TAIPEI, Taiwan– Statements by Attorney General Eric Holder and a newspaper cartoon brought race issues to the fore in the United States this week.
Holder, America’s first black attorney general, said the country needed to confront its racial past and racial present “and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures”.
He was speaking at the Department of Justice African American History Month Programme; one month after Barack Obama became the first black US president.
“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,” Holder said on Wednesday.
He said that while race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of America’s political discussion there were still many unresolved racial issues.
“… (W)e, 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,” holder said.
“I think Eric Holder was spot on,” Political Analyst Roland Martin said on CNN’s AC360 on Wednesday.
“We try to avoid these conversations as best as possible…. Eric Holder was absolutely on the money with his comments,” he said.
Ron Christie, Former Domestic Policy Adviser to President Bush, said America was “not a nation of cowards”.
“…This is a country of great patriots. And to say that this is a nation of cowards, I think, denigrates much of the work that many men have done – black and white—many different races and colours to make sure we look and we are a race blind society,” he said.
“If we’re going to ever make progress, we’re going to have to have the guts; we have to have the determination, to be honest with each other. It also means we have to be able to accept riticism where that is justified,” Holder told reporters after the speech.
In the speech, he said, “Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not in some ways differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago. This is truly sad.”
Also on Wednesday, the New York Post published a cartoon of two confused-looking police officers looking at a dead and bleeding chimpanzee.
One of the officers has his gun drawn with smoke rising from the nozzle.
Police officers in Connecticut on Tuesday shot and killed a pet chimpanzee that attacked a woman that day.
The cartoon has drawn various reactions with some saying that it suggested that the stimulus bill, which President Obama signed into law this week, was so bad primates could have done a better job.
Another interpretation was that the cartoon compared the president to a rabid chimpanzee.
“That cartoon is dripping with racism and to say anything else is to put a glass on it but I think it is just not credible,” David Gergen, Former Presidential Advisor said on CNN’s AC360.
“We all know what the symbol of chimpanzee and baboon and that sort of thing have been used in the past and unfairly to smear people …. That is the history of racism in this country. …I don’t know what they were thinking about. I don’t know where the editors were,” Gergen said.
Christie, speaking on the same show, said that as “a proud black man” he did not look at a chimpanzee as an African-American or a reflection of who he was.
“If it is supposed to be a portrayal of President Obama, the President did not write this bill… So I don’t think this is an indictment of President Obama. Let’s just not try to find everything to be a racially insensitive matter,” Christie said.
He further said that former president George W. Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney were caricatured and “they had so many evil comments to say about them”.
The cartoon appeared on page 12 of the newspaper.
On page 11 of that same edition, there was a spread image of President Obama signing the stimulus bills.
The New York Post said the Sean Delonas cartoon was meant to mock the contents of the stimulus bill.
“The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington’s efforts to revive the economy,” Col Allan, editor-in-chief of the New York Post, said in a statement.
The New York Post’s Associate Editor, Sandra Guzman distanced herself from the cartoon.
She emailed reporters saying:
“Please know that I had nothing to do with the Sean Delonas cartoon. I neither commissioned (nor) approved it. I saw it in the paper yesterday with the rest of the world. And, I have raised my objections to management.”
“The cartoon in today’s New York Post is troubling at best, given the racist attacks throughout history that have made African-Americans synonymous with monkeys,” Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said.
He said the cartoonist was “making a less-than-casual inference to this form of racism”.
He called on the New York Post to “at least clarify what point they were trying to make in this cartoon”.
He said the paper should “reprimand their cartoonist for making inferences that are offensive and divisive at a time the nation struggles to come together to stabilize the economy if, in fact, this was yet another racially charged cartoon.”
Three years ago, the then senator, Hillary Clinton, speaking to a mainly black audience at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event said the House “has been run like a plantation, and you know what I’m talking about.”
One of Clinton’s Republican congressional colleagues, Peter King, said the senator “should be ashamed.”
“It’s definitely using the race card. It definitely has racist connotations. She knows it,” King said. “She knew the audience. She knew what she was trying to say, and it was wrong. And she should be ashamed.”
Al Sharpton, who had hosted the event where Clinton made the remarks, disagreed with the criticism.
“I absolutely defend her saying it because I said it through the ’04 elections,” he said.