Commentary Magazine


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Holder’s Shame

In his first major speech since being confirmed, Attorney General Eric Holder created quite a stir. According to news reports,

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder declared.

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country “have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace,” but he noted that “certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one’s character.”

“On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad,” Holder said.

… “It’s a question of being honest with ourselves and racial issues that divide us,” Holder told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference. “It’s not easy to talk about it. We have to have the guts to be honest with each other, accept criticism, accept new proposals.”

This is surreal. Here we have the first black attorney general, serving under the first black president, arguing that this country, in important respects, doesn’t differ significantly from the country that existed a half-century ago, when segregation was the law of the land in many states. In fact, the United States has traveled an enormous and admirable distance on the subject of race, which had been America’s besetting sin.

In addition, the notion that we are reluctant to talk about race is ludicrous. It is talked about almost all the time, virtually everywhere, even when it has almost nothing to do with the issue at hand. There are still, alas, pockets of racism in America. But those pockets are much smaller and rarer than ever before. And it should be said that there are also people (like the noxious figures Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) who play the race card to advance their own political agenda, in a way that ends up causing division rather than reconciliation.

Given his history in the pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, Holder should be careful about lecturing anyone (let alone a nation) on courage. In any event, his comments about race and America are outrageous and acidic. If this is the kind of “new” and “post-racial” politics Barack Obama promised, it makes one long for the days before he made his entrance on the national stage.