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. southern girl


    You are a racist. It works both ways.

    March 7, 2009 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  2. Kevin

    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!

    March 7, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  3. Garry in Texas

    WE ARE NOT COWARDS!! We dont want to be SUED for being called RACIST!! We would never hear the end of it if there were a White History month or a White College fund program!
    Give me a BREAK!!

    March 7, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  4. Willy Brown

    Only race baiters I've seen come from the democrat party

    March 7, 2009 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  5. southernhrt

    You can't honestly talk about race in this country without being called a racist if you are white.

    March 7, 2009 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  6. What's Up

    What's Up with this news on the web that Obama is going to make agreements with the Taliban?

    March 7, 2009 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  7. What's Up

    Why is Obama willing to make agreements with the Taliban?

    March 7, 2009 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  8. Let Sarah Palin Watch the Russians

    Accept responsibilities Americans. Talk about race and learn from your mistakes.

    March 7, 2009 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  9. Gop

    You prove my point that Democrats are racist and ignorant.

    You can try to point that finger at Republicans, but the truth is the one pointing the finger is the one doing just what they accuse the other of.

    When people accuse Obama for being a socialist look at his policy and what he has said. If you don’t get it then you are blind and deaf!

    Did he not say he has no problem taking away money from earners and spreading their wealth around?

    Is he also out there right now speaking about a socialist health care program! You don’t see the truth because your in love with the man. This has nothing to do with race but everything to do with his policy.

    Stop drinking the cool aid and get a working brain cell Lori and maybe you will stop voting blind for every Democrat that runs for office and only cares about bigger Government and how to take away more rights and freedoms from working Americans!!

    March 7, 2009 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  10. mat

    Good luck talking about race if you're white. First time you say something negative you're labled a racist.

    March 7, 2009 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  11. Franky

    You know, I'll tell you who's a coward...Tecumseh! That bastard thinks he can curse our presidents, we'll see who has the last laugh...well, to come and think about, I guess we're even, LOL!!

    You know, I wasn't disappointed but mostly disturbed. Is kind of like having someone say something behind your back or in this case, right in front of your face. Personally, I only can speak for my race and religion, I can't speak for African-Americans. I only can observe and judge because if I criticize, it takes away to what I believe and that's race and religion has to be respected among everybody. And that's where I slow it down when it comes to other people's beliefs, or values, we are all different.

    March 7, 2009 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  12. sngeorgia

    President Obama was asked about Mr. Holder's comment, Three weeks later. Reading some of these comments tells me that some people just don't get it. I can understand why. You have not been educated on American History....and until you do, then please don't comment. THE WORST IGNORANCE A MAN CAN HAVE IS TO REJECT SOMETHING HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT! Informed Americans, and the ones that's not in denial of this country's history doesn't have to talk about race...They already understand what the effects were, and "just be" knowing we are human beings, and color is secondary. Ignorance breds racism, where color is primary, and this goes to the point I mention in the beginning of my comment. So if you are Afraid to discuss race or fail to educate yourself about it and it's history, then I would think it's "cowardance". Now if you don't care, you should, you are an American too. Blacks don't have to "play the race card". We see it, feel it, smell it, know it, senses it, hear it and faces racism on a daily basis, no matter covert or overt. We know who is and who is not. because we know it so well. This is the Dirty "little" secret in America...sounds like incest.....don't admit it, don't tell it, and act as if it didn't happen or tht it exist. THAT THINKING EATS AWAY THE SOUL OF A PERSON AND AN ENTIRE NATION.

    March 7, 2009 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  13. Pat

    Blacks are a lot more racist than we white folks. They are not African-Americans, they are Americans. I am not an English-American, I am an American. Why do they have to put that in front of American? Plus EH & BO are NOT black, they are biracial, why won't they say it? Does it grieve them that much to talk about their white parent??? That's a coward, being ashamed of who you are. I'm sick and tired of blacks whining about slavery, etc. A lot of them have been getting revenge on the white man for years by not working and pulling their weight by contributing to society and taxes. My people didn't have slaves. My grandfather owned sawmills, and a lot of blacks worked for him – along with the whites – and nobody respected anybody more than they did each other. They all came to my grandfather's funeral and cried like a baby. NOW, that's the way it ought to be. They try to put the fear factor on us. If you use the "n" word, a white man can go to jail, yet hip-hoppers and rappers can use the word in the most vile way, and nothing is sad. Hey, talk about racist and double standards! They make me sick! This is why a lot of white folks don't even want to even be around them.

    March 7, 2009 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  14. Texas Teacher

    Well, something I have learned working closely with many African Americans is that they are just as prejudiced as they declare others to be. Quite frankly, one on one, they treat me just fine. But if we are anywhere with the whole group, I am the odd man out. They will leave me sitting alone rather than admit that I am one of them. In fact, frequently they will not even look at me. I was shocked in the beginning. I would say to myself that I am here for the children not the faculty. But in the last months... well, it has gotten hard to deal with.

