During his speech Wednesday night, John Edwards' remarks about race being not an African-American issue but an American issue would have resonated in any venue. Being spoken in Boston, they had special meaning. Watching the speech on TV from New York, I saw Edwards speaking to more black faces than I ever saw in all the times I went to the FleetCenter (and its predecessor, the Boston Garden) during the nearly four decades I lived in Boston. This, remember, was the city where, in the '60s, Bill Russell was leading the Celtics to one championship after another, and it was possible to walk up to the Garden box office mere minutes before the tip-off and buy a ticket. OK, basketball wasn't the draw it is today. But not many people in Boston wanted to cheer a black man on their home team.
Edwards spoke about the racial divisiveness he saw as a boy growing up in the South. The current incarnation of that divisiveness roared back over the airwaves minutes after he finished his speech. Following Edwards, and as a prelude to nominating Kerry, the multiracial hip-hop group Black Eyed Peas came out to perform their hit, "Let's Get It Started." Flipping channels to try and catch the performance, I found that the only network carrying it uninterrupted was Fox News. And just as I was getting suspicious about why Fox News was giving a hip-hop group time that could have been handed over to their pundits, the song ended and Fox anchor Brit Hume came back and said, "The Black Eyed Peas with their rendition of a song that's popular in the swing states, especially the refrain 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,' which the Kerry campaign believes will have particular resonance."
In other words, Hume was saying, "Here's what you'll get if you vote for John Kerry, America -- darkies running wild all over the place." When Black Eyed Peas were replaced by a tape of the Isley Brothers, Hume deemed them, "a melody more familiar to most Americans." Which Americans? Not the young ones -- black and white -- who kept "Let's Get It Started" on the charts for weeks. But then, in the eyes of Fox News, those people do not count as being part of America any more than the Black Eyed Peas do, or most of the people gathered in the FleetCenter, among whom many, and not just the young ones, were digging the performance. In America, as defined by Fox, hip-hop has not dominated the charts and penetrated the consciousness of American pop music and its followers all over the country. Hume's comments were not just an expression of disdain, but a denial of reality. Or rather, like the government Fox News speaks for, Hume's remarks were the essence of a polity that insists on its own reality, the reality they say is so despite any evidence to the contrary.
There is at least one division that may have been healed by Hume's remarks. For a city that has long been lauded and sneered at as a great bastion of Eastern liberalism, Boston has also been one of the most sharply segregated cities in the North. I'm sure Brit Hume felt right at home this week.