10/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

On Friday Obama Is Free to Be Mean

So much of the mainstream, conventional wisdom around the Obama campaign has been so wrong for so long. It's been said time and time again that if he ever showed his "black anger" whites would run screaming into the arms of the opposition. This emasculation of the black man is hardly new. New York Times editorial writer Brent Staples wrote about it years ago. He described whistling Beethoven or Vivaldi when walking behind white people late at night to ease their fears. Growing up, I bet that Obama, like me, was followed around by the security guard in every toy store he ever entered.

An adolescence constantly under suspicion changes a man. It makes you more proper than even those born into wealth. You develop an inner Cary Grant or Gregory Peck (or Sidney Poitier). Every breath, every gesture you make signals to the world around you -- and especially to that damn toy-store security guard -- not only that you mean no harm, but that you belong there. That you own the place . You walk taller, you speak more clearly, you exude an elite sensibility. For decades it serves you well, in very many instances.

Until it doesn't.

Debating a trigger-happy, mean old man is one of the times when gentility is a distinct disadvantage.

Gentility, however, is a very hard habit to break. Now, in my mid-forties, when I walk into a store I know I'm viewed as a grown-up paying customer and yet I still sometimes feel an anxious twinge.

Like Obama, both of us could cap our teeth gold and get "Thug Life" tattooed huge across our bellies and we'd still look like the black preps that we are. Our problem has never been that we're menacing.

Our problem can be that when called for, we're not menacing enough.

Ironically, Obama's rep as being too genteel and professorial is exactly what will force him, on Friday, to finally swing a punch. (He should watch Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird Thursday night.) Since he's known for not doing it, his success in the debate will be judged by how many blows he strikes and how hard.

McCain, on the other hand, famous for his temper, will be judged by how well he keeps it together when someone finally has the balls to call him out.

McCain's track record is not good. He is an overgrown spoiled brat. Because of his pampered upbringing he's rarely been challenged. When Joy Behar of The View told him the truth, that he'd been lying, his eyeballs nearly popped out of his head.

So if he wants to be the next President of the United States, Obama, despite decades of keeping it in check, will be compelled on Friday to finally open up a can of whupass.