Derrick Bell and Eric Holder's 'Nation of Cowards'

The revelation of the relationship between President Barack Obama and the late Critical Race Theory professor Derrick Bell sheds light not only on Obama’s past beliefs, but his present governing philosophy, particularly at the Department of Justice.

It is interesting, for example, to reconsider Attorney General Eric Holder’s incendiary statement in 2009 that America is a “nation of cowards” with a view towards the influence of Bell’s ideas on Obama's cohort of left-wing legal minds.

In his speech, Holder expressed a brazen skepticism of the concept of America as a “melting pot,” seeing that as a form of self-deception. Despite the achievements of the civil rights struggle, Holder argued, racism and segregation had in some ways increased:

Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

Holder’s contradictory ideas—celebrating “positive” race consciousness while decrying continued segregation—are a tempered though familiar version of Bell’s radical idea that the civil rights movement had, in many ways, entrenched white supremacy in America.

To Bell, racial equality—whether in the law or the academy—was a myth. The civil rights movement had been largely futile, because racism was deeply ingrained in American institutions. The answer—though not the solution—was continued resistance.

Bell therefore celebrated those, like Louis Farrakhan, who were “willing and able to ‘tell it like it is’ regarding who is responsible for racism in this country.”

Holder appeared to echo Bell’s rhetorical posture in his provocative challenge to a “nation of cowards,” confronting the very legal system he had just been appointed to manage and defend. And Holder has displayed similar skepticism towards civil rights laws by enforcing them unequally, often treating black civil rights violators differently than white ones.

The most famous instance of such discrimination is the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, which was dropped by Holder despite the fact that it was an open-and-shut case involving serious violations of voting rights.


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