“Life has become intolerable,” confessed local artist and activist Natasha Marin.
True, in the week since her online experiment in reparations went viral, people from around the world have chimed in with offers and requests.
But there’s also been an onslaught of internet trolls.
Marin has received hundreds of lewd messages calling her everything from the N-word to “lazy,” “monkey,” “whore,” and “racist.” Anonymous strangers have suggested Marin “get a job” and “go back to Africa.” They’ve even sent threats to her and her family.
This all came on the heels of actress and comedian Leslie Jone’s dramatic departure from Twitter — with the premiere of the remake of Ghostbusters, racist internet trolls targeted Jones with so much vitriol she felt forced to depart from social media (thankfully, she seems to be back now).
I feel like I’m in a personal hell. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. It’s just too much. It shouldn’t be like this. So hurt right now.
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
But Marin is taking a different approach to dealing with this modern day digital lynch mob.
She has created a group of troll slayers and invited financial contributions so that for every heinously derogatory message she receives, a dollar is donated and put towards fulfilling a request from the Reparations page. As of yesterday, the fund had reached $4,066.
“Despite everything, everyone really can come together around the idea of being trolled,” said Marin. “Everyone hates a troll, and in our case we’re trying to love them and hug them and nestle them a little bit because they are totally helping us get our work done.”
In fact, people have rallied around the troll slaying to a point that there is now a financial surplus — there are more people who have preemptively donated to support the slaying of trolls than actual hate-mongers contributing to the refuse spamming the Reparations page.
“I’ve had more people use the N word to communicate with me in the past week than I have had in my entire life.”
Marin also created a “Shrine of Asshats” page on Facebook and invited the interwebs to witness up close what racism looks like in 2016.
TRIGGER WARNING: The following are a few samples of the messages Marin has received. They’re difficult to read, but I’m sharing them verbatim because I think it is important to witness that even in our so called liberal city this is the level of racism that exists and that people of color are still experiencing in 2016.
These trolls are our neighbors, coworkers, people we see at the grocery store. You might be walking past this person on your way home today and have no idea the kind of hatred they are harboring. It’s not like all racists tattoo themselves with swastikas. They wear business suits, go to church, and have jobs just like the rest of us.
Let this forever shatter any illusion some of you might have that we somehow live in a post-racism society.
For those of you who already know this, please skip ahead. It is not my intention to further traumatize you, but rather to shine a light on the truth:
Subject: A special kind of offering
Message: I’d like to offer self-help suicide aid packs. Each pack would include string or parachute cord, heavy duty cordage, duct tape and special hard-to-get pharmaceuticals for those last moments when turning back becomes an especially poignant trial of the heart and reason. 100 packs to be made available at no cost to you. Think of the gene pool. Act quickly!
Subject: Whites don’t owe you niggers anything
Message: Kill yourselves
Subject: Racist Brown Agitators
Message: Here is how race relations can be repaired: Deport mentally retarded chimps like you back to your shitty, good for nothing, loser homeland Africa. Black lives don’t matter to anyone you Racist, Terrorist Motherfucker. You race-baiting ingrate pieces of shit are getting what you truly deserve. Thanks for the idea, I am going to donate money to a pro-European Organization, so suck the fuck on THAT Racist monkey whore.
Message: I will donate ten dollars for every nigger who I punch in the face. Can I start with you?
Now take those comments and multiply them by a couple of hundred. Imagine what it must be like to wade through the minefield of your email account.
“I’ve had more people use the N word to communicate with me in the past week than I have had in my entire life living in multiple countries,” said Marin.
She says she was completely unprepared for this type of response to what she viewed as a creative art project — an opportunity for people to examine their privilege and connect with one another in a meaningful way.
“I don’t understand how the idea of the gift economy or the idea that race relations and the individual emotions need any kind of repair is so threatening,” said Marin, confessing to feeling naïve.
There is power in witnessing the ugly truth about the country we live in and the people we share it with.
