In the wake of a string of police shootings of black men, many white people have been asking one question: “What can I do?” Here’s one answer.
One man asked for help getting a mortgage.
Another man, from Louisiana, requested “a literary escape,” saying he borrows books from the library and often wishes he could keep those he becomes attached to. So he asked for a Barnes & Noble gift card.
And a Mexican immigrant asked for help finding a therapist she could afford.
The requests all appear on a Seattle-based website called “Reparations.” It’s designed to answer the question many white people have asked amid a rash of shootings of African-American men by police: “What can I do?”
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African-American conceptual artist Natasha Marin thinks she has found a way to help.
“Reparations,” which launched earlier this month, lists requests from people of color (financial assistance, help getting a service dog), and offerings from white people (knitted sweaters, tutoring and web design).
The site isn’t seeking controversy, nor reparations for slavery, Marin said.
“It’s reparations for this morning, for every day. The amount of micro- and macro-aggressions would boggle the mind,” she said. “You’re going through all these things, and your white friends don’t believe you.
“I want people to think about leveraging their privilege,” Marin continued. “Your voice can make an impact that mine can’t. You can reach more people than I can reach.
“The project is serving white people a lot, giving them a chance to do something that would bring value to their lives, as well.”
It is also bringing Marin comfort, and a sense of constructiveness at a time when she is at a loss for words — and faith.
“As a human being in a black woman’s body on the planet, I am affected by the constant stream, almost daily, of black men and women being killed or shot or beaten.”
It has made her angry, sad and numb — especially since she has two children: a teenage girl and a 5-year-old son.
“It is very scary to be living at a time when you can’t guarantee the protection of your young children,” Marin said.
She recalled the recent case of Charles Kinsey, a Florida man who works with people with disabilities, and who was shot and wounded by police while he lay in the street with his hands in the air.
“You could be doing nothing,” Marin said. “You’re already one of the golden-hearted people of the world and you get shot?
“I want to see more news stories about white people putting their bodies between black people and police about to shoot them,” she said. “White people saying, ‘What’s going on, officer?’ That is special justice.”
The trolls, of course, have been awful, barraging Marin with racial slurs, calls for her to go back where she came from, or swing from a tree. You get the idea.
“The entire thing makes me sick,” she said. “But they are just making my point for me.”
Marin has fought back with something called a “Troll Fund” that allows people to donate money to offset negative messages received through the site. The money will be allocated to those who have requested financial support.
“Hate can buy groceries, now,” Marin wrote. “Ahh, the blurring of the lines between friend and foe … ’tis poetry.”
Indeed, most requests through the site are for money to help make ends meet. Cash on the barrelhead. Financial assistance.
But others need marketing help, legal support. Help constructing a hen house. A car. A computer. Help caring for elderly grandparents.
“My main point is, can we all try to remember what it’s like to be decent human beings who care about our neighbors?” Marin asked. “The human response is to care. It shouldn’t matter what color anybody is.”
The other day I noticed that there were 55 offerings on the site, but only 29 requests — almost twice as many people wanting to give than asking for help.
“It’s really hard for people of color to ask for anything,” Marin explained. “It’s a gesture of trust and faith in humanity to say, ‘Here I am, I’m a human, and I need something.’ ”
Indeed, one woman on the site made a request for “a financial blessing” to avoid eviction and buy groceries.
“I am just finding out about this site and it took a lot of pride swallowing to admit and write these words,” she wrote, “but as they say, ‘Closed mouths don’t get fed.’ ”
Marin is honored to be facilitating needs being filled, and relationships being forged.
Save for the trolls and their hurtful words, it is helping her heart.
“The main thing I am learning is that there are good people,” she said. “We may be inundated with fear mongering and bad news, but we are still good people.
“And if you give us a chance, we will help.”