Unless you have been living under some sort of social media blackout for the past couple of weeks you probably already know about local artist Natasha Marin’s project, “Reparations,” which has been getting a lot of media attention, from The Stranger to the Los Angeles Times, to The Guardian in the UK, and Art Forum.
The project began experimentally, as an event on Facebook, to which Ms. Marin invited people from her wide network of connections. Very quickly the number of people wanting to get involved grew, the project outgrew its medium, and she evolved the concept into a website. The best way to define the project is in its creator’s own words, from the Reparations website:
“I invite People of Color to ask for what we need to feel better, be happier, be more productive by posting in this space. These may be both material and immaterial requests.
I invite people who identify as White to offer services or contributions to People of Color in need of time, energy, substantive care, and support.”
To gauge how much attention the project is getting, do a Google search for “Reparations” and you will see that the website itself appears 3rd, followed closely by articles about the project. While a lot of the response from individuals and the media has been carefully considered and positive, the word “reparations” unleashed a seemingly endless stream of hateful racism, directed at Natasha Marin herself and targeting many of the people making requests through the reparations platform. From a comment on the LA Times article:
“If we go far enough back in history, white people were slaves. The idea that someone else needs to cash in is ridiculous. Also, as long as black people in general are looking for someone to blame they cannot move forward. As a people, I think they need to ask themselves why there is so much black crime and black on black crime, and so many children born out of wedlock with only one parent. That should be the focus.”
This comment is typical of the unimaginative trolling the project has been met with across many different media platforms, across the country and beyond. Sadly many of the trolls have failed to do even the smallest bit of investigation, and respond to their assumptions of what the project is, based solely on the word, “reparations.”
While the ugliness of all the hateful feedback has had an unavoidably terrible impact, Marin came up with the idea to transform that hate directly into direct help, so she formed the Troll Fund, which is a section of the website and a team of people (“Troll Slayers”) who perform one of two functions: capturing and publicizing the words of hateful racist commenters and also providing financial support which is used to turn each comment into one dollar for someone who has made a request of financial support through the Reparations project.
“Hate can buy groceries now.”
Of course this has not stemmed the stream of racist vitriol, but it has at least helped to transform it into something useful. As of yesterday, there had been more than 6000 “trolls” slain through the initiative.
The Reparations project takes place entirely online, but we have invited Natasha Marin to come speak about online racism in person this evening at 7:00pm as part of the Dismantling Racism series sponsored by the South Seattle Emerald, Rainier Valley Historical Society, and SEED Arts. Everyone is welcome to come. There will be an opportunity to ask questions.
For some pre-event homework (whether you can come or not), read Artist and Seattle Globalist writer Reagan Jackson’s article, and then listen to her talk with Bill Rake on KUOW. Also, listen to the interview of Natasha Marin on KUOW.
A little more about the project, from the article in The Guardian:
“I’m trying to create moments of solidarity between people of color, and between people of color and people who are white,” she said. “I’m not into polarizing. I’m into people working together for solutions … who can you help, who can you connect with, how can you offset your privilege.”
Inevitably, though, the politics have found her. The project is not connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, which recently included reparations for slavery in its platform, but the movement has been influential on Marin personally.
She said her project was “very present tense; it’s about the present time, what’s happening right now, today. How do we repair ourselves after being exposed to all the violence we are exposed to? All the tension, all the strife? Surely there’s a way all people can heal together.”