For the past 27 years, Rep. John Conyers has made a point of introducing H.R. 40, an act that would create the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans, at the start of each new session of Congress. The commission would analyze the long-lasting impacts that American slavery has had on black people's well-being and determine the best way to help lessen those problems.
Unsurprisingly, H.R. 40 has been voted down every single time. The concept of paying black people reparations as a means of correcting hundreds of years of disenfranchisement, financial inequality, racism, discrimination, and slavery is…a controversial one.
Now, Natasha Marin, a Louisiana-based conceptual artist, is putting a new spin on this old issue with a social media experiment called, simply, REPARATIONS.
Rather than delving into the complicated legacies of redlining and housing discrimination and seeking to set them right, REPARATIONS aims to connect white people with the ability to provide services to people of color who might be in need of them.
"What if you actually did something meaningful for someone before the end of the year," the project's mission statement asks. "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?"
REPARATIONS splits its users into two groups: people making offerings and people making requests. Folks with something to give are encouraged to offer up their services on a first come, first serve basis and those in need are given a platform to amplify their requests.
Traditionally, when we talk about reparations, we're talking about money, but REPARATIONS users are offering up unorthodox things like tarot card reading sessions, family archiving, and life coaching lessons. Requests, on the other hand, range between things like credit assistance, gaming therapy, and straight up financial support. While the site does not guarantee the exchange of any services, Marin explained to The Washington Post that her goal was to connect people in hopes that they might be inspired to help one another.
So far, the bulk of the submissions to the site have been offerings as opposed to requests, suggesting that people are buying into the concept. But much in the same way that the very idea government-backed reparations are often shouted down by conservatives as being the an inappropriate solution to a problem that's very much a part of America's legacy, racist trolls have come out of the woodwork to attack REPARATIONS.
For everyone who attempts to derail REPARATIONS, though, Marin asks the public to donate a single dollar in their honor to a general fund that's distributed across the entire project's group of people seeking financial assistance.
There are two ways to look like a project like REPARATIONS. On the one hand, it's a heartwarming concept drawing on the idea that for all the trash you might encounter on the internet, there are still good people in the world looking to help others.
On the other hand, though, there's a valid critique to be made that REPARATIONS is offering white people an easy, meaningless means of feeling better about the very real hardships black people face as a result of systemic, historic discrimination.
In an era where the city of Chicago payed out millions of dollars to dozens of black men that it tortured and illegally imprisoned, one has to question whether it's even appropriate to call free handyman service a form of "reparations."
For her part, Marin chooses to see the good in her endeavor.
“I think people are asking themselves: How can I be just a little bit better?” Marin told the Post. “It’s encouraging to see people remember that it feels good to be helpful.”