Hey Holder, Who You Calling a Coward?

Has Eric Holder lost his damn mind!?!?

America's first black attorney general declared Wednesday that the country is a "nation of cowards" when it comes to discussing race: 

"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. 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 things racial.

"This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle, it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race-conscious, and yet is voluntarily socially segregated."

My first question for Mr. Holder is: who is this "we"?

Are "we" in every home and neighborhood listening in on every conversation?

Actually, the "voluntary social segregation" that he Holder decries plays out in more of a socio-economic way than in a racial one.

Sure, in New York, Chinese and Koreans often live in Chinatown and many Russians can be found in Brighton Beach. But in Crown Heights, a poorer neighborhood in Brooklyn that was the epicenter of riots some 17 years ago there's an odd mix of American-born blacks, American-born Orthodox Jews, West Indians of all nationalities and, yes, gentrifying white Yuppies.

The segregation which Holder decries may be found more among the upper middle-class and wealthy than among the poor and working classes.

The really galling aspect of Holder's speech, however, is that his approach to the topic has already made it an immediate non-starter. Calling the country a "nation of cowards" one month after the inauguration of its first black president, shows a devastating lack of political awareness. This isn't the same country as it was when Clinton's "national conversation on race" became a dubious proposition. Calling everyone cowards is precisely the sort of overstatement that poisons the beginnings of useful dialog on these issues.

And how far are we willing to go in discussing those issues? Is it just bigotry causing 70 percent of black kids to be born out of wedlock? That statistic alone correlates to much of the low nutrition, low birth weight and poor early academic achievement within the black community.

It's all well and good to say that we are a "nation of cowards," but it is cowardly itself not to admit (which, to his credit, President Obama has at least tried to do) that the cowardice is on both sides: Whites may not want to discuss the fact that that remnants of bigotry does have some impact on African Americans today. But, blacks are also reticent to talk about personal behavior and life choices that ripple throughout the community in a devastatingly negative manner. Each of those facts are true, but Holder didn't want to take the next logical step.

Eric Holder is a very smart man. But his glaring bull-in-a-China-shop approach to such a sensitive issue does not serve him well.

Robert A. George is a New York writer and stand-up comic. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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