February 19th, 2009
03:44 PM ET

Eric Holder, please – less talk, more action

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/18/holder.race.relations/art.holder.justicedept.afp.gi.jpg]
Melissa Harris-Lacewell
Special to CNN

On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder marked Black History Month with an address at the Department of Justice. Holder clearly and courageously acknowledged the history of American racism.

He forthrightly argued that, "to get to the heart of this country, one must examine its racial soul." Because public officials so rarely discuss race, Holder's was an unusually bold statement.

But ultimately, Eric Holder's discussion of race in America was a failure. It failed because Holder spoke more like a grade school principal than like the attorney general of the United States. He framed our nation's continuing racial work as a struggle to feel comfortable, be tolerant, and have "frank conversations about racial matters."


Filed under: Black in America • Raw Politics
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Michael C. McHugh

    Mr. Holder is of course correct than de facto segregation still exists in housing and education in America, and that people stopped talking about it around 1973. He's correct that racism is still widespread, but no longer expressed as openly as it was 30 or 40 years ago. I'd go further and say that it's obvious many people voted against Obama because he was black.

    None of this surprises me. None of it is unusual in American history, and we haven't made as much "progress" as we like to tell ourselves on Martin Luther King Day.

    I don't think we're a nation of cowards, though we may be something much worse than that.

    February 20, 2009 at 8:49 am |
  2. Wardell katrina Survivor

    WAKE UP AMERICA, racisim is a live an very well. A young lady asked president Carter, why can't my daddy, a good democratic mayor, get re-elected, his response was that in the south the KLAN, took over the republican party and the democratic didn,t fight back,that philosophy, is still perpetuated, today, not just in the south, Berwick,la, my dear, you are still in the deep south, remember. EMMIT TILLS, laws change, some people will never, ever change, a tiger, can't get rid of it's stripes. Mr. Holder, needs to enforce the law, conversation is good, but we live by the rule of law, speak through it, and for those tigers,look what your leaders, and speakers have done to you, it wasn't me, I'm a black, blackman, who grew-up playing with white kids, because my greatgrand mother, and grandmother worked for their parents, I didn't know my color made a difference, life taught me that,and I was discriminated against bt black people, down here in NewOrleans, you the willy-lynch philosophy, of divide an conquer worked, separate the light from the dark, short from the tall, young from the old, and make them hate each other, and love you. It still works, but their were poor whites slaves,too, are we the blame for that too. Feb. is American history month, not black history month, some people need to take the time to learn something about themselves, the jewish people, aren't trying to let people forget the hollocoust,and we shouldn't. This country was overwhelmed with, evil, hate, and GREED, it still IS.Do you think George and Dick, really,REALLY,cared about YOU. I don.t think so.BUT I DO,GOD HELP US, and God bless ALL of you

    February 20, 2009 at 7:46 am |
  3. Katherine Lawrence

    Mr. Holder please use your office wisely rather than stirring the racist pot. We finally have the "first" black President and AG and all you have to talk about is race issues. It is obvious the majority of the people in the US are past this – that is how Obama became President (white, black, hispanic and many other voters). Please move to something productive or become the "first" black AG to resign. I spend my weekends with people different than those I work with – they are called family and friends – not black or white. So families and friends often stay within their culture that doesn't make them racist. I don't see you wanting to close Chinatown in NYC or San Francisco. Make this "first" a good thing not a bad one.

    February 20, 2009 at 7:19 am |
  4. Mary

    America, The Attorney General Eric Holder was/is Right. If hearing the truth is to hard to except and you need another word other than Cowars, then fill in the blank to whatever weill make you feel more comfortable (Chickens, Scary Cats, Afraid, sqemish), whatever works for you. All I know is Mr. Holder put the truth out their, Now America needs to Handle the truth. The Attorney General Eric Holder did not assign the work Cowards to any Race or Gorup of People, he said Nation, that means all of us, so why are people getting all bent out of shape and having hissy fits? As for me, I'm willing to Work and Talk with my White, Black, Brown and Yellow Brothers and Sisters and do whatever is Necessary to Move the Conversation and the Country Foward with Actions and Deeds. Let us Change from a Nation of Cowards to a Nation of Hero's "With Liberty and Justice For All"

    February 20, 2009 at 2:38 am |
  5. Eddie

    I wonder if Holder knows what freedom of association means? From his stupid comments I doubt it. Who cares if one wants or does not want to associate with people of a different ethnic group. It is none of BIG BROTHERS bussiness.

