Holder: Subtle examples of racism ‘cut deeper’
By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a sharp rebuke Saturday to recent racist remarks by the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team and a Nevada rancher, but he said the greatest threat to equality are “subtle” expressions of bigotry that remain a “troubling reality behind the headlines.”
In a commencement address to Morgan State University, Holder did not mention Clippers owner Donald Sterling and rancher Cliven Bundy by name, but he referred to the incidents of the “last few weeks and months” as “jarring reminders of the discrimination — and the isolated, repugnant, racist views — that in some places have yet to be overcome.”
“These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done — because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines,” Holder said. “They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.”
Holder’s comments were the most pointed on the issue of race since a controversial 2009 speech when he described the United States as a “nation of cowards,” saying Americans have avoided candid discussions on race.
Speaking on the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that forced the integration of public schools, Holder said “significant divisions” still persist in schools, the criminal justice system and other national institutions.
He said that school discipline policies, “while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers.”
Within the criminal justice system, Holder said “systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common.”
He referred to a 2013 U.S. Sentencing Commission study in which black men received prison terms that were 20% longer than those imposed on white men involved in similar crimes.
“Like a growing chorus of lawmakers across the political spectrum, we recognize that disparate outcomes are not only shameful and unacceptable — they impede our ability to see that justice is done,” Holder said. “And they perpetuate cycles of poverty, crime and incarceration that trap individuals, destroy communities and decimate minority neighborhoods.”
Holder also took issue with Chief Justice John Roberts, whom the attorney general said has “argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether.”
Roberts was part of a court majority earlier this year that upheld the rights of states to ban racial preferences in university admissions. The 6-2 decision came in a case brought by Michigan, where a voter-approved initiative banning affirmative action had been tied up in court for a decade.
“This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb that it doesn’t need to be actively confronted,” Holder said. “In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”