Sunday, February 22, 2009

Holder’s “A Nation of Cowards” Speech: A First Take

I traveled most of last week so it was only today that I read and reread attorney general Eric Holder’s Feb. 18 speech delivered at the Department of Justice’s African American History Month Program.

Here’s my first take:

Ten and twenty years from now Holder’s speech will be remembered for his deliberately provocative phrases: “a nation of cowards.”

Provocation can sometimes be good and necessary. But how was it either in this case?

Holder knew calling America “a nation of cowards” would catch the attention of media, the public, and America’s critics and enemies around the world.

“Cowards” is one of Al Qaeda’s most frequently used epithets for Americans.

I can understand why terrorists use it. I can understand why the hate-America crowd revels in it.

But why did the attorney general use it?

Holder suggests “we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races.”

I’m all for that. We need to “dialogue among the races” concerning, for example, what President Obama meant last year when he said his grandmother was “a typical white person.” And what did Ms. Obama mean when she said America was a “downright mean country.”

I hope Holder speaks out and gives us his take on what the Obama's meant. I hope they do, too.

Then others can join in and we'll have some badly needed dialogue on those important questions the Obama's have yet to answer.

I agree with Holder that:

There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest.
But I wish Holder had provided some specificity with those remarks.

Who, for example, are those “on the extremes” who do not hesitate to use affirmative action for their “self-interests?” How does Holder characterize people who say affirmative action is, in most instances where the term is used, nothing more than racial preference and quota practices?

As he drew to a close Holder said:
The names of too many . . . people, these heroes and heroines [who have advanced justice and opportunity for blacks], are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till.

These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude.
Two things struck me about Holder’s list of people who should “strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation.”

First, Justice Thurgood Marshall was not on Holder’s list.

Granted Holder couldn’t name everyone who merited specific mention on his list. But how could the attorney general of the United States fail to mention our nation’s greatest civil rights lawyer and first African-American Supreme Court justice?

Second, everyone on Holder’s list is a black.

Nowhere in his speech does Holder mention a single white contributor to the advancement of blacks in America and to understanding between the races.

That's a telling omission in a speech the attorney general told us was about dialogue, social amity and full inclusion involving all Americans.

Holder’s omission, while less noticeable, is as telling and troubling as his calling Americans “a nation of cowards.”

More in a few days on Holder's speech.

Thanks to those of you who sent comments and links to others’ reactions to Holder’s speech. I appreciate them.

And thanks to RealClearPolitics for hosting the speech here.


Ken said...

The speech was purely political. Without a 90+% of the black vote, the Democrats can't win. Nothing else matters much to leading Democrats. True equality would disrupt the grievance industry which supplies Democrats with the votes they need. Democrats must oppose any real racial progress because they need the hate and fear upon which they've campaigned as long as I can remember.

Holder, and Obama for that matter, will waste no opportunity to pick at old wounds or to create envy and distrust. Every prominent Democrat would and does do the same. Reid, Pelosi, Kennedy, Byrd, Kerry and especially both Clintons are masters of rubbing salt in wounds. No Democrat will ever pass up a chance to influence a few votes.

Honest democrat is a contradiction in terms.

Danvers said...

As a non-American, I am constantly amazed at how AA's seem to have a stranglehold on the greater American population.

The most recent example is the NY Post's 'chimpanzee cartoon' and the pseudo-outrage of the usual suspects. It is hilarious or amusing, depending on whether you are a Democrat or a Republican when GWB is likened to a chimapanzee or monkey on countless occasions, in print or on screen.

It is a matter of the utmost seriousness when the drafter(s) of the "Stimulus Bill" (Pelosi/Franks)is compared to a chimp - an instant case of racism directed against Obama.

The double standards are breathtaking!

Slavery in the US, however much a crime against humanity it was, is,or will be in the future, died in 1863. Civil rights for AAs were guaranteed by the US congress in 1964 and 1965, by my calculation
about 45 years ago.

Some 145 years later, the greater US population still allows itself to be held to ransome by a rabid 10%. Why?

AAs have to know by now that
they are the masters of their own destiny and have to quit using the serious, but historic, wrong of slavery and discrimination as an excuse for a breakdown in their culture and society, and the lack of individual advancement.

Compare the whinings of an Al Sharpton or a Jesse Jackson, with the real constructive achievements of Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu.

Compare the seditious ravings of Louis Farakhan with the dogged determination of Morgan Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe.

Even here in South Africa,the country with arguably the most serious case of systematic racial abuse since the second world war, Black South Africans, by their own volition, have either lost or are rapidly losing their status as "Victims".

The vast majority of Americans I have spoken to over the years, quite rightly feel no guilt over the wrongs of their forefathers.

Why therefore, does it seem that any AA with an axe to grind can do the 'race hustle' and get instant and cringeing attention from the White American population?

There is a programme on British TV called "Who Do You Think You Are" that traces the lineage of British celebrities as far back as records allow.

One episode featured Ainsley Herriot, a popular TV chef of Jamaican descent. In the first half of the programme his Mother's ancestors were traced back through to the early slaves in Jamaica. There was much anguish as a distraught Herriot bemoaned his fate as the descendent of the slaves in this line of his family.

In the second half of the programme the lineage of his Father was also traced... to prominent slave owners in Jamaica

Dead Silence!!

The lesson I suppose, is that no one is responsible for the actions of their ancestors.

Anonymous said...

Danvers. Well said.

As another non American I too am amazed at race relations in the US.

