- Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul. Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and 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 race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.
-- U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder, February 18, 2009
As always happens when someone picks the nation’s worst historic scab, peels of mock outrage have sounded throughout the land in reaction to Holder’s challenge. The high-pitched squealing by the usual suspects who have no interest in racial understanding – he called you cowards! – has again managed to muddle the issues at the same time it makes Holder’s points for him.
The cowardice exemplified by a willing ignorance of history, an exaggerated sense of sufficient progress and the rush to unearned, premature closure should be self-evident and its exposure applauded. Instead, it is supposedly the nation’s first African-American AG who is the bad guy for providing educational perspective during Black History month. Go figure.
The African slave trade and its continuing legacy is America’s Original Sin. Along with the attempted genocide of the Native American by the European "pioneers" and the criminally unnecessary nuclear annihilation of hundreds of thousands* of innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slavery stands as part of America’s grim contribution to some of the greatest crimes in human history.
From the Middle Passage (the horrific ocean voyage in which between 2 and 4 million Africans died enroute) to the practices of the slave masters (deliberately divided families; repression of African language and religion; murder, torture and beatings) to eventual "freedom" in the Jim Crow South and the segregated North, black Americans have endured an experience like no other group in this or any other country.
And, as a country, we have never dealt with it. With every half-step, White America has rushed to declare the problem solved. Cause-and-effect is denied and victims are blamed. An African-American president is elected and caricatured as a chimp plugged full of bullets in a New York Post cartoon.
Pardon Eric Holder for speaking truth while himself in power. It could be, but it doesn’t have to be enough for he and President Obama to lead by example; they can and should lead us to new places of understanding and self-awareness. To deny and mock Holder's declaration of American cowardice on the issue of race is to pretend the problem is solved. It is to play enabler to the ultimate Big Lie.
It's way past time for America to come out from its hiding place and face the fear of its own compromised history. The nation was built in large part on the backs of a strong, talented race of involuntary immigrants who too many -- much less the drafters of the Constitution -- have never accepted as full citizens, neighbors or even strangers on the bus. We have already tried waiting long enough until everyone just forgets. It ain't happening.
Get real, America.
*corrected from "millions" - thanks, Patrick.