Natasha Marin is a conceptual artist, activist and creator of reparations.me, a website that allows Black people in need to connect with white people who can help.
For many people of color and other marginalized communities in the US right now, a little favor can mean a whole lot. Many Black people and people of color are struggling with everyday issues caused by the discrimination and racism engrained in the system. This has rendered many Black people jobless, without decent housing or affordable healthcare and unable to raise funds to start one’s own business. What does it take for someone with the means to stretch forth a helping hand? That is the question asked by Natasha Marin with her site: Reparations.me.
Marin created reparations.me to be a platform where people of color who are in need can seek help from white people who have the means to assist. The noun ‘reparations’ is usually associated with the need for compensation for Blacks due to hundreds of years of slavery in the U.S. Media attention has been high regarding reparations.me. We spoke to Natasha Marin about the idea behind reparations.me, how useful the platform is to people struggling in our Black communities and how she sees the future of the platform.
I read about your project in the arts and I noticed that you always talk about the empowerment of Blacks and other people of color. Do Black rights, slavery and the history of Black rights movements inspire you when you create your art?
Well, I think it’s very personalized. I believe in the empowerment of all people but specifically women, and certainly women of color. I think we’re the people least likely to be heard and heeded.
Are you connected with any Black rights movements like the Black Lives Matter?
Not officially. But do I believe that Black Lives Matter is an excellent and amazing cause? Yes. And do I support it personally? Absolutely.
The idea behind the creation of reparations.me is very interesting. Is this resource for all people or does it focus basically on the need for white people to give Black people reparations?
The main idea of reparations.me is really to center the needs of people of color, people who do not identify as white, and to really de-stigmatize making of those needs known and heard in a way that they can be addressed specifically. I think it’s important for folks to know that the current social conflicts that many of us are seeing amplified in the news and other forms of media are faced on a daily basis. So if I turn on the news and I see a woman who looks like me being shot and killed by police officers and then I have to go to work and be productive, it’s really challenging and I don’t think I’m alone in that. For people to be able to say, “I’m on a tight budget right now, but if I could get a gift card to a bookstore, I can get some books that I enjoy, that may not fit in with my monthly budget, but would add quality and value to my life.” And if it’s easy for anyone – because anyone can respond to these requests that people of color make – to make that happen, I think that the return is honestly built-in. It feels really good to be of service and to be helpful to people when they need help and it certainly makes it easier to ask for help when you need it.
Please tell us about your team. Who do you work with on reparations.me?
I have a group of about twelve moderators, who help me understand half of the many requests and offerings that are being made. It can get very overwhelming, I should say, because many people have thought through this project. So it’s like a full-time job, just keeping up with the requests, the offerings, the Facebook platform, and the website. My moderators are just people from my network who stepped up and said I can help when I said I needed help.
What is your most recent project and where in your art has the struggles of the Black community found place?
Well, there are different projects that are similar to reparations.me in some respect. Fundamentally, I’m interested in finding and amplifying connections between people. So one of the most significant projects I’ve done, since I live in Seattle, is I co-founded a network called the Seattle People of Color Salon. And I did that because moving here – it’s a predominantly white-identified city – as a Black person in the art community, I felt very isolated and I wanted to make it easy for people to make connections that could be beneficial in their lives. POCS now has about 4,000 people in it, and it’s really like the WhoToo of Seattle – so if I want to find a place to produce an event, or I want to find an event producer or maybe a lighting technician, an arborist, someone to get my hair done, a babysitter, a place to live, a job, now there’s a network in which I can do that. I’ve actually found jobs and connected with many people in meaningful ways through that network. So that is a pretty good project that I had already done which allows for reparations-style exchanges to happen all the time, except it’s a POC only group, so it’s kind of for us and by us. Reparations is asking white-identified people to leverage their privilege by helping others in their communities. I think the project has gotten a lot of media attention because of the fact that it’s called reparations and most Americans only have one association with that word, and that’s reparations for American slavery. But the word itself is really just speaking to healing and repair which can happen at anytime, for any people, for any reason. So this project is about right now, today, using individuals, what is it that you need in your life to feel more complete, more fulfilled, more productive, happier, healthier, more whole? For me, I need my work to cover my physical needs. I need to be able to do the work that I’m skilled at, and be remunerated for it in a way that can substantiate my life. That’s my primary need. I also need more specific things like therapy. I need, as a Black person residing in America right now, to be able to get access to affordable healthcare and wellness, which for many people could be bodywork, or acupuncture, or exercise, a dance class, different people take care of their bodies and wellness in different ways. And people don’t think of these as their needs, but they certainly are and they shouldn’t be relegated to the realm of luxury. A lot of people, when they think about privilege, they think about luxury, but I think everybody should be able to go take a yoga class if they need to, not just white-identified people.
