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Column: Holder is dead wrong on 'nation of cowards' comment

Holder called out Americans for not being honest about race.

Marcus Bowen

Feb. 23, 2009

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder commemorated Black History Month in a speech given at the Justice Department. In his speech, Holder called average Americans a "nation of cowards."

Holder accused Americans of failing to "occupy a significant portion of our political discussion" with honest discussions about race. He said Americans are cowards because we do not feel comfortable enough with one another to have "frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us." Holder's statement was incendiary and wrong -- his words only work to ignite the racial tensions he claims to fight.

On Thursday, political commentator Pat Buchanan called the attorney general's remarks "an insult." Buchanan responded to Holder's speech by asking, "Was he talking about himself? I mean, was he talking about Obama, sitting there silently when Reverend Wright went into his racist diatribes?"

Buchanan was right -- Holder's remarks work only to divide. Holder's words shut down any real discussion about race.

Buchanan later made and important attempt at legitimate racial dialogue. He highlighted that African Americans commit crimes at seven times the rate of white Americans. He pointed out 75 percent of black children are born out of wedlock, and one in four of black men are eventually incarcerated. Buchanan contended these problems are the responsibility of the African-American community and not white Americans. Buchanan asked African-American leaders to "address the problems in their own community and stop blaming folks who are not responsible." Until the name calling stops and the problem solving begins, we will never experience a post-racial America.

Holder fails to understand what is truly at stake for average Americans who do try to talk about important racial issues.

Five years ago, when Rush Limbaugh said NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb's popularity was a result of the media's desire to have a black quarterback do well, and he was removed from his job as a sports commentator.

When Barack Obama was a presidential candidate, he said black fathers were "acting like boys instead of men." In response, self-titled civil rights leader Jesse Jackson suggested that Obama should be castrated for those remarks.

In 2004, when Bill Cosby criticized the black community for the prevalence of single-parent families, the emphasis on material gain at the expense of necessities and a general lack of responsibility, NAACP legal counsel Theodore M. Shaw immediately criticized him. All of these instances demonstrate how average people have tried to start legitimate racial discussions. Legitimate racial dialogue happens in this country every day.

When Cosby, Obama and Limbaugh attempted to speak honestly about race, so-called civil rights leaders lambasted them. Limbaugh was even called a racist and lost his job at ESPN. The true cowards in this conversation are organizations such as ESPN, who penalize a broadcaster for discussing important racial issues. The true cowards are people, such as Jesse Jackson and Theodore M. Shaw, who refuse to allow any black leaders to honestly discuss problems in the black community. When Eric Holder calls us a nation of cowards -- unless he is talking people like Jackson and Shaw -- he's dead wrong.

Marcus Bowen is a former vice president of the MU College Republicans and currently serves with the Jackson County Republican Party. He can be reached at mbowen@themaneater.com.

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