Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said the United States was “not yet colorblind” and urged Congress to pass new laws preventing discrimination and protecting the right to vote.
"As it stands, our society is not yet colorblind, nor should it be, given the disparities that still afflict and divide us," he said in prepared remarks at Howard University marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
Holder said the U.S. should be “color brave” and speak frankly about inequality.
"We must be willing to acknowledge the problems we face, to talk frankly about inequality, and to examine its causes and its impacts and, most importantly, to act to eradicate it," he told the historically African-American university.
Holder also asked Congress to pass fair lending laws that restrict discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. And he pressed for equal pay legislation for women, workplace protections for the gay community and legislation providing equal access to education.
He said the country's response to those problems "would be very different" if they were experienced by the majority of people.
Holder’s comments come after he sparked controversy on Sunday by saying that some opposition to him and President Obama had come from “racial animus.”
The attorney general did not discuss those remarks, but in his speech, he highlighted the nearly 350-year struggle from the first Africans arriving in Virginia to the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 — through slavery and segregation.
He said that struggle for equality had led to him becoming the nation’s first black attorney general.
Holder remembered the violence that marked the civil rights era, which he said galvanized those who "braved dogs and fire hoses, billy clubs and baseball bats, bullets and bombs, in order to secure the rights to which every American is entitled."
Fifty years after its passage, Holder praised the Civil Rights Act, saying it continued to protect Americans, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.