August 8, 2016
When a United Nations panel of experts recommended the US government pay out cash reparations for slavery last February, most saw it as a pie-in-the-sky idea. Even Bernie Sanders, who claimed to be in favor of reparations, planned on giving it in the form of jobs, welfare, and education programs targeted towards black communities.
“I think [cash reparations] would be very divisive,” said Sanders. Clinton agreed. With so much of white America actively fighting against the welfare programs we already have in place, how could we ever convince them to directly fund reparations payments?
Natasha Marin, a black artist from Seattle, had another idea. She knew that despite the majority of white America being against reparations, there were still many willing and able white folks out there wondering what they could do to help people of color. She reached out to white people that wanted to “offset their privilege” and launched Reparations.me, a new website where white people can offer up gifts and services to people of color in need.
The website’s about page asks some big questions: “What if you actually did something meaningful for someone before the end of the year? What if a stranger restored your belief in humanity, if only for a moment, by supporting you and allowing you to claim something you need in a material way?”
She continues, “I invite People of Color to ask for what we need to feel better, be happier, be more productive by posting in this space… 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.”
Less than two weeks after the launch date, there are now over 65 “offerings” on the website, posted by people across the country. A photographer in Seattle is offering free family photo sessions and has made space in his schedule to offer one session each month. An art teacher is offering a free spot in her “Magical Radical Art Camp” in Portland, with all materials and three days of accommodations included.
Writers have offered free story editing and resume reviews, and developers are offering free website design. Laborers have offered handyman services, and college students are offering free tutoring and SAT Prep. Many have offered free therapy, crisis intervention, counseling, spiritual guidance, or even just “listening.” People have answered cash requests for overdue rent and college tuition, and offered up physical items and gift cards for everything from groceries to engagement rings.
“I have been through enough heartache to last a million lifetimes, and now, I’ve found my ONE. And I want to ask her for her hand till the end of time, but I cannot afford to get her a ring. I am struggling so hard to pay my part of the mortgage, and pay on a loan to rebuild my credit, as well as [the] financial needs of my kids,” posted a queer woman named Enne. “I would love to give this woman a beautiful engagement ring. Perhaps you could help me make that possible.” Just a couple days later, a white married couple replied saying that while they were still very much in love, they rarely wore their rings.
The success of this website is teaching us all a great lesson: good people that want to help are out there, we just need to find them. The internet is making it easier than ever to forge connections between those in need and those with resources to give. Social media is revolutionizing the way we perform social justice work; we don’t need government and media support as much as we used to, because we can build our own worldwide communities from the ground up. In the words of Assata Shakur, “We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Angelica Walker is an intern for The New People covering LGBTQ rights and criminal justice reform. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying social work, legal studies, writing, and political science.