    February 19, 2009 at 11:01 pm |
  6. JDylan

    First and foremost, it is not the in the job description that an attorney general should lecture anyone other than those who work for him. Having said that, he was right in calling us cowards, we are; or I should say the prevailing voices are. How can a people who hold certain words and/or phrases publically off limits ever be able to speak honestly about any subject? They can't. They lack the courage and understanding to have the ability to laugh at public scorn. In the future Eric Holder should just simply take off the tie before he speaks about things that don't involve the department of justice.
    As for racism; who has time for that anymore? Just fools.
    One last thing to continue this discussion of racism. Today this practice of racism is just as strong, if not more, with those claim it. How can it not be? Have you not heard too many say, "I'm black before I am a man or woman." Many have been called something else for so long that they don't even see themselves as Homo Sapiens; our President excluded of course, unless you consider he still sees himself as a child of God, but that's a whole other topic; or is it? I call those cowards of reality.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:16 pm |
  7. Anthony

    You want to talk about racism? How about NAACP, Black History Month, BET, Black Union, Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, etc.. If we had NAAWP, White History Month, WET, A holiday for any one white person, or a White Union, these non-racist black people would be rioting. If we are going to get rid of racism in America it is going to have to start with the black people understanding that this generation had nothing to do with slavery. I don't think they are going to be happy until they get revenge, and guess what , I don't owe them anything!!!

    February 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm |
  8. jarrod

    Here is my thought on racism is everytime a white person is convicted of a hate crime that is nationally publicated all the activists come out and start trashing the crime and white and racism in the same sentence is steriotying makes me feel like i am being thrashed same as black people feel when blacks commit a crime and broadcasted so what i think is going on is both sides fuel this fire and as far as hanging out together is a choice but from what i have seen is it turns into lecture about slavery and frankly i don't care if it isn't over why is it in the history books as far as i know history is history and that is why it is history books present stories don't go into books so if it isn't over a i say take it out of the history books until the story ends otherwise it is not history

    February 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm |
  9. jamie

    Although poorly stated by Mr. Holder, i do think some issues of racism need to be addressed. A good example of why they don't get addressed, the New York Times cartoon that set off the Al Sharptin alarm. I can see how the article can be taken into negative context but given the times and the fact it is a major newspaper sorted by editors i highly doubt the artist wanted to compare the President to a chimp, which is an old negative comparision. We all forget the President didn't even right the bill. Things like this puts focus on the wrong issues. I think the country is growing out of most bad habits of racism. Some are still there but the generation x and the youth of today are a very promising hope for tommorrow.

    February 19, 2009 at 9:05 pm |
  10. JP

    Eric Holder, the nation's first black attorney general, said Wednesday the United States was "a nation of cowards" on matters of race. I found this to be very offensive. In fact, I believe to make this comment with such a broad brush was irresponsible and it makes me question his judgment. I believe he should resign from his position.

    Our nation should be proud and applauded for electing the First African American President in our history. This should be a time of celebration for America and not a time to be called “Cowards.”
    During this very important month of celebrating Black History, the example should be one of progress and opportunity. We should applaud the great steps America has taken and recognize the positive movement.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:46 pm |
  11. Eli

    I am a 15 year old and when I saw the cartoon this whole issue spawned from I got the joke, as the joke was meant to be. I had no idea of the racial meaning people where upset about. So, some people might say well "You are too young to have known that racial term." This is the point, if nowone would have said a word I might have just grown up not knowing that racial term in the first place. The lesson we need to learn is, the less you remind people about hate the more it is going to be used.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  12. Celia Ceniceros

    Holders comments were not a failure!! he was honest and told the truth, about racism I would not have used the word coward though, but we all have to learn what we say around the press, and right now the press is nicky picky about everything about President Obama staff /administration . well to bad , this adminstration is there to give public service the best they know how to our country, give them due, As for the GOP the hell with them if they do not want the stimulus for their states , well that is so stupid !! the families in their states are going thru hardships do it for them, I hope they get the wrath of the american people and families from their state!! I say the hell with the GOP they got us into to this mess in the first place. Now let President Obama do his job. A senior in Califorina on a fix income -Democrat

    February 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  13. Candace

    Holder's comment fails to take into account the many thousands of interracial couples and families in this country, which are becoming increasingly common. These families do not only "mix" in the workplace, and are a testament to the fact that America is not "cowardly" when it comes to race relations. Our "mixed" children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are the agents of tangible change; they are the future of positive race relations in this country.

