One Louisiana native just wanted some books. A mother from Oklahoma simply wanted some help to buy a new laptop battery.
So they, along with dozens of other people of color, took to a new website to ask for help from those who have discriminated against them for decades: white people. Simultaneously, white people came to the site, called Reparations, to offer what they could and to start to answer the question: What can I do to help fix racial injustice?
It’s a big, complicated question. The site offers a concrete solution: a public forum where white people can offer their belongings or services and people of color can request help for a specific need.
But the site isn’t about atoning for slavery, says its creator, Seattle-based artist Natasha Marin.
“It’s about reparations for things that happened earlier today, for yesterday, for last Thursday,” she said. “This is for the present tense.”
Here’s the basic concept: White people have created a political and cultural system that discriminates against and excludes people of color every day. Therefore, white people have a responsibility to actively work to level the playing field for the people of color who are disadvantaged and threatened by racism and racial inequality.
So far, the number of offers have far outnumbered the number of requests. The offers and requests from people around the country are varied, from offers of lessons in Excel and tarot card readings to requests for help buying an engagement ring or finding a service dog for a veteran with PTSD. Marin doesn’t personally connect the givers and the receivers; she just provides the space for them to communicate.
Marin created the project after a demoralizing scroll through her Facebook feed a few weeks ago.
“I realized that the people I connected to were largely disheartened and powerless” after a series of killings of black men by police and racist rhetoric during the presidential race, she said. “We were being bombarded by death and fear.”
So she decided to do something about it. She created a Facebook event and invited her friends of color to post what they would need to “feel better, be happier, be more productive.” She asked her white friends to offer what they could. She had few expectations about where the project would go.
“If it had just been 50 people and some connections were made, generosity shown and gratitude shown, I would’ve been happy,” she said.
Instead, her small experiment continued to grow. Soon, thousands were participating in the website and Facebook group.
“I think people are asking themselves: How can I be just a little bit better?” Marin said. “It’s encouraging to see people remember that it feels good to be helpful.”
The project’s success has also come with an endless slew of racist and negative responses, however. Marin has received death threats.
But she has found a way to combat the hate in a productive way. The site asks people, called Troll Slayers, to take a pledge to donate a dollar to the site for every terrible message received, which are archived in a separate Facebook group. That money is then redistributed to those on the site asking for financial assistance.
“It’s an effective way to monetize hatred and turn it into something worthwhile,” she said.
The United States has struggled for decades over whether to pay reparations to its black citizens for centuries of slavery, violence, discrimination and exclusion. Some states have apologized for their roles in creating and maintaining racial injustice, but none have ever moved to compensate the victims of those actions. Even Bernie Sanders, one of the country’s most progressive politicians, said he would not support financial reparations, calling them “divisive.” On Monday, a coalition of organizations affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement called for a commission that would study the potential of reparations.
In the meantime, Marin will stick with her project, allowing people to pay and solicit reparations in an organic manner without the regulation of government or committee. Her project takes the word “reparation” back to its simplest meaning.
“It’s a word that means repair,” she said. “And I feel like many people feel broken.”