In an editorial piece at CNN’s website, Michael Eric Dyson praises Eric Holder’s recent speech on race relations as “courageous and honest”, and suggests that Holder’s “nation of cowards” remark, which a great many morally stunted people have found tendentious and gratuitously offensive, has been “taken out of context”.
Since reading this I have tried to imagine what a favorable context for a remark like that might be, but so far have drawn a blank. I’m sure he meant “coward” in the nicest possible way, but I keep getting stuck on what that way could possibly be. Some remarks just don’t, I think, lend themselves to this sort of damage-control. If a husband tells his wife, for example, that she is a “stupid fat cow”, he will surely have more than a few long nights on the couch in which to search for the right exculpatory spin, but will do so, I think, in vain.
But Mr. Holder is surely right that many people — well, perhaps just white people who actually like the idea of racial harmony, and would like to see it flourish — are afraid to speak frankly about race. The problem, of course, has been that there is next to nothing they are allowed to say. Mr. Holder, to his credit, is attempting to remedy that, by offering strict but helpful guidelines about what sort of remarks will be permissible in the forthcoming “frank dialogue”.
Actually, it appears that his terms are generous; white people will be be given, it seems, broad latitude to express not only heartfelt appreciation of the virtues of other races, but also abject contrition for the hardships they have suffered.
This magnanimous gesture is real progress, I think, and I think I speak for all people of pallor when I say I feel braver already.