Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that America’s centuries-old issues with inequality, racism and injustice continue to cast a dark shadow over too many citizens.
“In too many places across this nation that I love and have served throughout my life that the echoes of injustices stretching back nearly four centuries continue to reverberate. These echoes from times past are still heard by too many," Holder said at a Howard University event marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act.
Both President Obama and Holder have talked at length about how stereotypes and racism have impacted their lives, particularly after the shooting of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin in February 2012. The country's conversations about race since then have been amplified. The Justice Department has also been increasingly aggressive in attacking institutional and systemic disparities, including pushing back against Republican-led efforts to enact strict new voting laws, zero-tolerance school discipline policies and a host of other education issues, all of which have had a disparate impact on people of color.
Voting rights issues have been central to Holder's tenure as attorney general, and the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act has served as a platform for the DOJ to highlight the importance of ensuring the most vulnerable Americans, including racial minorities and the poor, are able to access the ballot box.
Discrimination affects the workplace and broad stretches of the country that remain racially and economically segregated, Holder said.
"In far too many neighborhoods, far too many people of color and far too many LGBT individuals are denied credit and housing,” he said, adding that too many women are deprived equal pay for equal work.
"In our education system, students of color are far more likely than white children to attend poorly funded schools. In the criminal justice system, African-American men are routinely subjected to sentences averaging 20% longer than those served by white men convicted of similar crimes,” Holder said. "And when it comes to our most treasured democratic institutions, many vulnerable populations -- including young people, the elderly and communities of color -- are now facing a range of new restrictions, leveled under the dubious guise of voter fraud prevention, that create significant barriers to the ballot box."
Holder’s comments about America’s stubborn grip on racism and inequality came just days after he suggested in an interview with ABC's “This Week” that some of the opposition to him and President Barack Obama— both of whom are black— is because of their race.
“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder said in an interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas on Sunday. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. I can’t look into people’s hearts, look into people’s minds. But it seems to me that this president has been treated differently than others.”
“There’s a certain racial component to this for some people,” Holder said in the interview. “I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”
Holder’s comments over the weekend drew swift rebuke from conservatives.
In an interview with conservative television host Glenn Beck, author Brad Thor denounced Holder’s talk of racial animus with a claim that Holder is actually racist.
“Mr. Holder, the one true racist in this dialogue is you,” Thor told Beck Monday on The Glenn Beck Program. “You see everything through the prism of race. You are the racist. You are using racism to cover up the inadequacy of the performance of the president of the United States, and the absolute dereliction of duty in your office. You, sir, are the racist.”