Reparations Go Viral in Seattle

Two new online movements offer white people ways to fight racism directly.

When local artist Natasha Marin spoke with Seattle Weekly last week about Reparations.me, her then-7-day-old website and Facebook page, she was clearly fraying around the edges—underfed, overworked, and ragged as hell.

“I’ve had about 12 hours of sleep since Friday,” she said over the phone with a hoarse laugh, as a second phone buzzed and buzzed in the background. She responded to one last frantic message and attempted to close the “99 windows I have open” in order to pull together her thoughts. “I maybe have eaten, like, one real meal. I’m at that point of exhaustion now, if I see two bunnies kissing each other, I’ll just start crying. I’m just that tired.”

Reparations.me has clearly struck a nerve, one that is pulsing hard right now, online and on the streets: White people should act, and many desperately want to act, in the fight against systemic racism.

The basic concept of Marin’s site is this: White people have a responsibility to do something to help dismantle white supremacy and white privilege, and people of color are experiencing trauma and stress related to white supremacy and white privilege. So Marin created a simple platform through which white people can offer, and people of color can request, goods or services—everything from groceries to funds for emergency surgery to chakra cleanses. In barely a week and a half, hundreds of people have offered, requested, or fulfilled all that and far more; thousands of dollars have been donated, including to the “Troll Fund,” which Marin created so that for every racist message the site receives, one dollar will go directly to someone requesting financial assistance. (Donors have been dubbed “Troll-Slayers,” and, as the site boasts, “Hate can buy groceries now.”) Reparations.me has even facilitated a potential kidney donation.

“If people start getting kidneys,” Marin laughs, “I get a day off.”

Marin says she’s been surprised by the response, especially from people of color. Accepting an offer of help is arguably more difficult than giving; as a person of color, “you’re already feeling vulnerable,” says Marin, and then you must somehow “challenge yourself to trust white people to help you.” Yet the project has also demonstrated that many white people are eager to actually do something, right now. To date, the number of “offerings” outweighs the number of “requests.”

People, it’s safe to say, are hurting right now. The relentless bad news of racially charged murder after murder, statistic after statistic, pummels us into paralysis, into stagnation. There’s tension, there’s anguish, there’s despair.

And so, like a balm, Marin’s website appears. “Reparations,” reads its banner headline: “There is something you can do.”

Marin hopes it will become a kind of kinesthetic learning experience for white people. “Instead of all theory, it’s all practice,” she says. “You can learn how to leverage and dismantle your white privilege through participation in this project.”

For example, she imagines that people might soon request or offer services that could actually chip away at structural forms of oppression—help, say, with securing housing, employment, or a small-business loan.

This is not the first social-media experiment Marin has put together. She’s been doing this work for the past decade. In February, for Black History Month, she hosted a “digital engagement space” called “White or Wrong,” which was a place for white people to discuss privilege and guilt with other white people. She calls Reparations.me “the next logical step.”

As a conceptual artist, “The idea behind my work is my work,” and because much of her work involves crafting online communities, “People are my medium.”

Meanwhile, White Nonsense Roundupanother brand-new Washington-based social-media project—has also gone viral in a few short days. Launched on July 18, the Facebook group racked up nearly 26,000 likes in a week. WNR founders are as shocked as Marin by the enthusiastic response, and almost as exhausted. When in the first 24 hours co-founders Terri Kempton and Layla Tromble got a few hundred likes and shares, Kempton says they thought they’d hit it big.

“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh! I can’t believe we have 200 people—people we don’t know who have joined us!’” she jokes.

Now that WNR support is in the thousands upon thousands, 200 is just the number of people who have applied to be volunteers.

Like Reparations.me, WNR’s goal is pretty straightforward: help white people educate other white people about white privilege. A key tenet of the effort is confronting the idea that people of color—unlike people who’ve grown up inside white privilege—are forced to think about race; as a result, they often find themselves explaining or defending their feelings to someone “who should, frankly, know better,” says Kempton. “How unfair is it to ask an already-marginalized group to take on the burden of proving racism is a real thing?”

The idea that these tools are just a placation for “white guilt,” adds Kempton, is “a topic that comes up a lot.” Some critics write off the efforts because they too easily absolve white people of their guilt (“Hey, I bought someone groceries!”); others believe “white guilt” is some kind of invented, unnecessary problem. But the whole concept is unhelpful, Kempton says. “A part of what we keep telling people is, ‘You’re gonna feel uncomfortable. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable.’ ” Feel the feelings, she says. “Feel them and then do something about it.”

Reparations.me and WNR are not the only local tools out there for white people; similar calls to action include the Seattle chapter of European Dissent, which facilitates workshops, participates in rallies and marches, and corrals interested people into other forms of activism. Recent efforts have included petitioning city officials about the disproportionate effect the proposed $160 million North Seattle Police Precinct could have on people of color, given the stats on racial bias in policing; and supporting local, POC-owned businesses. There’s also the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, which organizes in white communities and partners with POC-led organizations; and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, an effort that works under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party to secure actual reparations for American slavery.

But perhaps the reason Reparations.me and WNR are taking off so fast is that they offer something that feels more immediate. They also, quite simply, tap into a universal human need: We all want to feel “like we can be useful … like we can add value,” says Marin.

She takes care to note that Reparations.me is “absolutely not” trying to address actual reparations for American slavery right now—more like “reparations for microaggressions from last week.”

“I don’t know if the word ‘reparations’ gets people’s eyebrows up, or what,” she says. “I’m happy that people are paying attention. Maybe people paying attention could lead to measurable improvement in the lives of people of color.”

sbernard@seattleweekly.com

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Terri Kempton’s name. It is Kempton, not Kompton.

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