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. Harry

    Barack Obama, Eric Holder are cheats. They are socialists. Imagine Hugo Chavez is asking Barack to join his bandwagon. Forget about racism here. It is all socialism and American peopl voted for a wrong choice. This is the biggest mistake of our lives. How can we elect such a guy to the highest office in this nation. Look at him. He is not fit to govern. He has a blank resume and now we are suffering. Hugo Chavez has oil money to support his socialism. Barack has trillion of dollars of borrowed money. He does not believe in the private sector and thus capitalism. What a disaster for our country. Damage done to this nation will be difficult to repair. Wake up America. Barack says he was elected last November to do this. What a joke. I hope Americans will get up and demonstrate on this cowardly behavior before it is too too late..

    March 7, 2009 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  2. Ellen

    I am a white middle-aged woman, and Mr. Holder is absolutely correct. We imitate the military – don't ask, don't tell – and pretend that because we don't act overtly racist that we no longer carry the carry the residue of bigotry in our hearts...

    March 7, 2009 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  3. Roberto

    I live and work in a small rural area in N. Arizona. I am amazed at the racism and bigotry that exists here. And so many of the folks consider themselves God fearing, righteous church going good human beings. They have no problem making all sorts of racist jokes about Obama and his wife and kids. I ask them where racism is condoned in the bible and they call me names. Hypocrites all.

    March 7, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  4. Ron

    America is a nation of racist people. It simply cannot just look the other way as though nothing happened. From lynching of innocent people that white America not only condoned but enjoyed with froth in their mouth, to dragging African Americans behind cars, convicting minorities without evidence of crimes simply because he or she is a black or a minority.
    There are way too many minorities in prison because of all white racist juries. Simply put all white juries cannot be trusted period. Most white judges make horrible referees in a court room. They never protect the rights of minorities during the trials and call themselves judges.
    So yes, America is a racist country and white people simply don't give a hoot about the rights of minorities. A court room or a jury is a place white people can discriminate at will and no will or can question it unless it was made obvious. No one knows what is in the mind of jurors especially white jurors where the defendant is a minority. A racist juror has enormous power to discriminate and no one can see what is going on in his or her head. DNA test is now proving convictions of many minorities were nothing more than racism.
    Also white people have more weight when it comes to circumstantial evidence versus a minority. Whenever there is a legal dispute between a white person and a minority the word of a minority has no weight and the word of a white person has all of the weight on their side. So you can see circumstantial evidence against a minority defendant is simply a convenient tool white people have to hate and discriminate against minorities. Circumstantial evidence in any case involving a white person and a minority in America usually means the minority is going to jail no matter what. At the same time most prosecutors love to use circumstantial evidence as a trump card against a minority to win at any cost. Please remember that while most of you white folks don't remember that Mexicans could not buy land or property, the Chinese could not buy land or property, and neither could the Indians. As a minority you were denied all rights white people enjoyed.
    Yes America is a very racist country.
    It is time congress removes all statute of limitations on crimes committed against minorities violating their civil rights knowing and recognizing that most inquiries and legal procedures are dragged out until the statute of limitations run out on crimes committed by racist people which denies the victims of racial discrimination their equal protection of the laws, and their rights to bring charges against the racist.
    Yes it is true White America loves to hate and discriminate and they love to tell minorities they are pulling the race card.
    The truth of the matter is that white Americans love to discriminate and hate and love to tell the minorities they don't have a racist bone in their body.
    They love to deny their evil racist ways. You saw it in the Rodney King Cop trials in Simi Valley.
    America says you have civil rights yet they know most of the victims of racial discrimination can't afford to hire lawyers to fight for their civil rights. Its another con game against the minorities.

    March 7, 2009 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  5. Tim from Hershey,PA

    I work with a few African-Americans and have come to know them as friends. It took awhile to feel comfortable around them to openly talk about racial subjects. They were interested about my views and I wanted to be honest with them. I'm older and wiser now and I try to make my opinions on everyone based on first impressions and character now. But growing up in Philadelphia,which like most American cities is very segragated. They asked me why it was so segragated from a "white man's"perspective. I told them that the reason the majority of the white race didn't want the black race to move into their neighborhood was because they saw how the African-American kept their own neighborhoods, and they didn't want the same thing to happen to the areas they grew up in. Nobody wanted home values to come down and rampant crime to go up. If they didn't allow the violence and open drugdealing and take care of their property, I believe we would all get along much better. Just being HONEST!!!

    March 7, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  6. Roger from Ohio

    Mr Holder should visit military installations in the war zone and talk with the troops, there are no cowards there. When you are under fire, there is no discrimination, you depend on each other. The military (USAF) was the first to officially desegregate in 1947. Of course there will always be discrimination by some people, but to label all Americans as 'cowards' goes way beyond the extreme.

    March 7, 2009 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  7. michelle malkins

    That why these liberals are pushing their socialist agendas.A remark like this should be take easily because if we do, our believes will be in danger and this country will be push into communist.........but we are already heading that way.

    March 7, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  8. Independant Thinker

    Holder is a DISCRACE to this country and should REMOVE himself from office.

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

    As intelligent, gifted and workaholics as the Obama's are, people have the nerve to insist that they were accepted to ivy league schools because of Affirmative Action. That would be hysterical if it were not so blatantly racist. Barack Obama did not even indicate his race when completing his college applications. Now the Obama's are both clearly brilliant – so explain why you don't think Bush and McCain both not the brightest to be honest. What special privileges did they receive to get into and graduate from ivy league colleges? Why aren't you questioning how and why they went to ivy league schools. Or do you just think that you should be rich and white to graduate from ivy league universities – intelligent people of color are not qualified? Why?

