Sunday, February 22, 2009

I wish Eric Holder was right

Attorney General Eric Holder
I wish Eric Holder was right because I think he gives most Americans more credit than we deserve when he calls us "cowards" on racial matters. Attorney General Holder, in a much-discussed speech delivered on February 18, indicated that we do not talk to each other enough about race because "it is an issue we have never been at ease with ..." Many have criticized the Attorney General as harsh in applying the term "cowards" to American efforts in the realm of race relations. Unfortunately it is probably more accurate to say that Holder was overly kind to us in his assessment.

The Attorney General believes that we do not have many if any serious conversations with each other about race because we find the subject too difficult to broach. To some extent he is right and where we Americans avoid the subject of race due to the level of difficulty involved we are being cowards. says that a coward is "a person who lacks courage in facing ... difficulty." So, to the degree that we fail to discuss race because of the difficulty in doing so, we are in fact being cowards.

But around here, the main impediment in having serious conversations about racial matters is more sinister than cowardice. We do not avoid the subject of race because we are cowards; we avoid it because we are apathetic. Most of our neighborhoods lack racial diversity and don't care. Most of our churches lack racial diversity and we don't care. Most of our social gatherings lack racial diversity and we don't care. We don't care because, truth be told, most of us like it that way.

Eric Holder suggests that we want to improve race relations and to move ahead but we are just scared to have the necessary conversations. I wish he were correct because it would mean that addressing the ongoing racial divide in this country is simply a matter of overcoming our fear of discussing the problem. But I am afraid that it is more accurate to say that, for the most part, we do not move forward in improving race relations because we do not care about moving forward and we do care about moving forward because we do not want to move forward.

Having said that Holder gives us more credit than we deserve in calling us cowards when it comes to race, it is too bad that one of the suggestions in his speech has been overlooked in the tempest over his perceived inflammatory language. The Attorney General challenged you to "use the opportunity of [Black History] month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters." Holder believes that "in this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America." I am all for any opportunity to have that sort of conversation. Maybe if we talk more about racial matters then we will begin to care more about doing the right thing in race relations.

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