Had she anticipated the repercussion she says she might not have launched the site to begin with.
“I don’t know if it would have been worth it to me because my personal safety and the safety of my family is important to me.”
After a week of sleepless nights, Marin finds solace in the fact that people are connecting with one another and supporting each other with tangible resources. Take Takeallah Rivera. Rivera posted a request for support on the Reparations site and was met with gifts of groceries, money for medication and to purchase passports for her and her son who are looking to relocate.
“Seeing others use their privileges to help restored my faith in humanity!” she wrote in an email to Marin.
“But a lot of these beautiful, great people, who are all different colors, including white, are being trolled by white supremacist hate mongers,” said Marin.
There is power in witnessing the ugly truth about the country we live in and the people we share it with. This is the damage that exists between us. This is what needs to be healed in order for us to advance as a species.
But often there are so many people trying to deny or ignore that racism even exists, so we get stuck having parallel conversations.
A “shrine of asshats” puts everyone on the same page. It holds up a mirror to the hatred infesting our culture and asks the questions: Is this who we are? Is this America? Is this who we want to be moving forward? Are we ready to address the fact that we are deeply wounded and in need of repair?
“The idea behind the project wasn’t necessarily about money exchanging. I think I could have called this ‘Leveraging Privilege,’” Marin says. With a name like that, it wouldn’t be quite as seductive to the media, she guesses, but just using the word “reparations” has been an unexpected trigger for backlash.
“I almost wish I had started this project just entirely centering the needs of people of color,” said Marin. “I can’t see why white supremacists would be angry with us doing the same thing, just taking white people out of the equation entirely.”
While that might have been both beautiful and effective in terms of forming cross-cultural communities of support, to exempt white people would be denying them an opportunity to be a part of a process that has the potential to redefine how we want to participate in one another’s lives.
Do we want to prioritize hate and separation, or forgiveness and mutual support? Not everyone will have the same answer, and undoubtedly this will be a messy, challenging, potentially damaging process. But no one can be exempt from the reckoning if we have any hope of moving forward and healing as a nation.
“I thought about shutting down the project because of the amount of hate I am filtering, because I don’t want my family to be in danger,” said Marin. “But at the same time I don’t want to let down all these people whose burdens and obligations I am now kind of shouldering.”
No one can be exempt from the reckoning if we have any hope of moving forward and healing as a nation.
Marin hopes to be able to concentrate on fulfilling requests, but since she began this project without a staff she needs help to manage the sheer bulk of correspondence. (If you are interested in providing her with support, connect with her through the page.)
Even while reeling from the impacts of this creative experiment, Marin says her brain is still pumping out ideas. Inspired by Serbian performance artist Marina Ambravich, Marin says she would like to host an event called Troll me in person.
She imagines this would take place in a neutral space like an auditorium. “And of course, you have to pay and line up and wait for the opportunity to troll me in person.” The fee would be donated towards fulfilling reparations requests.
Marin walked me through what it would be like. There would be a desk with a chair on either side. Marin would invite trolls sit in one chair while she sat in the other.
“And behind me — this is the best part — behind me is a white-women-witnessing security task force, like a clique, like a soccer team of white women, every kind of white woman, dressed up and looking fly just witnessing, being there to witness you telling me to get my monkey ass and go back to Africa.”
Marin wonders if anyone would actually have courage to step out of the shadows of anonymity and hate in public.
“I just don’t think that the kind of people that feel comfortable sending those messages and using their real email are going to talk like that in front of Becky with the good hair.”
For now, it’s just an idea. A fantasy dialogue that would delve deep into the nastiest sores of U.S. race relations. But up until last week the Reparations page was just an idea too. Already the impacts have been felt across the city, and across the world. Some people have been incensed and others inspired.
It’s clear that Marin’s project has struck a nerve. What comes next both with the reparations experiment, but also with our country in general, will depend on if and how we choose to participate in community. What are we co-creating?