February 20th, 2009
11:55 PM ET

The racial divide vs. the generation gap

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/18/holder.race.relations/art.holder.justicedept.afp.gi.jpg caption="Eric Holder spoke to an overflowing crowd for Black History Month at the Justice Department Wednesday."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Are we cowards for not talking more about race?

Attorney General Eric Holder says that is exactly what Americans are for not directly engaging in that thorny issue. His statement has raised a lot of eyebrows from people of all colors, especially considering Holder is the first African-American to hold that position while Barack Obama, just one month ago, became the nation’s first black president.

For many Americans – black, white and otherwise – these are signs of extraordinary progress and it hardly seems the time to be putting on a fresh hair shirt over this issue. There is, after all, that whole economy business. One could argue that the only color we should be worried about at the moment is green.

Holder is certainly right, however, when he says that we remain a largely segregated society. Despite decades of cheerful talk about better days coming, the vast number of our communities tend to be largely monochrome. Sure, you can find places where brave racial explorers have established outposts in neighborhoods where almost everyone else is a different color; you can even find some areas with dazzling mixes of ethnicities, religions, ages, and political views; but towns like that remain rare compared to the size of the country’s population.

Still, despite our bird-like tendency to flock by the feather, the attorney general may be overlooking some important signs of racial progress because of his age.

Holder was born in 1951. I was born eight years later. We’ve both been around long enough to have witnessed some of what sure-enough segregation was about: teachers telling white children to stay away from black children, racial fights raging at bus stops, restaurants where only whites were welcome, older white people openly disparaging black people and the list goes on. It is little wonder the subject remains raw for people over forty.

But younger Americans are a different story. A study by New York’s Hamilton College some years ago found that people born after the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s (which is to say ‘born into a country free of formal racial barriers’) view race in far more relaxed and accepting terms than their parents. Most favored the idea of multi-cultural teaching to reduce racial misconceptions. More than 70 percent said they would consider dating someone of a different race. Almost half said if they adopted a child, the race would not matter. All of that is undeniable progress.

To be sure, America still has real racial problems. The recent history of our prisons, our courts, our politics and social structure all say the Attorney General has a point. But for many younger Americans the change of heart he is after may already be old news.

soundoff (157 Responses)
  1. Bill

    Some people seem all worked up about the NY Times gorilla cartoon with explicit, racial finger pointing going on, but why don’t we examine for-profit universities that some also accuse of taking advantage of minorities using taxpayers’ dollars? Isn’t this a racial concern?

    Maybe we can look deeper than the whole cartoon scandal in the NY Times when that same newspaper is selling for-profit university advertisements that are connected to scams all over the Internet. Now, that’s scandalous!

    Isn’t the American society and the U.S. Government losing terribly in these setups? Isn’t anybody concerned? Fleecing U.S. consumers and U.S. taxpayers through our education system is truly an attack from within and a racial concern, since some point out that minority students are explicitly targeted by these for-profit universities.

    Are for-profit universities the only well-lubricated, NASDAQ endorsed, Corporate America/U.S. Government setups out there that seems to consistently fleece taxpayers? This might be a perfect example of racism based on educational services provided to U.S. citizens by the U.S. government, through the pretext of business enterprise.

    February 23, 2009 at 10:47 am |
  2. Ragin Cajun

    Cowards!!! I take offense to that for the simple reason some of us do discuss race. However, those in politics live in Lala Land and Holder is owner of some prime real estate there. He is not like me, didn't suffer the same inequities as most blacks, and is in a position that most blacks, whites, and others will never attain. So please save the "Coward" comment for those whom you serve beside, because our country has real issues and those in power are the greatest contributors to those issues.

    February 23, 2009 at 10:14 am |
  3. Freedom Riders

    State of Mississippi has been taking hostaged under radical thinking and radical (KKKs) figures for a long time, now! Some of these figures are politicans (State/Local) and pastors. I am a Mississippian, I do not consider myself Black, White, Yellow, Tan, or etc.

    I just don't understand why my state hasn't woke up and taken a stand on our racists divide. I mean, talking opening about it, across ethnic divide. I am not talking about naming things after an African American or creating holidays. I am talking about seriously, having a conversationing about it.

    Some of my fello' Mississippians might say, theres nothing wrong with Mississippi, their lying! Plain and simple!

    Mississippians are scared when anyone mentions race. We go into a coccon mode.

    We have more churches in our state then we have schools and we still don't live be the good book. We preach the teaching of Christ but don't live by it.

    Mr. Holder had it right, We are a nation of cowards, I know my state of Mississippi is a big part of that equation!

    If you want to see how a racist divide can hurt a state, then Mississippi is a prime example, PERIOD!

    Another thing, when you have state congressman and woman that have been in poitical office for 20 to 30 years, you can cancel any racial equality out the window, period!

    Freedom Riders: We are a grass root social movement, trying to take back southern states from radical individuals (politicans/ pastors/ and etc), who use our churches and citizens like toliet paper, just for political gains. We have been growing in masses around the south since 2004(VA,FL, TX, MS, GA, AL, AR, TN, SC, NC, KY, LA,). We are working to change southern radical thinking. Opening discussions and finding solutions on social issues.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:56 am |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Obviously most people have not read Mr. Holders speech and have just ran with what the media pointed out. PLEASE READ HIS SPEECH and then comment.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:41 am |
  5. Freedom Riders

    I am from the state of Mississippi, where if you talk about race, many people see you as a trouble maker or stirring up trouble!

    February 23, 2009 at 9:23 am |
  6. Jesse

    There lots of racism.When my check dont come in the mail the postoffice don't help and act like they don't care. Reperations are needed for all the injustise.

    February 23, 2009 at 9:05 am |
  7. Dude

    He's right. We are cowards. When we point out that the best way to guarantee a lack of upward mobility is to have a bunch of kids from different fathers and to try to live on welfare or disability (while still popping out kids) it makes certain people angry and puts my health at risk when I discuss reasons we have a permanent underclass.

    February 23, 2009 at 8:38 am |
1 2 3 4