As a Black Man in America, He Can't Afford to Appear Angry

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Achille Mbembe

After this week's presidential debate, the possibility of Senator Barack Obama becoming the next president of the United States is more distinct than it has ever been.

But contrary to what many pundits believe, the election might still turn out to be close. Obama might even lose by a small margin. Or he might win by a landslide. Three weeks before the elections, he is ahead in the polls and his rival's prospects do not look good.

This is the time John McCain and the Republican Party have chosen to get ugly. Attacks on Obama's background. Quotes taken out of context. Distortion of his record. Character assassination. Guilt by association. Cynical descent into the dark territories of race-baiting and xenophobia.

The hope is that the "win-at-any-cost" politics the Republicans have mastered so well since the 1980s will save them again this time .

As noted by the New York Times in a recent editorial, Senator McCain's campaign rallies have become "spectacles of anger and insult". During the two presidential debates, McCain wouldn't look at his opponent. In a moment that has caught the attention of the entire nation, he referred to Obama only as "that one".

The Washington Post reports that at a rally in Florida this week, a man yelled "kill him!" as Sarah Palin, McCain's vice-presidential nominee, accused the Democratic candidate of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country".

As noted by many observers, the turn towards Obama's demonisation, including accusations of treason, mimics what happened in Israel in the period leading to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. It also highlights the difficulty, in a society guaranteeing free speech, of "civilising" public debate before it creates a fertile ground for actual killing.

Rousing the uglier impulses of America is a symptom of an ideology in an advanced state of decay. But it might make a difference in a country still struggling to overcome the scars of slavery and long centuries of dehumanisation of black people. …