Eric Holder: Systemic, Subtle Racism Far Worse Than Rants

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivers the keynote address to the National Association of Attorneys General Traning and Research Arm's symposium on the reduction of crime at the The Westin Georgetown hotel May 5, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
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Subtle, everyday racism, especially within the criminal justice system, is far more harmful than racist outburst, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told graduates Saturday during a commencement address at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.

He described racist outbursts, such as those by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, as “occasional, jarring reminders of discrimination—and the isolated, repugnant, racist views—that in some places have yet to be overcome,” but hardly represent the depth of the problem.


“These outbursts of bigotry, while deplorable, are not the true markers of the struggle that still must be waged, or the work that still needs to be done—because the greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines,” he continued. “They are more subtle. They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.”

He also touched on the 60-year-old landmark Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kan., which outlawed school segregation. He said the greatest threat to equal opportunity no longer resides in overtly discriminatory statutes, such as “separate but equal.”

“Since the era of Brown, laws making classifications based on race have been subjected to a legal standard known as ‘strict scrutiny,’” he continued. “Almost invariably, these statutes, when tested, fail to pass constitutional muster. But there are other policies that too easily escape such scrutiny because they have the appearance of being race-neutral. Their impacts, however, are anything but. This is the concern we must contend with today: policies that impede equal opportunity in fact, if not in form.”

He also discussed the deleterious impact of structural racism on African-American men and women, especially within the criminal justice system.


“For instance, in our criminal justice system, systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common,” he said. “One study released last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicated that—in recent years—African-American men have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Another report showed that American Indians are often sentenced even more harshly. The Justice Department is examining these and other disparities as we speak – and taking a variety of steps to ensure fair sentences that match the conduct at issue in individual cases.”

Read the transcript at the Washington Post.

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