Best of 2008: Kai Wright's Picks


THE REAL PRIZE : I was torn between two essays, both by Kim McLarin—one of The Root's gems, by the way. I loved her playful but devastating response to Whiteygate. So much about America's purported conversation on race is simply absurd, and Kim beautifully illustrated that fact with her mocking attempt to take America's bizarre anxiety over what happens inside Trinity United seriously.

And my favorite is another one of Kim's essays involving Michelle Obama. Kim's so insightful because she's so honest—and there's very little honesty in this world when talking about black women, let alone powerful, smart, sexy and unapologetically black ones. So I loved Kim's take on Barack Obama's "Real Prize." She plumbs the unspoken truth that Michelle is just the sort of black woman all of us—regardless of race or gender—both adore and fear. Centuries of American life have been dedicated to making black women unable to see the power they carry, so it unnerves us all when someone like Michelle walks into the room, in full understanding of her strength. Kim's thesis that Barack is presidential material because he neither shrinks from nor seeks to obscure Michelle's power is spot on. Thanks for writing it, Kim.


A COLORBLIND AMERICA : My own favorite column is my first one, "A Colorblind America," exploring the "colorblind" fantasy Barack Obama represents for far too many Americans. When pressed, Obama has risen skillfully to the challenge of leading the country in an honest, productive conversation about race—as he did most notably in his Philadelphia speech on Jeremiah Wright. But he has also continued to embrace both his own racial transcendence and the promise of it for everyone else.

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible," Obama roared from the Grant Park stage, in his literal first words as president-elect, "tonight is your answer." And yet, the answer leaves me wanting. I will quote myself, in closing that first essay on The Root: "Obama has sold his racial transcendence as proof of the American dream, and that may just make him our first black president. The question for black America is what he will do with the power he gains from shedding his skin. If he continues to avoid unpleasant questions about race, we're in deep trouble. … If he uses his transcendence to prod America into a long overdue examination of these structures, he could change the course of history."

Kai Wright is a regular contributor to The Root.