Attorney General Eric Holder speaks with the media after participating in the Department of Justice African American History Month program at the DOJ in Washington on Feb. 18, 2009
Saul Loeb/Getty Images
By now, there are few people unaware of the comments made last week by Attorney General Eric Holder. It seems, though, that few people, left, right, or other, have offered a proper response.
Holder, no doubt, grossly miscalculated the effect that his poorly selected choice of words would have on those to whom they were directed. It is both necessary and desirable that, at long last, we have a genuinely honest and civil discussion of race. And while he indicated no animosity toward America as a whole, but only in connection with what he perceived to be its general attitude toward this one issue, by referring to it as “a nation of cowards,” he stupidly insured that his invitation to conversation would be lost.
Holder’s provocative assertion raises at least two questions. First, to whom he is referring, all Americans or only some?
Though he speaks of the American nation, there can be no real question that it isn’t black Americans that Holder chastises, but whites. As I have pointed out several times in previous columns, for all its accusations against its opponents of “code speak,” the left has an extensive code language of its own, and when it excoriates “America” for its sins, it is in truth white America of which it speaks. Holder, then, is charging white people of being cowardly when it comes to engaging their black brethren on the issue of race.
The second question that demands a reply: is Holder correct?
The notion of giving honest expression to their views on race is no slight source of considerable trepidation for the white American generally, especially when confronting blacks, so on that score there is truth in what the Attorney General says. But the mere possession of fear is not sufficient to establish cowardice, which from antiquity to the present has been regarded as a great vice, for the cardinal virtue of courage would be impossible without some fear to surmount.
Furthermore, it’s not always due to fear that many whites lack the disposition to engage blacks and, for that matter, one another, over the issue of race. I, for one, have bitten my tongue more times than I can count over the years when this issue has arisen, whether I was speaking with academics or laypersons, blacks or whites. This, though, wasn’t at all because of any fear I had of “offending” anyone. Rather, I had suspicions that my interlocutors were neither interested in having an honest discussion about race nor, quite frankly, particularly capable. So, from self-love I discontinued the engagement so as to utilize my time in more fruitful ways.
Still, there is no question that many whites are indeed fearful of speaking truthfully to the issue of race, and some are sorely and shamelessly lacking moral courage. However, the most important question that the Eric Holders of the world wouldn’t even think to consider is the obvious: why is there such fear on the part of white America?
Maybe Holder and his ilk won’t attend to this question because they know all too well the answer. Whites fear speaking honestly about race because they fear being on the receiving end of the predictable accusation that they are “racist.” Beyond this, it is precisely people like Holder -- those who constantly whine and scream for a dialogue on race -- who are the first to resort to ad hominem attacks against those who threaten to disturb their monologue, a monologue that invariably amounts to a diatribe against white America.
A conversation, whether regarding race or any other topic, presupposes that certain unwritten, informal, but indispensable rules of civility be observed by its participants. Accusations and character assaults spoil the well of discourse; the accusation of “racism” evaporates the well entirely. The conversation is impossible unless its participants are committed to both listening to what their partners in the conversation have to say and refraining from insults.
Sadly, experience has made it painfully clear to many whites that the Eric Holders and Barack Obamas of the world who express a desire for an honest dialogue on race are being patently dishonest. It is not us, but they, who stop at nothing to preclude such a conversation from transpiring.
So Mr. Attorney General, what are you afraid of?