The Feministing Five: Kai Wright

Kai Wright is the editorial director at <a href="www.colorlines.com“>Colorlines and a journalist whose writing focuses on the intersection of race, sexual identity and class. He is also the author of Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York. Wright’s work at the moment focuses on the impact of the economic crisis on already-vulnerable groups in American society for whom the rising Dow ticker translate into very little improvement in employment statistics or housing quality.

Wright’s work is some of the most rigorous and thoughtful blogging on race, class, politics and economics that you’ll find out there. In a recent piece about the similarities between the plight of young Egyptian men, hundreds of thousands of whom are protesting in the streets, and young American men, he predicts that “if demographics matter, America’s future will be defined by the fates of Latino and African American young people. Young Latinos are the fastest growing population in the fastest growing states, while young black folks are increasingly crucial to electoral calculations, if nothing else. Yet, our political leaders continue to accept an economy that structurally excludes these young people.” Wright allows that there’s no reason to expect an Egypt-style uprising in the US. But, he warns, “while Americans look abroad with awe at the backlash years of marginalization can spawn, we should be mindful of the frustrations mounting in our own economic margins.”

Like I said: thoughtful, rigorous and entirely essential to a well-rounded understanding of American politics and current events.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Kai Wright.

Chloe Angyal: How did you get started in journalism, and how did you start doing the kind of investigation and reporting that you do now?

Kai Wright:
I started in journalism back in the mid-nineties, and I was taking a break from academia as a Middle East studies scholar, or on my way to become one. I took a break before going to what I thought was going to be grad school, and went to DC to try out journalism. I fell in love with it and never stopped. My first reporting job was at the Washington Blade, which is the gay newspaper in DC. I started writing about myself and the world I was trying to navigate. It was an amazing paper and an amazing opportunity to start with. I’d spend my mornings on Capitol Hill and my evenings in a drag bar, and they were both taken equally seriously, by editors and reporters and readers. That was a really neat way to start doing this – understanding the tie between community and politics, and breaking down this idea of what’s “important” and what isn’t, and being in a type of journalism that let me be part of it, that didn’t have this idea that I was supposed to be a removed stenographer. I was supposed to be thorough and professional and fair, but I was covering because it was something that mattered to me personally.

CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

KW: I don’t know about my favorite, but my most recent favorite is Zarité, the heroine of Isabel Allende’s The Island Beneath the Sea, which is set during the Haitian slave revolt. She is a slave concubine, and she has to navigate so many people’s insanity in order to save not only herself, but to save her family and her community. She’s navigating her slaveholder, her “master,” who is raping her regularly, and his insanity, and she’s navigating the insanity of her lover, who is a warrior who is leading slave revolts, she is navigating the insanity of other women both white and black around her, she’s navigating the insanity ultimately of her daughter, the daughter of her master, who was born through her rape. She’s at the center of all this craziness whirling around in this revolution, and does a masterful job of it. I just love her character.

In real life, Elizabeth Warren, trying to right all of these wrongs. We shall see. It is probably at the top of the banks’ agenda right now to prevent her from setting up the bureau that she is creating so that it has teeth, and certainly to prevent her from being in charge of it. which is really crucial, because what they succeeded in in the writing of the bill was giving the boys’ club of regulators, all the regulators who led us down this path, veto power over any new rules that the bureau creates. So the only way that it’s going to work is if you have a badass chief who has the President’s ear and is prepared to go in and fight for it. And Elizabeth Warren is the only person in Washington who fits that job description right now. And the banks know it, and that’s why they’re fighting so hard to keep her out of that job.

CA: What recent news story made you want to scream?

KW: The State of the Union would be the most recent. That whole week from the State of the Union, and then later that week we got the fourth quarter GDP numbers, and those numbers were growing, but no one talked about how the only we have growth is because are refusing to hire new workers and paying the ones they hire less, and as a result have bigger cash reserves, so yeah, we have growth, but that growth is dependent upon the jobs crisis. So from the State of the Union and “win the future” through to the Dow hitting 12, 000 and GDP numbers being up, that week the whole news cycle was terribly maddening.

CA: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

KW: I think it’s economic justice. The people who are by far the most impacted by the economic crisis are single women of color. They are the poorest, they have lost the most, they stand to lose the most. When you go back to the foreclosure crisis, it was women of color who were targeted most aggressively by sub-prime lending. We have an economy that is structurally built for single mothers to lose and to not have opportunity. Everything about it works against them. And in this crisis, that has become an even more acute problem. If we don’t do something to address, structurally, the challenges they face, it’s hard to see how our economy moves forward.

CA: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

KW: Some form of red meat, a case of South African pinotage, and Zora Neale Hurston.

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