Thursday, February 19, 2009

"A Nation of Cowards"

CNN: In a blunt assessment of race relations in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday called the American people "essentially a nation of cowards" in failing to openly discuss the issue of race.

Eric Holder spoke to an overflowing crowd for Black History Month at the Justice Department Wednesday.

In his first major speech since being confirmed, the nation's first black attorney general told an overflow crowd celebrating Black History Month at the Justice Department the nation remains "voluntarily socially segregated."

Holder urged Americans of all races to use Black History Month as a time to have a forthright national conversation between blacks and whites to discuss aspects of race which are ignored because they are uncomfortable.

The attorney general said employees across the country "have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace," but he noted that "certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks at best embarrassment and at worst the questioning of one's character." Watch Holder talk about race »

"On Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some 50 years ago. This is truly sad," Holder said.


Fifty years ago, he said. I was entering college in 1959. There were two black students in my high school graduation class and my mother still had a 'colored' cleaning lady in every-other Friday. There were 'colored' areas of Toledo and white areas but 'white flight' was already beginning in the Kuhschwantz-Polish section of Toledo as well as near-downtown and north Toledo.

Long-time Polish residents along Nebraska Avenue and the side streets began to move out as the 'coloreds' moved in. I recall much racial bitterness from that era which, of course, erupted in the South a few years later.

I am quite at ease with black people perhaps because we are often immersed together as we work on political or social projects together. My wife and I have two 'adopted' black sons whom we have attempted to steer in the right direction. They lost both parents as teenagers, and we have been surrogate parents for them. We met them in a predominantly black church back in 1991 and have kept up our relationship. We were recent 'proxy-grandparents' for one of the young men. He called us shortly before and after the birth of his daughter and sent us a photo album of the event.

What's so hard about seeing people behind the skin color? I wonder why there are so many people who cannot look beyond melanin levels to see the humanness of people. Of course, I did not learn that tolerance from my parents nor my relatives as they were stuck in bigotry all of their lives. At least we taught acceptance to our children and they are passing that off to their children. The viscous cycle of bigotry in my family has, at last, been interrupted.

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