Eric Holder is not an man who gets easily upset. But last week the Attorney General did not hide his frustration over allegations that the Department of Justice was ignoring a voting rights complaint against the New Black Panther Party because of race.
Holder’s frustration over the criticism became evident during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing…(he) seemed to take personal offense at a comment (Rep.) Culberson read in which former Democratic activist Bartle Bull called the incident the most serious act of voter intimidation he had witnessed in his career.
“Think about that,” Holder said. “When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, to compare what people subjected to that with what happened in Philadelphia, which was inappropriate … to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for my people,” said Holder, who is black.
Holder’s comments have provided fodder for many right-wing commentators, including of course, Glenn Beck who accused the attorney-general of ‘race-baiting.’ Adding their voice, the editorial board of The Washington Times called for Holder’s resignation, describing him as “a product of the 1960s…embodies radical chic, the belief that America is based on racial domination and capitalist exploitation.”
While the President has been criticized by some for not speaking about race, Holder has been one of the Obama Administration’s most vocal members on the subject. Speaking to the Washington Post in 1996, the then U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said that no matter how “affluent, educated and mobile” a black person becomes, “his race defines him more particularly than anything else.” In 2009, his comments that America “a nation of cowards” when it came to speaking about race.
In the right’s rebuttal of Holder’s comments, there has risen, not surprisingly, ignorance in the discord. Today, in the American Thinker, Robert T. Smith authors a piece titled, “The View From Crackerland”- a reference to the videos of the 2008 Philadelphia Black Panthers and their preferred label for white people. Smith writes:
The racism we see from Crackerland in our current Obama administration, those surrounding the administration, and those who support it looks a whole lot more like retribution than like a brave discourse on race relations here in America.
Smith says that the Obama Administration has let the country down on the hope that was felt upon his election- you know, the one for a ‘post-racial’ America. For Smith and the rest of this country’s right-wing political observers, Holder’s comments reveal what the Wall Street Journal called a racial bias in the Department of Justice and possibly beyond.
The uproar of right-wing commentators to Holder’s saying “my people” is an interesting twist in the everlasting ‘post-racial’ America utopia discussion: apparently, more than anyone Smith and the folks in “Crackerland” desperately wanted to believe that Black people were over talking about race.
Well, unfortunately for them- we’re not. The election of a Black man as president is only the new chapter into this country’s discourse on race. While some may take issue with Holder identifying black people as his people, it seems naïve to think he would not. Holder, a second generation Bajan grew up in the Bronx and has risen through the ranks of this government dedicating himself to a service in a system where he has been one of few Black people in his capacity.
It may boggle the right-wing that many African-Americans, like Holder, refer to Black people as their people. It may confuse them that even in 2011, we still delineations in how view ourselves in relation to this country. But here’s the thing- being captured enslaved and having only each other in order to survive will do that to you. While we all carry different parts of that legacy with us, African-Americans will always adhere to some overarching sense of ‘we.’
To say Holder is wrong for expressing that in his official capacity, would be the equivalent of saying Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s distinctly feminine inputs should be disallowed in the Supreme Court. While the right-wing would love to believe we all identify one in the same as “simply Americans”, we’re not. There are those of us who have experienced discrimination on account of their ideologies and there are those who have not.
Holder’s calling black people “my people” does not reflect racial bias, it reflects a historical memory of community and survival bred in this country’s darkest times. The right may think those years should be forgotten, but for Black people, the concept, “our people,” is reminder of all we had when being American was not enough.