    I never thought that I would be saying this, but it is true.

    March 7, 2009 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  15. Kaine

    Eric Holder should be fired. Mr. Holder is serving the very people he holds contempt for in a powerful position as US Attorney General and this is unacceptable. Barack Obama does not need to clarify what was said. Mr. Holder made his views of all Americans crystal clear. Obama should force Holder to resign, then apologize on his behalf to the American people.

    As far as Mr. Holder's "nation of cowards" remark goes, Mr. Holder does not need to call me a coward. I am perfectly willing to tell him what I think of him right to his face.

    March 7, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  16. Matt

    Nobody likes to discuss uncomfortable things, and this is in large part why people never discuss race. People are afraid of being called racist simply for bringing it up. Good for you Eric Holder – bring it out into the open! If not now, when? There is no reason to hate others, let alone hate based on race.

    Preach on Brother Holder and preach on Brother Obama!!!

    March 7, 2009 09:46 pm at 9:46 pm |
  17. Ken in NC

    The AG spoke the truth. I wish he had chosen some others terms to use but the one chosen fits in reality. Be it as it may, we are a nation of cowards when it comes to discussing things that divide us so deal with it. We need to move on and put race behind us and just consider all as Americans.

    March 7, 2009 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  18. Timus

    All races in the US tiptoe around race issues. Pretending they don't exists. Holder is right. We are cowards for pretending instead of taking the issue of race head on.

    March 7, 2009 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  19. James Monroe, Wiggins, Mississippi

    As a white male who grew up in the South I saw some terrible disc rimination . I was fortunate to be raised in an area of Mississippi where whites were more tolerant but it saw still a bad climate for black people. I was blessed to have a Father who taught me to respect everyone and that all people are equal and deserve the same t4reatment and respect as others. I had no problen using courtesy titles when addressing blacks. I said Yes Sir, No Sir, Yes Maam, No Maam, Mr. Mrs Or Miss. There were more whites who believed this way than people will believe. Wh visited socially with blacks. We encouraged and helped black people to register and voth, and this was in the 40's and 50,s before the civil rights movements got into full swing. I have never discriminated against a black person, but I certainly have never had a problen discusssing race. There are millions of us who take great exception to being called a coward by the Attorney General of the USA, who should be representing my interest as well as the interests of race baiters. One big problem is black people are so sensitive a sane conversation cannot be held without someone's feelings being hurt. If you want a conversation, you must have two parties. The two parties may have differing views without either side being wrong. The Attorney Genreal has proven he is slanted in his views and has some axes to grind.

    March 7, 2009 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  20. Darren D.

    Mr. Holden, U a Black Leader not child. As a Leader/Lawyer "U job is the view of Pres "O"" I'm Black, 50 yr's, and Ret!

    March 7, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  21. Huh?

    In my rush to express my opinion, I made a mistake. I'm sure, even as I type, I am making more.
    Obama understands that Holder's statement offended some and was, frankly, not politically the smartest thing to say in an interview as AG. I'm not saying Holder is wrong, I happen to believe what he said is true, but Obama is, whether all Americans like it or not, head of this country. He understands the opinions and views of its inhabitants are both varied and complex. He also understands that how an individual states something is, in this culture, almost as important as what is actually said. Use the wrong phrase and the entire world may come crashing down on your head.


    March 7, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  22. Frances

    People can't blame black people for being racist towards white people. Slavery then segregation then racism made African-Americans bitter, and indoctrinated them into a cycle of poverty and despair that keeps many of them from moving ahead and instead makes them more likely to get into drugs and jails. You can't just say, ok we aren't racist towards you anymore and expect them to skip merrily off on their happy and successful way. Their whole culture and mindset has been shaped by what happened in the past and you can't just expect them to get over the terrible things that happened to them for generations just because we elected some mixed guy for President. White people spent so long talking bad about black people that of course they are going to talk bad right back!

    March 7, 2009 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  23. sngeorgia

    Garry in Texas.....Black history wasn't taught in schools until recently with colleges offering courses in African American studies. The history books didn't mention that the first heart surgeon in America was an African American, or the African American that invented the traffic light. I didn't either, until these courses and other means of education like Black History Month. Black colleges were created to educate Black Americans, because for so long they weren't allowed to go to school with whites. They were even supposed to drink from the same water fountain. And it's just is that those colleges has remained with history and pride, solvent and relevant. It was so long ago that the National Guard had to escort little black children to school in Arkansas, because the governor and the school system didn't want black children in "their" schools. Black Americans are Americans, and a way was found to educate them.

    March 7, 2009 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  24. Frances

    Don't call someone who was President of the Harvard Law Review a moron. You're the moron.

    March 7, 2009 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  25. slp



    March 7, 2009 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
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