But more and more I understand it, seeing where Australia is going with it's own issues with the whole 'stolen generation' of Aboriginals. The dollars upon dollars spent which usually go no where, all from some guilt for something horrible (and the extent of that is highly debatable) that I had no part in.

The past is the past, live in the present. Be honest and look to yourself before pointing your fingers at someone else.

Scott S.

Anonymous said...

On Fox News last nite, Brit Hume said something quite perceptive on the Holder "coward" pronouncement. Why isn't there more dialog? Hume posits the reason is because whenever a White person opines on race, the race hustlers immediately pull out the "Racist" label and begin whining about how bad the poor Black people have been treated, blah, blah, blah. In short, Holder's people aren't in the least interested in any dialog about race; all they want is for White people to accept the blame for all that's bad in the Black community.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I am no longer interested in any dialog under Holder's conditions--I don't give a damn about race relations any more. If that makes me a coward, then so be it.
Tarheel Hawkeye

Anonymous said...

What I found most breath-taking in the Holder speech was the hypocrisy. A reading of his speech reveals that it is only blacks (and at that only selected ones) who were courageous in their efforts to end the barriers between whites and blacks. Why was there no mention of Oswald Garrison (the publisher of The Liberator) or his daughter, Fanny Garrison Villard who was one of the founders of the NAACP or her son, Oswald Garrison Villard (the editor of the New York Post) who advocated for equal rights? Where was his mention of the Grimke sisters of South Carolina or any of the many abolitionists who suffered much at the hands of those who opposed them? What about the many nameless yet nonetheless committed whites who over the years have worked tirelessly for civil rights for all? They were hardly cowards.

Freedom of association has always been an assumed right in the United States. Whom one chooses to associate with is based on many things, religion, job, education, one's children, sports, etc. Forcing people to associate with each other never works - just ask any teacher. As I write this, my students are doing group work - groups of their own choosing. Some choose to work alone, others to work with friends, while others choose to work with the smartest students in order to enhance their own grade. It is all about the freedom to choose. While no doubt there are those in this country who choose not to associate with others based on the color of their skin, there are also those who will not associate with others because of religion, habits (someone who engages in drugs has never been a person that I would want to be in the company of - no matter how erudite or nice), income level, education, etc.

I would ask Mr. Holder this - why is it that African Americans need to be singled out for special preferences? Asians, in particular Koreans and Indians, have suffered particularly at the hands of blacks in whose neighborhoods they have established businesses. Why was there no calling out those who feel a sense of entitlement today because their ancestors were once slaves? My paternal ancestors came to this country to escape warfare and starvation in Europe in the 1850's. They never used the discrimination that they suffered as an excuse. They worked hard and lived life on he margins. Perhaps if African American leaders would preach and practice personal responsibility rather than offer excuses for those many African-American young men who find earning an honest living too "white" and those young women who feel that unmarried and pregnant a mark of one's womanhood, the racial climate in this country would change. However, as long as African Americans view themselves as victims and all whites as the slave masters, nothing will really change.

Lyn said...

About the quote Holder lists all those black celebrities - he concluded blacks and Whites alike should be grateful. No thanks Holder. You, Holder, are not going to call White Americans cowards and then speak for all of us and say we owe black celebrities a debt of gratitude.

I don't want any of what Holder thinks is that long, uncomfortable talk about racism; Holder wants himself or other blacks to be the sole speakers. Again, no thanks.

Holder's comments were personal; I mean he's got issues. And instead of running the DOJ or keeping it focused on crime fighting he gave a disrespectful speech. If Holder wants to keep running his mouth let him do it on his off time. And keep him away from cameras and microphones because I don't want to hear his crap.

Anonymous said...

Any time Eric Holder or any other politician of any color wants to "discuss" race relations with me I'm ready. He/She may not like the questions I ask, and I've been called a racist before so that doesn't work anymore either. Let's go, Eric.

Danvers said...

"....These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude."

I think most of those mentioned are turning over in their graves when the see the manner in which their legacy to their AA kinfolk has been debased; merely used as a free pass by the race hustling elite to further their own political ambitions, or inflate their wallets.

It is time for a real discussion on racial issues in the US - the only problem being that AA's won't like to hear the real truths that need to be told.

Anonymous said...

Holder is softening up the enemy for racial quotas and reparations. The government wants to divide us some more, and conquer.

Anonymous said...

I thought many of the comments here were very perceptive. Holder is correct that many people are afraid to openly discuss race issues, but he doesn't explore the reasons for that. It does seem that many discussions about race still end up in the blame game category.
The biggest thing missing from his speech was the election of Obama. That has to rate as one of the big highlights in Black history of the United States. How could he possibly leave that out(he does mention himself as an example)? It shows the progress that has been made in race relations in this country. Even if people are afraid to discuss race issues openly, it is obvious that perceptions and attitudes have changed for the better.
It was just a poor speech and I was very disappointed that Holder could not have done a better job with the platform he had. I won't call his speech cowardly but he seemed to be afraid to tackle some of the reasons for the lack of discussion on certain issues. He complains about it, but he doesn't give the reasons for it, and his fix suggests he wants more "artificial opportunities" like Black History Month to somehow force people into a candid discussion of the issues and problems. His speech is a good example of why we are not ready for that to happen.

Anonymous said...

11:51am comment

You nailed it:


That is that what Obama, Holder & co are seeking.


Kevin L said...

Why not prove Attorney General Holder wrong and have a serious conversation on racial issues? Don't hide behind a criticism of Holder. By doing so, you're just making his case for him.