An Open Letter to Attorney General Eric Holder: It’s Not About Race

From Fast and Furious to the IRS scandal, conservative complaints about Obama’s attorney general have nothing to do with the color of his skin.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Dear General Holder,

May 23, 1998, was one of the happiest days of my life. After four years of hard work, I joined 485 of my fellow law school students as we were set to receive our Juris Doctor degrees. You may not remember, but you were our commencement keynote speaker that day at the George Washington University National Center.

You rolled through the usual platitudes: “To those whom much is given, much is expected,” etc. But what struck me most were your personal stories. You told us about how, when you were a young prosecutor, you were running to a movie only to be stopped by police in Georgetown because of your skin color. You told us that you have carried around a clipping in your wallet from 1971—words spoken by Reverend Samuel Proctor that resonate with me to this very day.

“Blackness is another issue entirely apart from class in America,” Proctor said. “No matter how affluent, educated and mobile [a black person] becomes, his race defines him more than anything else.”

You went on to challenge us that we all need to strive to change that reality and bring about a day when Americans would be judged as individuals, not as members of a race. Yours was an inspirational challenge, and I’ve done my best since then to meet it.

As I reflect back on your remarks that day, I am appalled that you have replaced that old clipping with a race card, and seek to exploit our country’s historic tensions for political ends.

“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” you said on ABC earlier this week. “You know, people talking about taking their country back…There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus."

What you don’t understand, Mr. Holder, is that there are many of us who are trying to take our country back—back from a group of politicians who seem intent on our destruction as a pillar of strength and liberty in the world. Many of your fellow citizens are dismayed by your conduct, and our anger has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

You are the first attorney general in the history of the United States to be held in contempt of Congress. This had nothing to do with your skin color, and everything to do with your failure to explain how the United States government provided guns to Mexican drug cartels that were eventually used to kill Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in 2010. This story may have disappeared from the headlines, but many of your fellow citizens are still upset our federal government would ever give guns to foreign criminals. Compounding this tragic error, neither you nor anyone else in the administration has explained what happened the night Terry lost his life. All we really know is that he was at the wrong end of a gun you approved handing over to drug dealers.

And our outrage here has nothing to do with “racial animus.” This is about personal accountability, and your failure to provide us with answers.

Speaking of taking responsibility, neither you nor the president has done so with the unfolding scandal at the Internal Revenue Service. There is no institution in our government more feared by American citizens than the IRS. We are required to keep our tax records for nearly a decade, yet the official who ordered the targeting of conservatives seems to have had her hard drive contents “disappear.”

Government officials need to be held accountable, and we need to know that our revenue collection agency treats us all fairly and equally. Yet you have failed to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to determine if the IRS broke any laws, and you appear totally uninterested in why they targeted conservatives.

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Just after you assumed office, Mr. Holder, you said America was a “nation of cowards” on matters of race. What is cowardly is the manner in which you, the president, and other officials of this administration have stoked up the racial animus you claim to deplore. America’s first black president was expected to usher in a new era of racial equality. Instead, we have watched the bonds that hold Americans together become more frayed.

We are now more polarized and more divided along racial lines than the day you took office. By recklessly accusing your opponents of racism, you have turned back the clock on race relations in this country. We are all worse off as a result, and weaker as a country.

Your use of the race card to explain away genuine political opposition to President Obama’s policies upsets many people, particularly black conservatives like myself. You and the president have pandered to Al Sharpton—one of the most divisive figures in our political life, and one who has made his career and fortune by stoking racial animus. Perhaps he’s the one who taught you that cries of racism can be used to stifle legitimate debate.

You’ve failed me, Mr. Holder. I looked to you as a role model 16 years ago. And I truly believed that you would use your high office and prestige to move America toward racial reconciliation.

Instead, you and President Obama have sought to divide America for political gain. You asked us at that graduation so many years ago to devote our personal lives not just to doing well but to doing good. If only you could heed your own words.