A few days ago, our new Attorney General, Eric Holder, made a statement that’s got a lot of people upset. His main statement was that America is “essentially a nation of cowards” when talking about race. And you know what; he’s absolutely correct.

It’s a strange thing for many people to consider, but let’s look at this month as a true microcosm of his statement. This is Black History Month, and many people don’t know that; after, what, at least 30 or 40 years, one would think that’s a given at this point that everyone would know about it. Last week we had this thing with the racist NY Post cartoon, and in a news story, there was another cartoonist, who of course wanted his name withheld, who said “Black people need to develop a thicker skin and get a sense of humor.” On the same day was when Mr. Holder gave his speech with this particular line on it, and, if no one has noticed, the divide that’s come down has gone right along racial and political lines.

It takes my mind back to some years ago when I participated in something called “Executive Dialogue”, which, it seems, I’ve never talked about before. Basically, it was a group of people put together, half white and half black, and over the course of six weeks its purpose was to talk about race and try to get each side to see what the other side might be thinking. We started out with 14 people the first week; by the time we got to the end, we were down to 7 people, and five of those were black. It was a tough discussion because, unfortunately, the majority of white people really don’t understand just how much more difficult it is for black people to even get the opportunity to succeed, let alone that do succeed. I often say to people that I have known many white people who had never met a black person until they were adults, but I’ve never met a single black person (we’re talking the United States only) that had never met a white person by the time they were five or younger.

The discussion of race is hard on both sides because it quickly devolves into a blaming/explaining type of conversation where one side talks about their inherent problems, and the other side says “hey, ‘I’ didn’t do anything to you.” Both sides are right, and yet it doesn’t change the dynamics of life when one walks back out the door. As we’re hearing more and more about these high unemployment numbers, and the country moves closer to what will probably be at least an 8.3% unemployment rate by the end of this month, it’s strange to see that the unemployment figure for blacks is around 25%, the same figure as the percentage of black men under the age of 25 that are in prison, though, just to be fair to a degree, the unemployment figure for the disabled is around 38%, and in that case, it doesn’t matter what race someone happens to be.

Do you need more proof? Based on a study done by the EEOC, notice these numbers as it pertains to harassment suits filed:

* Sexual harassment charges increased 146 percent between 1992 and 2001. They have increased 150,000 percent since 1980.

* Pregnancy discrimination charges increased 126 percent between 1992 and 2001.

* Sexual discrimination charges increased 112 percent during the same period.

* Racial discrimination charges increased 484 percent between the 1980-1989 decade and the 1990-1999 decade.

* National origin charges increased 112 percent in the period 1992-2001.

Of course, there’s more coming from this article on the IM Diversity site, which includes:

* A Waffle House franchisee reached an agreement to dismiss a $275 million racial discrimination federal lawsuit filed against it by four blacks

* The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that Xerox Corp. discriminated against black employees — the second such finding within months

* Groupe Danone SA, a bottler of Evian water, paid $1.25 million to settle claims of black delivery drivers who said they received less pay than their white counterparts

* The federal agency began its investigation into what was then a McKesson Corp. unit after eight black employees in 1998 filed charges that the company assigned them less-profitable routes than their white colleagues. August 7, 2002

* Chicago-based Sara Lee Foods Corp. agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle 139 separate race discrimination lawsuits brought by black workers at Hygrade Food Products Corp., a Sara Lee subsidiary, who said they were the victims of racially biased policies at a Philadelphia plant

* More than 100 black employees who claimed they were unfairly denied promotions by NASA will divide $3.75 million in a settlement. May 28, 2002

* Nearly 30 years after filing a class action suit charging the Library of Congress with discrimination, black employees took legal action against the Library for failing to live up to the terms of a settlement reached in 1982.

* The EEOC settled a race and sex bias suit for $1 million against Optical Cable Corp., alleging that Optical Cable violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to hire African-American applicants for a 10-year period, by assigning women to lower paying positions than their similarly situated male counterparts, and by wrongfully discharging a former African-American employee based on his race.

* The Social Security Administration agreed to pay millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit by 2,200 black male employees who accused the agency of discrimination.

And on, and on, and on,… is there still a dispute that this country is scared to address its race issues? The fact is that we can’t look at a black president, a black attorney general, or Oprah, and say that this country doesn’t have any racial issues.

Folks, we need to talk about this race thing; who wants to be next?