    March 7, 2009 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  10. Lynda from Canada

    Some months ago during the presidential campaign, one of McCain's main advisers was caught on tape calling Americans a nation of "whiners". He got the boot. Now Holder is calling Americans a nation of "cowards." Will he get the boot? Not likely...Obama won the election and McCain didn't.

    March 7, 2009 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  11. mh

    The biggest conversation piece that is off limits concerning race is "Why are most black babies born into fatherless homes?" Until that question is no longer relevant then the black community will not move ahead.

    March 7, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  12. JonDie

    Holder is absolutely right. The question, however, how Holder's remarks serve the president. And the answer is that they probably do not.

    March 7, 2009 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |
  13. James

    Seriously some of us don't practice racism, and don't view race as a big deal. Why is it always the "black man" bringing it up?

    March 7, 2009 09:20 pm at 9:20 pm |

    Now let's sort this out. First of all, AG Holder was absolutely correct. The truth does not hurt unless it ought to. This is what he meant. He was actually saying that the Caucasian political elite wants to gloss over that part of history, when in fact it should be discussed. After all, it's like working in a steel factory all day and going home and just putting on a nice suit without taking a bath. You still stink. This is what he is saying. The Jews are always allowed to say, "never forget" about the holocaust, and there were 6+ million of them unjustly destroyed. The Africans were brought across the transatlantic for 113 years and only 11+ million of them made it to the US while 99+ million of them perished at sea. (I know, you won't read this in the history books in school, but it is true.) I don't have the time or space on this site to really break it down for you, but that is some truth to chew on for a bit.

    March 7, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  15. Duane

    Republican? That's cute. And we are called the racists? The reason I don't trust the President has nothing to do with race. I could care less what race he is. My issues with him revolve around policy and the fact that his are taking down the slow road to socialism, except he wants to make it the express lane.

    March 7, 2009 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  16. Larry

    Why does the President and African American keep talking about slavery ?We have not had slavery for well over a hundred years,yet the blacks talk about it like it is going on today,there is not one person alive today that was a slave.African American's play there "I'M GOING TO TRY AND MAKE EVERYBODY FEEL GUILTY" trump card,and when their whining doesn't work ,it' s because" YOU ARE PREJUDICE" card.

    After the last election,it is pretty obvious by who won,who is prejudice.
    African Americans need to GET OVER IT,come up with something new.

    March 7, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  17. GMAB

    Michelle Malkin is a complete loser in the true spirit of Rush. Mindless attacking at the first sign of controversial comments from a Democrat. Idiots like her don't understand that's the reason they keep getting wiped out in elections. Here's hoping they attack themselves right into marginal party status.

    March 7, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  18. the truth

    Yes, African-American's tend to be sensitive regarding race. After over 200 years of slavery, Jim Crow and the need for constitutional amendments, boycotts, stereotyping, lynching, sub-human images (that still exist),and protests for basic rights, they should be. Perhaps if you were open to honest self-reflection and honest discussions as well as some reading of history you would have a better understanding of their sensitivities. I have had the opportunity to have honest discussions and relationships with African-American's and we both have benefited from the exchange.

    March 7, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  19. Cheney

    Wake up people,they use race fear to keep us apart so we cant find the true oppressors of us all.The very small number of super rich that control all the money in the world.If they keep us at each others throats they wont be caught.

    March 7, 2009 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  20. MZ

    Uh Oh !!! Our Black President seems to be dissing our Black AG. Obama must be turning into a Racist Coward !!!
    Hopefully, our news media will become less and less intimidated, as time goes on, about criticising Obama when he deserves it without fear of being labeled Racist Cowards by the blog heads in the blogosphere. Or, without fear of having their contracts terminated by Oprah !!!

    March 7, 2009 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  21. Mercedes

    @ Edward You are the IDIOT and MORON here! Attorney General Holder was telling the truth. On weekends, this is just like 50 years ago. Sunday Morning at 11:00 a.m. is the most segrated hour in this country. All churches are not multi-cultural. If you went to church you would know that!!! That is what the Attorney General meant.
    We're making progress in that area, but we still have a very long way to go. I find African-Americans to be no more sensitive than the so-called White Americans or Hispanic-Americans or Americans of any other race. It's your kind ( the wanna be know it alls) that make the rest of us purely SICK!!

    March 7, 2009 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  22. Anonymous

    Ignorance breeds prejudice, no matter at whom it's directed. EVERY race, nationality, gender, or religion has, and always will have, people who prefer to hate (or at least, to disdain) anyone unlike themselves. It's part of human nature's dark side. It will never be eradicated. (And the more 'crowded' the populations become, the more it will surface). People just have to remember that THEY, as individuals, are responsible for their own behavior, and must act according to their own beliefs and personal integrity, not allowing themselves to be influenced or angered by others' beliefs. It's simple really - it's called The Golden Rule. That stance, unfortunately, includes a willingness to tolerate the prejudiced person and recognize them as limited. And THAT is the most difficult challenge of all. (Just ask Ghandi, MLK, Jr., Mother Theresa, et. al.).

    March 7, 2009 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  23. tony

    Perhaps if they would just drop the African and just say American then everyone can move forward. By using African they are not one of the TEAM but a INDIVDUAL.

    March 7, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  24. Alicia

    I wish people would stop judging on a person's skin color or what religion they choose to practice.

    Some of these blogs on here are the 'cowards' that the African American Attorney General is speaking of. These types of people.

    I don't care for Rush Limbaugh, but I would not call him a name involving his race or religion!

    March 7, 2009 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  25. joe

    Obama is all knowing....NOT!.... The democrats and republicans put two morons on the top of their tickets again ....

    Americans love giving all their money to a bunch of no nothing business men, lawyers and Jesus freaks.....

    March 7, 2009 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
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