Kai Wright

Kai Wright is editorial director of Colorlines.com and an Alfred Knobler fellow of The Nation Institute.

Recent Articles

Backward Mobility

The recession is wiping out the jobs, homes, and dreams of the African American middle class.

Shenika Simpson of Charlotte, North Carolina. An unemployed single mother, Simpson said that Obama "can't just jump in the chair and fix everything within a year." (AP Photo/Jesse Washington)
If Barack Obama embodies the American dream of equal opportunity, Velma Hart represents the midnight wake-up call bearing bad news. In September, the Army veteran and successful executive interrupted Obama's "recovery summer" road show by announcing, in a CNBC town hall meeting with the president, that she was broken. "I'm exhausted of defending you," she told the president. "I have been told that I voted for a man who said he's going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class. I am one of those people, and I'm waiting sir. I'm waiting." Hart is hardly the only worn-out American, as the midterms proved. But her moment in the political spotlight was striking because she is exactly the everywoman the president's remarkable personal narrative evokes: a middle-class black person who has worked hard and shared in the benefits of American prosperity, race be damned. Hart took a fabled road through military service to the middle class. She owned a house. She enrolled her kids...

On the Books

Could microloans help America's informal entrepreneurs become
business owners -- and rescue urban economies in the process?

(Flickr/Dave Blume)
Loretta Harrison is a born hustler. "I been making and selling things since I was about 8 years old," says the 45-year-old, unemployed mom. She buys wholesale in Manhattan -- balloons, socks, scarves, you name it -- then loads up a pushcart and sells at retail prices on the streets of Jamaica, Queens. She's peddled Icees off the back of a tricycle, teamed up with her teenage son to hawk bottled water for $1 at stoplights, and organized "passion parties," where she brings together groups of women to gab about sex and buy erotic toys. "I love sales," she gushes. "For me to have something that somebody else wants and for them to go in their pocket and bring out hard-earned money to get what I have is just -- it's like a high to me!" Harrison can think of only one hustle that didn't work: selling hot dogs. Not that the fundamentals were wrong, she insists. She set up her stand in a gas-station parking lot, across from the bus stop on the large boulevard by her house. For a week, she made...

The Assault on the Black Middle Class

Sub-prime lending was racially targeted and demolished decades of progress made by America's most diligent and striving people of color. How will America make amends?

When my mom describes it all now--10 months after she walked away from her house of 14 years--she sounds sort of crazy to me. I make her explain again and again, because the depth of her denial about the situation she faced is hard for me to understand. But that's the thing about losing stuff. Whether it's your keys or your life savings, it's tough getting to that moment when you realize something's gone for good. My mother, Carolyn White, and her husband, Earl, spent the first eight months of 2008 haggling with Countrywide Financial (now acquired by Bank of America), trying and failing to get their sub-prime loan modified into something they could pay. She and Earl, like so many other casualties of the sub-prime disaster, had refinanced their home to take out equity. Then the rate exploded, increasing their monthly payment by hundreds of dollars. "It was like talking to a brick wall," she complains with a resigned if annoyed tone, which once rang with fury instead. Several months...

America's AIDS Apartheid

The domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic is increasingly black and Southern -- and spiraling out of control.

The hope in Tracy's voice was contagious. He had just come out of Alabama's state prison system and was looking forward to starting over. He'd gotten some part-time work and secured a comfortable, if sparsely furnished apartment. He was a classic Southern hunk -- a handsome, stout, mocha-skinned man with a slow drawl and a natural charm -- and so had no trouble finding women to date. That was exciting but also scary, because Tracy had newly committed himself to confronting his 12-year-old HIV infection. He beamed with pride at the progress he was making. "I talked to one," he bashfully boasted to me about his coming-out process to would-be girlfriends. She'd been pressuring him to have sex, and he knew he had to disclose first. "She appreciated my honesty." Things were going well. I wanted to be hopeful for Tracy, too. After more than a decade of writing about AIDS, I've come to recognize the liberated look on his face -- the relief that shines in someone's eyes when he gives up on...

Dr. King, Forgotten Radical

Long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, America began to forget his true legacy.

AP Photo
America began perverting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message in the spring of 1963. Truthfully, you could put the date just about anywhere along the earlier timeline of his brief public life, too. But I mark it at the Birmingham movement's climax, right about when Northern whites needed a more distant, less personally threatening change-maker to juxtapose with the black rabble rousers clambering into their own backyards. That's when Time politely dubbed him the "Negroes' inspirational leader," as Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff point out in their excellent book Race Beat . Up until then, King had been eyed as a hasty radical out to push Southern communities past their breaking point -- which was a far more accurate understanding of the man's mission. His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is in fact a blunt rejection of letting the establishment set the terms of social change. "The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably...

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