Is A Random Act Of Kindness A Genuine Way For White People To Offset Their White Privilege?

This social experiment aims to create a safe space for genuine interaction between people of color and white people – but where does the burden of white guilt really lie?

Visitors can offer any service or item they please. (source)

Visitors can offer any service or item they please. (source)

In his essay ‘The Case for Reparations’, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the case for how to correct the egregious errors made due to discrimination. Seattle-based artist Natasha Marin has developed something like a first step towards reparations with her website and social experiment, “Reparations”. The site seeks to provide people of color with the various forms of assistance they may need on a daily basis.

A person of color is able to upload a “#request”, describing their need for a service or specific object. Anyone who visits the site can then fulfill the request with a single click. Individuals of any race can upload a “#offering” of a service or good they are willing to provide to someone in need. As a result, Marin has created a place where people of color can have genuine moments of kindness with white individuals.

Visitors can offer any service or item they please. (source)

Visitors can offer any service or item they please. (source)

In a certain light, this service harkens back to the episode of “Friends” where Phoebe ponders the possibility of a selfless good deed. Though “Reparations” seems to be facilitating the opportunity for white people to momentarily overcome their privilege with an act of kindness, it is almost too easy to do a single good deed with no intention to strive towards lasting change.

The “Reparations” website does have honorable intentions. The website idyllically asks,

“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?

I invite People of Color to ask for what we need to feel better, be happier, be more productive by posting in this space. These may be both material and immaterial requests.

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.”

Marin believes that her social experience helps white people to realize that they have privilege. She explained to the LA Times that, “There are people across the political spectrum who don’t understand that they have privilege. So in many ways the site lets you cash in your whiteness to help other people.”

Further, Marin argues that she isn’t interested in stoking the fires of “white guilt”. Rather, “Reparations” is supposed to be a safe place where solidarity can be established. She told The Guardian, “I’m not into polarizing. I’m into people working together for solutions. . .who can you help, who can you connect with, how can you offset your privilege.” Marin recognizes, though, that her website can in no way begin to make up for the deeper wounds caused by discrimination, such as those that sprung from slavery.

People of color can also request a wide array of services. (source)

People of color can also request a wide array of services. (source)

That said, one wonders what the real value is in creating a safe space. Though people of color are encouraged to submit their requests without fear of judgment, it kind of seems like they provide white visitors to cherry-pick their good deed of the day. The immediate long term ramifications of this website are unclear, though there is something appealing about instant gratification across color lines.

The website even turns a profit on its naysayers. Many have left spiteful comments or offered fake donations. Marin created a “Troll Fund” to counteract this negativity. A team of “Troll Slayers” donate a dollar every time a hateful comment is posted. The money collected will be used to help someone in need of financial support.

People of color can also request a wide array of services. (source)

People of color can also request a wide array of services. (source)

Marin’s motivations for this social experiment on giving reparations are certainly well-intentioned. This website seems like a beacon of hope in a sea of darkness created by virulent racism. However, it’s worth questioning whether “cashing in on one’s whiteness” should really be an aim in the collective battle to rectify racism and give back to a community that has been wounded and used time and again.

Photo source.

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