Eric Holder: US still a nation of cowards on race

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated his 2009 claim that Americans are a “nation of cowards” on racial issues on Thursday.

Holder’s effort to profile the entire nation as cowards came during a friendly interview with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, where was asked if he would take back his 2009 remarks.

“I would not take that back,” he replied.

As usual, Holder did not brave questions from the audience or from other reporters in the room.

In 2009, Holder claimed that “though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and we — I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

“Certain subjects are off-limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment, and at worst, the questioning of one’s character,” he told his agency employees at an event celebrating Black History Month.

In the Miller Center interview, Holder acknowledged that there is less racism now that half a century ago.

“We’re certainly do a lot better than we did,” he said, but then outlined his agenda of using his legal clout to equalize outcomes for selected racial groups in the U.S.

“There are disproportionately negative impacts that we see on people of color, on women,” he said.

During his tenure, Holder has greatly expanded the range of race-related lawsuits filed against companies, schools and governments.

For example, his department recently threatened to sue schools where African Americans are disciplined differently than Asian or white students. His agency has extracted billions of dollars in payments from banks after unintentional racial differences were detected in their lending patterns. He has also rolled back drug penalties imposed on African Americans.

Holder’s boss, President Barack Obama, recently told The New Yorker that he supported a reform of marijuana laws, partly because many Africans Americans have been jailed for violating those laws.

During the interview, Holder also threatened to sue states if his deputies see a racial purpose behind voter-identification laws that have already been approved by the Supreme Court.

Holder also hinted at a wave of new lawsuits amid the growing diversity caused by immigration.

“We have demographic changes in this nation the likes of which we have never seen before,” he said. “That could be a very divisive thing… on the other hand, if we do accept the new nation that we are about to become, that could be a very positive force.”

Holder’s office has not publicly pushed back against the president’s decision to reduce enforcement of immigration laws.

The looser enforcement has boosted Obama’s support among Latinos, but has also increased job-competition for young African Americans.

Only about half of young black men who have not completed high school have full-time jobs.

Throughout the Miller Center interview, Holder described his legal decisions as based on his political vision.

When he took the job as the nation’s penultimate law enforcement official in 2009, Holder said, he “wanted to do consequential things… to effect positive change, to raise questions, to correct unfairness, to make our society more just.”

“I understood it would run counter to some of the ideological norms that we have,” he admitted.

Some goals could not be accomplished during the first term, he said.

“You can’t come in on day one and do the kinds of things we’re doing at year five… you have to build support for the kinds of things that we need to do,” he said.

The needed support includes “empirical studies,” he said. For example, Holder’s push to federalize school discipline policies at the Justice Department is based on several studies that report African American studies are being unfairly disciplined.

“Ten, 15 years from now, people will look at back… and say, more often than not, we got it right,” Holder claimed at the end of the interview.

In June, a poll by NBC and the Wall Street Journal reported that only 52 percent of whites and 38 percent of blacks have a favorable opinion of race relations in the country. That’s a sharp drop from the beginning of Obama’s first term, when 79 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks held a favorable view of American race relations.

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Neil Munro