U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s provocative commentary and characterization about the state of race relations in America on Wednesday night before his Department of Justice employees has drawn both great fire and praise from across the political spectrum.
Holder’s comments, however – a mixture of prose that challenged America to improve its race relations, and poetic obfuscation that did not delineate any tangible benchmarks the country has met or should achieve on the issue of race – stand in stark contrast to the way the vast majority of Minnesotans view the relations between black and white Americans today.
The headline from Holder’s speech was the need for the country to foster a dialogue among the races that, he views, America has failed to do in a meaningful way:
“In things racial we have always been and we I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially, a nation of cowards.”
But the comments from Holder that clearly departed from Minnesotan’s collective views on race were with regards to the progress of race relations throughout the last 40 to 50 years:
“We are then free to retreat to our race-protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made.”
About 10 months ago (April 22, 2008), Rasmussen polled 500 likely voters in Minnesota and asked them a series of questions about race in America.
· Regarding the progress the country has made since the 1960s, 78 percent of Minnesotans believe relations between white Americans and black Americans are better today, with only 10 percent saying they are not better.
· More than four times as many Minnesotans also believe the current trajectory of race relations in the U.S. is also positive – with 59 percent of the view that relations between blacks and whites are getting better today, with just 14 percent saying they are getting worse. About one in five (22 percent) believed they were neither getting better nor worse. (And, with the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States seven months after this poll was conducted, one would expect any movement in those numbers to be more positive, not less).
· A fair number of Minnesotans also seem to burst out of their ‘race-protected cocoons’ – as 40 percent reported sharing a meal with a person of a different race during the previous week, with 54 percent saying they had not.
· Finally, when asked if they had personally witnessed racial discrimination during the past week, more than six times as many Gopher State residents said they had not (83 percent) as compared to those who said they had (13 percent).
Of course, Minnesota’s perception of race is bound to be different from that of other states across the nation which have larger (or smaller) numbers of racial minorities. And, to be sure, public opinion polls only reflect professed attitudes, not necessarily the reality of race relations.
However, it is also the case that Attorney General Holder’s pronouncement of the state of race in America today is also just that – an attitude, and not necessarily an accurate characterization of current race relations, let alone how much progress the country has made during the past two generations.
What can be said with confidence, to be sure, is that Minnesotans as a whole do not seem to share the same views with Holder on this issue. As such, and in light of the backlash Holder's speech seems to have provoked among many Americans, do not expect to find the Attorney General on the campaign trail giving stump speeches for President Obama in 2012.