    February 19, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  14. Carlos

    I still haven't heard or read about an official White House response to Holder's "Nation of Cowards" remark. Has the President himself weighed in on what his Attorney General had to say about race and about this nation's response to it? Does the President think we are a "Nation of Cowards" too?

    February 19, 2009 at 8:02 pm |
  15. ryan

    I think Holder's comments are offensive in itself. Calling people cowards is no way to get a positive response. The reason racism is such a problem is easy to see. Look at the NY Post cartoon depicting an ape getting killed. Somehow this cartoon got skewed to be racist, when Obama didn't even write the bill, Palosi did. How is a comparison of Palosi to an "insane" ape a racist thing?

    Now we have to deal with Al Sharpton complaining about a cartoon that he knows nothing about. I'm tired of dealing with racist people like Sharpton. All they do is make things worse. If Holder wanted real results he would look at situations like the NY Post cartoon instead of calling out an entire nation of people to try and prove a point. Racism is a two way street. So called "activists" need to realize that maybe they cause more racism than they prevent.

    Thank you AC360 for putting a news show on TV that is easy to watch and can give one a real view at the news.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:46 pm |
  16. jarrod

    think of this black and white tv's didn't work without both colors one without the other was a blank screen then color was introduced together and made a much better picture if we as country can't enjoy color we are in for a rough ride.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:38 pm |
  17. Burkey

    Last night I caught the late version of 360 and thought it was interesting. I also liked how you asked the panelists not to speak over each other.

    I think people should listen to the entire speech Eric Holder made and not just focus in on the "Nation of Cowards" What he is saying is that we are not facing up to what is in plain sight – our lack of ability to deal with differences no matter what colour. I am Canadian and here we love to pride ourselves on our tolerance and think we are not racist, howver when Obama won I went to work and not one of my collegues even mentioned the elections. I was all excited and ready to chat – not a word...

    My other comment is about Ron Christie. Mr. Christie unfortunately cannot see beyond his nose both literally and figuratively. He should know that it is not agreeing with Democrats to call a cartoon racist. I hope he realizes that the Republican Party is using him to rail against Obama because he is black and he can make racist remarks without appearing to be racist.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm |
  18. floyd randolph

    I think Attorney General Eric Holder stated what most black americans and other minorities have known all along. Attorney Holder just came out and stated the facts. I believe like he does and so many other Americans of my generation and before. Talk one way and be another and it is time to stop. Let's us all do has the President ask, let's be Americans and not Americans of separate races and color. Those young and upcoming polictical leaders in the republican party do not have a clue has to what WE went through so they can say there is really no racism still existing in America, they did not endure the suffering we went through so they can appear on CNN and pretend to be black.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:07 pm |
  19. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Over ten years ago I went to a movie on a Sunday afternoon with an African American male friend of mine. I'm a white woman. This man was and always will be my brother in faith. We were co-workers at the time. It wasn't a date but simply two friends going to a movie. My white friends fussed at me because a white woman who wanted her reputation in tact did not go out in public in Mississippi with an African American man. I couldn't believe the ignorance I was hearing from highly educated professionals. All these years later it still floors me. I live in a community that is predominantly white. I teach at a school that is becoming predominantly black (in a different community). I grew up in a predominantly white Catholic Church. I went to an almost totally white Catholic kindergarten, elementary, and high school. On weekends, I eat at places predominantly catering to whites. I shop in stores that cater to whites. I will watch parades this weekend that have white and black Mardi Gras krewes. God forbid we should integrate Mardi Gras in the 21st century. I don't choose this. It is what it is unfortunately in the area where I live (man does moving look better every day). Holder had every right to say what he said. I do believe he spoke truth. In this day and age, segregated is really and truly just plain stupid. And we all have to work to make it work for us all. Thank goodness someone in DC had guts enough to put it out there. It's past time it happened.

