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[Opinion] Eric Holder: Obama’s True “Anger Translator”

Fans of the Comedy Central sketch show “Key & Peele” are likely familiar with the “Obama’s Anger Translator” skit. It basically shows a man named Luther (played by Keegan-Michael Key) translating the calm, informative statements made by President Obama (played by Jordan Peele) into outraged exclamations that reflect the President’s actual thoughts. The skit speaks to Obama’s responsibility to remain politically correct in the face of the adversity that has met him since his first election in 2008, addressing everything from his efficiency as Commander in Chief to questions of his nationality.

Key & Peele's "Obama Anger Translator" skit. Via Comedy Central.

Key & Peele’s “Obama Anger Translator” skit. Via Comedy Central.

Obviously, there is no real anger translator accompanying Obama during his presidential addresses; however, the President has had a somewhat Luther-like companion over the past six years: incumbent Attorney General Eric Holder.

On Sept. 25, Obama and Holder stood side by side to announce the Attorney General’s resignation. The President praised Holder for the many advancements that our justice system has made under his watch, particularly emphasizing Holder’s undying efforts for what he referred to as the “conscience” of the White House: civil rights. Holder has challenged human trafficking, hate crimes, and laws related to voting, immigration and same-sex marriage – but his greatest accomplishment has been his openness about racism and bigotry in today’s America.

It was not too long ago that Holder discussed, without hesitation, the prejudice that many would have already expected our first black President and Attorney General to have to endure.

“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that is directed at me, directed at the President – people talk about taking their country back,” Holder said in an interview with ABC News earlier this year. “It seems to me that this President has been treated differently than others…I don’t think [race] is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”

This, of course, was a follow-up to what is now known as Holder’s “Nation of Cowards Speech,” the first statement he made after taking office. In it, he took on an inspiring matter-of-factness to address the American people’s phobia of racial discourse.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as a[n] ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been, and we – I believe – continue to be in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards,” Holder said. “This nation has still not come to grips with its racial past, nor has it been willing to contemplate in a truly meaningful way the diverse future it is fated to have,” he later continued.

I can still feel the admiration that tingled my spine when I first heard Holder say those words, exposing a truth that had become evident to me as the token black student in many a classroom. There we were, at the cusp of the first presidential administration led by a black man, with another black man at his side as Attorney General, who saw the need for a fruitful attack on race relations in the States. I couldn’t wait to see where Obama would continue the conversation – and when he did, my admiration quickly gave way to disappointment.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder. Via the Washington Post.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder. Via the Washington Post.

“I think what solves racial tensions is fixing the economy, putting people to work, making sure that people have health care, ensuring that every kid is learning out there,” said the President when asked if he agreed with Holder’s sentiment. Although he did agree that Holder had a point, he hesitated to fully support the Attorney General’s statement, diverting the conversation to general domestic needs.

Thus, a harsh reality was sharpened for me: Obama isn’t the first black President; he’s the first President who’s black.

Back in 2008, it was deeply frowned upon for one to admit that she only supported then presidential candidate Barack Obama because he was black. At 15 years old – and with barely enough political knowledge to debate my way out of a paper bag – it was the only reason I had. I didn’t know much about immigration policy. I didn’t know much about our economy, besides the fact that it sucked. What I did know, however, was that I could relate to Obama, and that I could trust him to add building blocks to the country in which I was growing up. John McCain? Not so much.

So, naturally, I was excited to see us end up with a basketball playing, Al-Green-singing, Lil’-Wayne-referencing President. Six years later, I’m left wanting a little more.

Now, Obama isn’t completely ignorant of race relations in the United States. He spoke candidly about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, famously saying, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” He launched My Brother’s Keeper as a much-needed program to provide educational and social support for boys and young men of color. He recently addressed the “gulf of mistrust” between law enforcement and local residents, which fueled the fatal encounter between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August.

But he also told Morehouse College’s graduating class of 2013 that job discrimination is not an excuse for them to not succeed. He blamed the behavior of young black men on absentee fathers. He also must not have known about the “gulf of mistrust” during his first statement about Ferguson, in which he admonished law enforcement for attacking journalists, but neglected to acknowledge the brutal treatment of peaceful protestors – a dissatisfying response from the man who was supposed to speak for Black America.

Or so we thought.

It wasn’t until Holder’s announcement of his resignation that I realized the spokesman that I expected of our President has been our Attorney General all along. It was not Obama, but Holder who traveled to Ferguson just two and a half weeks after Brown’s body lay lifeless in the street for a whole community to see. Holder fought tooth and nail to maintain provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which safeguarded the right to vote in areas that have historically discriminated against voters. And when Obama seemed to graze over any prejudice that he has faced as a black man in power, Holder spoke up – much like the character played by Keegan-Michael Key – revealing the reality that black people receive the same treatment whether they are in hoodies or tailored suits.

Holder will continue to act as Attorney General until Obama nominates his replacement, but with him no longer speaking for the black community, who will?

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