Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Holder Was Right

Eric Holder couldn’t have wanted to be involved in a fairly major controversy within a month of his appointment as Attorney General. If he could, he would probably modify his remarks at an African American History Month event, where he said 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. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. …As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad.”

Drudge highlighted the speech, so it got a lot of publicity and came in from criticism from the usual suspects. Jonah Goldberg wrote a column condemning the “nation of cowards” line (though he later revised his criticism after reading the entire text). The conservative blogosphere exploded. Even Maureen Dowd wrote a column criticizing Holder, saying that we “don’t need sermons from liberal virtuecrats, any more than from conservative virtuecrats.”

It’s too bad Holder is coming in for all this criticism, because he happens to be absolutely correct. Racial attitudes in the United States are as bad (or worse) as Holder paints them. Regarding race, America is a nation of cowards, and there are many, many unresolved racial issues in this nation. Holder shouldn’t be condemned—he should be praised for his honest and clear-sighted view of our racial politics.

Is America a racial nation of cowards? Indisputably, yes. The last great racial discussion revolved around the question of whether it was racist for the New York Post to publish a cartoon showing a chimp being shot. Admittedly, a minor controversy (it’ll be forgotten in a month), but it is a good example of America’s racial dialogue.

The last major racial discussion before Chimpgate (the question of whether Obama’s election signaled the advent of a post racial America) started with uncharacteristic intelligence. But that couldn’t last—by the end of the election, Obama supporters were accusing the Republican party in general, and Sarah Palin in particular, of being racist, while conservatives threw the reverse racism tag around every bit as wildly and unfairly as their liberal counterparts.

The last major racial debate before Obama? Don Imus. Before that? Trent Lott.
And neither of this gaffes were the stuff of intelligent racial dialogue—in both cases, Americans were forced to assume outrage at slips of the tongue, if a cruel and insensitive slip in Imus’ case. Holder was generous to call Americans “cowards” when it comes to race—I think “idiots” might work better.

Lost in the furors over Imus and the Post and Lott is the obvious but little spoken truth that America is de facto segregated, and that in practice, racial interaction has changed little in the past fifty years. (Racial attitudes, on the other hand, have changed considerably).

Blacks and whites, for the most apart, live entirely segregated lives. In most places, it is possible tell exactly where the white part of town ends and the black section begins. Blacks and whites listen to different music, speak differently, and rarely intermarry.

In addition, they usually have separate jobs. Blacks tend to hold lower income blue-collar jobs, while whites have jobs across the economic spectrum, but concentrated in middle and upper middle class positions.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that America’s race relations follow a separate but equal policy. African-Americans are free to marry anyone they want, go anywhere they want to, vote, and participate fully in American culture. But they don’t—instead, black culture exists as a subculture sharply segregated from the American mainstream.

The solution to this problem? Holder vaguely mentioned impromptu interracial discussions through artificial opportunities to engage one another, a solution so shallow and ineffective that I can’t believe that even Holder really thinks it would work. (Perhaps he is afraid to suggest anything more controversial—perhaps he can be included in the “nation of cowards”) Others think that that black race hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are to blame for America’s voluntary segregation, but it seems unlikely that many people, black or white, take their social cues from Al Sharpton.

The real reason for this phenomenon, I think, is that America has a long history of segregation, and that history cannot be eradicated in one generation, or even many generations. It will be a long time before blacks and whites fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream, if they do, and the sad truth is that there is little either government or societal leaders can do to expedite King’s vision.


At February 24, 2009 at 6:59 PM , Blogger Beth said...

But I would say that there are non-white races which are not segregated, how much of it is the responsibility of the black community that they are?

At February 25, 2009 at 6:05 AM , Blogger Name: Soapboxgod said...

The fact that we don't discuss race is much more telling to me than if we did. It shows me that people don't think it such an issue as it once was.

I have friends that are African American, Mexican, British, etc. and when I refer to them in conversation, I don't refer to their racial makeup just as I don't say "My white friend Matt".

It's like people that are gay and want to talk about it or come out of the closet to you.

For me it's like BFD already. I like pizza and beer and I have an affinity for chics in skirts and knee-high boots. But you don't hear me yammering on and on about it.

The things are a PART of who a person is as an individual. But they are not the sole defining trait that completes an individual.

At February 25, 2009 at 6:33 AM , Blogger Napqueen said...

Holder was right as is Obama. The only problem is that the conservatives can't see the trees thru the forest.
Did you see that speech last night. Boy oh boy was that great.
What a remarkable speech from a brilliant man!
The American people were indeed very wise to elect this intelligent, impressive, inspiring and charismatic man. Watching the republicans in the audience was interesting indeed. They were impressed. Further, it was abundantly clear John McCain has immense respect for his former opponent. No other current leader anywhere in the world comes close to President Obama in talent and leadership abilities.
It was difficult not to have pride in America and our congress, last night.President Barack Hussein Obama continued to exceed our expectations.
He just gets better as time goes by.
I was most impressed with his relaxed but confident,
Strength and determination.
His great leadership qualities were on display last evening for the world to see.

At February 25, 2009 at 2:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


At February 25, 2009 at 6:35 PM , Blogger Daniel Ruwe said...

Beth-It's indisputable that the black community bears some responsibility for modern segregation, but it's hard to decide how much. It's probably a topic for a whole separate post, if indeed it can be answered at all.

Soapie--I agree--I hate that race is supposed to be the defining trait of an individual.

Napqueen--I get the impression you like Obama.

At February 26, 2009 at 11:20 AM , Blogger JeffsJots said...

Americans are very angry about Eric Holder.. But so many of us are afraid to tell it like it is. Maybe Eric Holder is right?
Maybe we ARE a nation of cowards
We have an “affirmative action” AG and an “affirmative action” President. Does anyone really believe Obama would have been elected in spite of his non-existent experience and his disgusting associations if he was white?
We ARE a nation of cowards regarding race. We’re afraid to tell the truth.
I read somewhere on the other blog that we are expected to support Obama!
Why? Because he's the president. But we disagree with him on 90 percent of what he says and does. So why support him?
we don’t need a Jackson/Sharpton-style lecture on race. Barack Obama’s election was supposed to get us past that, wasn't he!
I don't blame people that ate angry. I know that I am as well.
Being critical of Holder is not enough - not nearly enough. The only reasonable response to that insane, nasty, stupid speech that Holder gave as Attorney General is to come to the conclusion that he is not fit for that job, exhibits some very scary and chilling attitudes about what task of the AG is and Justice, in general and must be taken out of the position. You can bet your life that if he were white and a republican there would be hell to be paid and he would have been asked to step down by now.

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