    February 19, 2009 at 7:02 pm |
  20. chris

    what would you think if i put a pig in front of the ghetto and shot at it with the remarks "we now have to find a stimulus bill for the pigs" they play too dirty. I will never buy a new york post ever

    February 19, 2009 at 6:16 pm |
  21. Margaret

    How can the most politically correct President of the US surround himself with people who just don't say the right things?

    February 19, 2009 at 6:06 pm |
  22. kendall

    Ineffective, maybe. But still true. Our racists past is like the sexual molesting uncle that the family doesn't talk about, or that the in adult hood everybody in the family just says, "get over it."

    And odd that someone would mention the Christian churches, sense they were some of the biggest culprits.

    Will Campbell was spot on when he wrote in his memoir: "The Civil Rights Movement may be over for black people. It is far from over for the whites."

    February 19, 2009 at 6:04 pm |
  23. Scar1

    And, don't hate Scar 1. Scar is an example of all that has taken its toll now in our government. I got seriously sick; lost jobs; husband had heat attack; lost home, lost car; lost everything but, God. And now one more surgery to go on Tuesday but, I was determined to have my say.

    Don't hate the "messenger; hate the message". Racism has not gone away-it is still here. Eric Holder, our Attorney General was man enough to say it. You are cowards if you hide to avoid associating and making an attempt to make amends and change the wrong that has been done and is being done.

    February 19, 2009 at 6:00 pm |
  24. Scar1

    And may I say: "the truth hurts when it is on the other foot". Many white Attorney Generals said far worse about Black citizens in the US and those same people stood with you in many conflicts including God made ones like Katrina. How quickly you forget who stands with you in good times and bad.

    This has been a "fault finding mission" since President Obama took office. Now you just can't stand the fact that a Black man like Eric Holder is over the Justice Department and that is a real miracle.

    February 19, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  25. Scar1

    Actually it was not a failure to anyone but, those who think America cannot fail at anytime. It has so far as race relations and it will again.

    America wants to put blinders on and say oh, it is not that bad-we have made progress. Holder said that too but, more should have been done long ago and he would not have to draw on the issue now.

    You may not like it but, we are bleeding in so many ways and we want to slap a bandage on it and call it fixed. It is not fixed by a long shot. Look how some of you want President Obama to fail basically and you try not to admit it but, because he is of a different hue. " For vocabulary people look it up-no let this intelligent lady tell you hue is color." But, some of you think we do not even read.

    February 19, 2009 at 5:49 pm |
  26. Anne Morgan

    I just have to wonder if his words would have been more effective
    if he had encouraged those of all races to reach out more to others
    rather than throwing out an accusation of being cowards.

    That being said, I can understand why he wanted to use this opportunity to say something to challenge people. I thought about race a lot during the campaign. I am white but it absolutely breaks my heart and makes me want to cry when I see racism in this country.

    I think a good starting place is in the Christian churches. I see it
    starting already in many churches.

    February 19, 2009 at 5:26 pm |
  27. jarrod

    I'll see if this comment gets on i think their are cowards in this country and i don't beleive speaking honestly will get anything done. I think Eric Holder is a coward

    February 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm |
  28. lorraine

    he is just telling the truth what poeple say in behind close door is not allway what they say out in the opening but they hint around it to say what they want to say but we have fight all over the world why we can`t get alone is this the american way if it is we need to change it and work out our problem like we tell the kids say you are sorry and go ahead and playing.i think he was talking to everbody if the shoe fits wear it and stop try to hurt poeple because poeple feeling get hurt real easy so let deal with the other problem we have.

    February 19, 2009 at 5:02 pm |
  29. Celia Ceniceros

    Eric Holder, was right on the money on his comments about race differences in America. I would not have used the word coward , This race issue has been a sore subject since I was a youngster living in Los Anegeles, California 1932 , as a 3rd generation Mexican American , I never had race discrimination due to my skin color is white not brown I can pass for anglo, us Mexicans come in many skin colors , yes we still have discrimination alive and well today in America, although we have come a long way as far as being accepted but we still have a long way to go. The younger educated Black ,Latino, Asian etc will not have the same effect with discrimination as past generations. The younger generation of today , that have never had to deal with the race card , will have a hard time understanding this isue. It by passed many who got an education. Racism works both ways, especially in the work place.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  30. Sherry, N. Calif.

