RyanD.

    The GOP is laughable.

    And the fact people are upset proves Holder's point. Only a coward would get mad at that.

    March 7, 2009 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  14. Cliff

    If you are a minority it is always the same. "Oh, I didn't mean THAT!"
    When will liberals "get over" something that they, nor ANY family member they can remember, had anything to do with?
    Sorry, but blacks continue to use this to make "liberals" feel guilty.
    Sadly, IT STILL WORKS!!!

    March 7, 2009 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  15. jrzshor


    i not afraid to call a spade a shovel!

    March 7, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  16. catmom

    Blacks can be sensitive when discussing race issues often times because their concerns are constantly discounted. Blacks are often told to get over it, move on. Whites will bring up Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton as a way to discredit a concern or an issue. They feel everyone has the same opportunities, slavery was a long time ago. Some whites want to completely discount racism that has existed in our lifetime, the discrimination, the inequality, the injustice. They don't seem to understand or care what the impact this has had and continues to have on the lives of black people. It is really evident by reading some of the comments here and on other message boards

    March 7, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  17. Mitchell from MS

    It only took him two weeks to respond to this. What a POS!

    March 7, 2009 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  18. Nancy

    When you have friends of different races, it is easier to have a frank discussion. But most people do self-segregate.

    And to Jeff Sprangler in VA "Yes, it is irrational." I am sure you have met many more white people that you did not care about or agree with their lifestyle." Everyone has negative experiences, but it is the person not the color of the person that causes the experience. Maybe you need to go West and get out of the South, you might get a different experience. (And Jeff I am white.)

    Unfortunately, we always SEE color before we SEE the real person.

    March 7, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  19. Ule is an idiot

    um, I am not sure why everyone is up in arms. The A.G said we (meaning all) are still a nation of cowards. I might go shockingly far enough to say including african americans, whites, asians and all. The people who are offended by this comment s are the ones who should be. It would not hurt if it were not true.

    March 7, 2009 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  20. The Weatherman

    Couldn't Obama or the rest of the Democratic Party start talking about jobs, the stock market, bank loans and other pressing issues? This is misdirection and you fools are buying it.

    Where's the BEEF promised in the campaigning?

    March 7, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  21. Stop Your Whining

    Nathan, you're an IDIOT. Yourself and EDWARD. You two idiots are EXACTLY what Holder is refferring to.
    First of all, NATHAN-every sentence in your comment was racist. Yes, racism DOES go BOTH ways, what do you think he was talking about? Did you see the word "White" in ANY part of his comment? NO. Because he was reffering to EVERYONE. Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow...As far as Affirmative Action, you IDIOT-it exists BECAUSE of RACISM. Who do you think started it? Jim Crowe? The KKK? And your last condescending comment about the Obamas getting into Ivy League schools-obvously, that is an education you know nothing about. Look up "Brown vs. The Board of Education". And you act like the Ivy Leagues deserve an award for "allowing" the Obamas admission. Next, you'll be posting that Jim Crowe wrote MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech. Ugh, people like you disgust me.

    HOWEVER, just when I thought the comments couldn't get any DUMBER, I saw Edward's. What a biggot. You are the MAIN thing holding this nation up from progress. For you be so STUPID as to generalize an entire RACE based on a few black idiots you encountered is a fallicy. You clearly need to be EDUCATED. Obviously, you missed the entire presidential race. Did you hear Obama blame his problems on ANYONE? NO. In fact, he talked about improving health care and creating jobs for EVERYONE, because poverty sees no color. And as far as the Black people you have run into, I see why you encountered them. You guys BELONG together. There should be an island for ignorant blacks AND whites and leave the rest of us over here. I hate it when ANYONE plays the race card, black OR white. And for you to claim African Americans are too [sensitive], on some issues, they have the RIGHT to be. What, are they supposed to be happy when reminded how Martin L. King Jr. had his head blown off by a some insecure redneck afraid of change? Are they supposed to ignore CRAP like that cartoon posted in the NY Post? I could go on, but people like you don't learn so I won't waste anymore of my time. Bottom line is, thank ALL people don't think like you. I have ran into stupid, racist White people just as I have Asians who belittle themselves for the desire to be White, Latinos who fight among themselves, and racist Blacks that give the rest of the Black or 'ethnic race' a bad rep. But unlike YOU, I have been exposed to cultural enrichment and have lived in places you will never see and spoken languages you know nothing about. And through all that, I STILL know and believe that most Whites are nothing like you. That right there is proof that there IS a GOD. And you need to pray as hard as you can. Heaven help anyone that generalize your entire race based on behaviour such as yours.

    March 7, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  22. Jason (from Chicago)

    There are definitely some good points made from all sides here. Im a white male and I can openly discuss race with some of my black friends, but only with some of them. Some feel uncomfortable if I try to bring it up. There are deinitely balck people out there that will call white people racists if they say even the slightest thing they feel is wrong towards blacks. And I completely agree...ALL races segregate themselves because they want to be around others similar to themselves. There's always going to be hatred and fear in this country unless people toughen up and are willing to talk about things, even if they dont agree with the other person or group. At least get it out there in the open and them maybe we can logically start to work on improving things.

    March 7, 2009 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  23. Tom from Wheaton, IL

    Look... blacks harbor resentment against whites because we enslaved them, impregnated their women, killed their children and made them pick our cotton. For about two hundred years. Whites harbor resentment against blacks because.... They are better athletes, they seem angry for all the above reasons, they are "bigger" than whites and they keep their hair.

    What's the problem? Well...


    March 7, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  24. Jarrod

    Holder is right. I live in a mixed neighborhood, all the African Americans gather with themselves, all the white folks gather with themselves. Country music blared on one porch, R & B on the other. Probably the only thing they ever do at the same time is watch the Steelers. And sadly, they still watch it separate. And me? Hell, I play x-box, and dont hang out with any of my neighbors, so I geuss Im not helping either. We are all in our little boxes.

    March 7, 2009 09:06 pm at 9:06 pm |
  25. Tom

    The only people in the United States who are cowards are those like the thoroughly unqualified, terrorist fraternizing, socialist community organizer and his attorney general who attempt to hide their support for racial discrimination, racial quotas and racial preferences behind the leftist euphemism "affirmative action".

    March 7, 2009 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
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