The Campaign Spot

‘In things racial we have always been and continue to be… a nation of cowards.’ (UPDATED)

Mr. President, do you agree with the assessment of your Attorney General that, “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”?

And does every senator who voted for Holder feel just swell right about now?

UPDATE: A reader, looking through Holder’s speech, asks what is so objectionable about Holder’s statement.

I’m going to echo the points made by Jonah

Recall Clinton’s “national conversation on race” in the mid-90s.

Recall the enormous reaction to Obama’s speech on race last year.

Recall the discussions that followed the dismissal of Don Imus in 2007.

Recall the discussions that followed the dismissal of a DC worker for using the term “niggardly.”

Recall the discussion of race relations after the O.J. Simpson verdict and the Million Man March.

Recall the discussion of what the (rescinded) indictment of the Duke Lacrosse players said about race relations.

Recall the discussions that followed Bernie Goetz, Al Sharpton and Tawana Brawley, the arson of Freddie’s Fashion Mart, the various comments of Louis Farrakhan, and the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson.

Recall the conversations that followed the beating of Rodney King and the L.A. riots.

Recall the dismissal of Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder from CBS, or John Rocker’s comments in baseball, or Al Campanis’ dismissal for saying that blacks might not be up to managing a baseball team.

Recall the discussion of “racial matters” spurred by the humor of Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle…

Heck, recall the amount of racial discussions surrounding the civil rights movement.
First, Holder is just flat out wrong on the facts — this country has ALWAYS discussed race, often at great length, and in many disparate corners of society. Second, whatever “cowardice” or reluctance he diagnoses would appear to be justified, as “frank conversations” usually result in accusations of racism, and pretty severe repercussions for those deemed by society at large as racist. The country will have that “frank discussion” when you can no longer be fired for a statement deemed racist by others. Now, in many of the cases I listed above, the comments were egregious and dismissal justified – but for many, many folks, why take the risk of saying something offensive when you can play it safe by ignoring the topic altogether?

(Interesting — looking back at this column by Jonah from last year, I see we overlapped on our list of racial controversies only with the O.J. Simpson trial. He listed Hurricane Katrina, Trent Lott’s remarks about Strom Thurmond, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas, the publication of The Bell Curve, the ongoing national chatter about affirmative action, racial disparities in prison sentences and racial profiling by law enforcement.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: From a reader:

The thing about Holder’s comment today is how naiive it is, especially for the government’s top attorney.  He says people should engage in a “frank conversation” about race in public, at work and at home.  As any attorney (or anyone who has sat in on a diversity or harrassment training) will tell you, this is recipe for litigation. 


The law, and it is a ass, is that it is the impact on the victim, not the intent of the speaker, that governs whether or not conduct is harrassment.  Even raising the issue of race at work could be considered harrassment if you happen to offend someone, even accidently, in fact, even if you did not know they were listening or they heard your comments second hand. 


Tolerance is a two way street.  Perhaps when the most minor of offenses are no longer beaten into a cause of action, we can start to have frank conversations again.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: That didn’t take long. From a liberal reader:

Frankly your [sic] wrong on Holder. I have worked with many African-Americans and I can tell you that no one is going to sue anyone for talking about racial issues unless you act like an ass and call someone the “n” word or something. I felt free to talk about race with my buddies and it was never a problem. I also had white friends who had a lot of questions about African-American culture and were embarrassed — not afraid — to ask a question. This belief by conservatives of a vast conspiracy of African-American out to “get you” is ridiculous. And, I suspect, it comes from very few of you having friends and co-workers of color. People do need to spend more time talking and interacting with one another.

PS And I would say your over the top reaction (along with Drudge, Jonah, etc) is why people don’t have conversations as well. Because the first time that an African-American suggests having a civil conversation you start shouting about it.

My objection to Holder’s comment spurs this reader to conclude that I believe in “a vast conspiracy of African-Americans out to get me” and it stems from a lack of “friends and co-workers of color.”

It would otherwise be funny — this reader is blind to the fact that her denunciation of my argument exemplifies the exact phenomenon I’m lamenting.

And asking if Obama agrees with Holder’s statement is “over the top”?


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