    We live in a Democracy! The cartoonist was expressing his way of thinking. I though it was racist and it confirmed everything Mr. Holder stated. When was the last time any of you "white" people went to a African American event? I am white. I went on MLK day to an event I knew would be all Afro-Americans with a minority of white people there. I was so proud of our country. I still get tears thinking today of that evening Pres. Obama won. We have a long way to go but we have come a long way. We should stay focused and work all the harder in helping each other no matter what ethnic background we come from.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  31. Chris Harrison, Vancouver Canada

    I tried to leave a comment about this last night but the blogged was closed by the time I caught the spot on Eric Holder's comments.
    My comment is specifically to Andersons remarks to his guest who were arguing and speaking over each other. I loved how Anderson shut it down right away. As soon as people start speaking over themselves ov TV I change the channel. Its so un-professional. I have never heard a host put it so beautifully as Anderson did and I hope he continues to do that.

    Love AC360 and I catch it every day from Vancouver,BC Canada.
    By the way I actually got up out of bed to try and leave this post last night.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:50 pm |
  32. jarrod

    i tired of hearing about racism i never treated anyone any different but when you pick at it year after year some people that had nothing to do with it should stay out of it young black under 40 should'nt worry about slavery and act like they went through it GIVE IT REST or at this rate it will divide and conquere

    February 19, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  33. shawn

    I agree with some of the comments that racial issues are not discussed and that there is a fear in discussing these issues. Part of the fear is that in discussing them there is a perception that you will be percieved as racist in discussing the issues. Why are we just discussion "black", if we are a melting pot should we not also be addressing asians, muslims, mexicans learning about their culture, socializing and addressing their issues as well. At some point we need to stop making racism an issue and letting things heal on their own without creating an issue out of it. Like picking a scab it will take longer to heal. Over time and the natural course of things our country will heal and not see things from a black or white point of view. By making race an issue you will pour salt on the wounds and create more discourse.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm |
  34. Mari, Salt Lake City

    Well, Ms. Harris-Lacewell, you have a right to voice your opinion. Eric Holder's comments upset a lot of people on the far-right. They are people who choose to ignore the truth of our racist history. And yes, we are cowards, for not talking about race. My own parents did not vote for Obama because of his race. So I know racism is alive and well in our nation!

    All we have to do is listen to the far-right rhetoric about "illegals" to know that racism is still around! They claim its about "laws" ......but no, its that Mexican people are .....brown!

    I wish that a racist would paint his face black, and live as an African-American for one week, or even a day. So he/she could see how racism hurts. Its hard to lift yourself up, to believe in dreams when you have been treated as non-humans for generations!

    Yes, we are doing better, no doubt. But is racism alive? Yes, sadly yes, even in a nation of ............Christians! Thankfully, GOD, will provide justice as the racists meet their Maker!

    February 19, 2009 at 4:16 pm |
  35. Cindy

    While we aren't totally away from having any type of racism in the U.S. I do believe that we have come a long way in doing away with it. I think that Holder's remarks were uncalled for. He could have used different words to make his point. Saying that we don't deal with racism or talk about it is wrong. 20 yrs ago we would have never have gotten a black man elected as pres no matter how bad the economy was. So we have moved forward a lot! We have a ways to go but we have made great strides.

    And just to put it out there...there is racism towards whites from blacks and others. That needs to be dealt with too. Racism can be a two way street!


    February 19, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  36. Dina

    He spoke the truth for many people. As a non minority I completely agree with what he said. Granted this varies from state to state.

    As for employment discrimination it goes on all of the time.

    Many managers are not even educated on employment law.

    Rather they were popular and then were promoted into hiring and management .

    Sadly the people who are racist do not usually even know it...

    February 19, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  37. Japera

    Unless you have ever been the victim of racism. Than its easy to call Holders comment as negative. Just because Obama is president does not mean that the rest of the minorities no longer experience racism.

    February 19, 2009 at 3:57 pm |