So what do you see as the future of reparations.me? How do you see its progress and its development?
It’s a social experiment, which will last certainly throughout this year. I’m not sure if it will last beyond this year in its current form, because it’s very time and energy intensive. This morning, I opened up a message. The first line in it was, my mother died on October 27, I’m twenty years old, I have two younger siblings, my brothers are twelve and fifteen, and we need help to bury our mother and with everything else. So requests are certainly painful these days because many people are struggling, are not being treated fairly and are not being given the same opportunities to succeed, to be healthy and to be whole. And it’s never been more clear to me than it is now. It’s work, and sometimes you’re doing good work because there’s lots of it, but I’m not sure how to sustain this project beyond this year because it is taking a lot out of me and the moderators who help me as well.
You’re doing a great job and I’d like to commend you on that.
Thank you very much.
Are you involved today in any Black rights activist groups?
I would say, I don’t know that I would describe myself as a Black activist. I’m not even sure that a lot of people who are Black activists would describe themselves that way. I think when you’re being a Black activist, you’re being yourself. So I’ve been that way for the majority of my adult life and I intend to continue to do projects that challenge the status quo and preferably for the concerns of Black women specifically and all people of color. I’ve recently had a literary event, and it was called ‘Fuck Yo Couch’. The entire purpose of the reading was to get people of color on the microphone, unapologetically reading white-identified people the right act. And the job of the white-identified audience was to listen and to take it. I got great feedback from that because I think that honestly, people know what’s going on. There’s just more and more evidence showing us the incredible fabric of America being woven together by racism, prejudice and white supremacy and there’s no way that you cannot see that if you’re looking at it. People want to hear the truth, and sometimes the truth isn’t very pretty. Sometimes, the truth needs you to actually do something with your two hands and not just have feelings. Because everyone can have feelings, but actions are different especially when one acts with intention. So I think in my own way, I’m always doing the work of the Black activist. That’s the role I’ve taken on in my life, and I use different modes of engagement with other people. Civic engagement is my forte, I like to make connections that are lasting, genuine encounters with people that I’m only necessarily touching in the digital realm, but can manifest in the real world. I’m also a poet, so I use language and voice and rhythm to hearken back to some traditional technologies that we have as a people, like storytelling, which is a technology that has been working since the dawn of humankind and I think is just a way that knowledge proliferated and validated. We also have to deconstruct and interrogate what makes something worthy, worthwhile and why is it that people of color and their traditions and beliefs of history are always devalued. So I will continue to do that work in as many ways as I can. I paint, I do installations, sculpture, and every way that I can connect with people and interact with them, I’m going to keep that work.
Finally, what are your parting words for our readers?
I think ultimately, the goal is for humans to recognize the shared humanity between all of us. It is certainly our unique experience to be Black and visibly so in the United States right now. It is a special experience shared by few, but I think our role in this revolution is to hold community, and to really be there for each other as much as we can because the white supremacist agenda is definitely trying to create divisions between us, at all times. I think it’s our role as Black people to really be with Black people and people of color, with women, and with the LGBTQ community. We need to make connections, we need to be ourselves everywhere. We need to be ourselves at Standing Rock, we need to see their common struggle as our struggle, and hopefully in that work, we will have each other, we will restore the family that was taken away from us and we will be restored to our place in the human family.