Sixty years after desegregating the nation's public schools, Attorney General Eric Holder said the country is far from completely eradicating racism and that subtle bigotry stings the most.
Delivering the commencement address at Morgan State University, an historically black college in Baltimore, Holder said, “Our country is stronger when all Americans are treated equally. Yet we know that boys and young men of color have historically and consistently faced some of the most severe challenges to success."
Overt discrimination is banned, he said, and the public may overwhelmingly disparage controversial comments made by people like Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
But the “greatest threats do not announce themselves in screaming headlines," said Holder, the country’s first African-American attorney general.
“They are more subtle,” he added. “They cut deeper. And their terrible impact endures long after the headlines have faded and obvious, ignorant expressions of hatred have been marginalized.”
Holder listed school safety policies that end up holding back minority students, harsh sentences disproportionately handed down to non-white criminals and voter identification laws as policies that perpetuate inequality in the U.S.
To fight those trends, Holder praised President Obama’s plan to give options to young men of color, called the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
“This is the work that truly matters – because policies that disenfranchise specific groups are more pernicious than hateful rants,” he said.
“Proposals that feed uncertainty, question the desire of a people to work, and relegate particular Americans to economic despair are more malignant than intolerant public statements, no matter how many eyebrows the outbursts might raise.”
Saturday is the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling to end school segregation, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
National figures across the government used the occasion to hail the landmark ruling.