Shrine of Asshats: Seattle Reparations project slays the trolls

(Photo from Flickr by Eirik Solheim)
(Photo from Flickr by Eirik Solheim)

“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).

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:


Name: Bob Hastings

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!

 

Name: Caine Brown

Subject: Whites don’t owe you niggers anything

Message: Kill yourselves

 

Name: Marty Kikestein

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.

 

Name: Joe Niggerhater

Subject: fighting

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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 11.39.22 AM

“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?

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6 Comments

  1. Excellent piece about horrible people. Those troll emails are truly terrifying. Reagan Jackson, I appreciate the work you did writing about this ugly stuff.

    Natasha Marin’s Reparations project is a work of beauty, grace, and genius.

  2. Literally the whitest city in America… Are you really shocked this much racism is in the northwest? Perhaps people in the northwest should be more honest with themselves… The only thing differentiating the northwest from the south is the smug certainty that the northwest is a cultural Mecca, and better than everyone else. When people in this state go somewhere else, and actually see what’s going on in this country then I’ll believe it possible for them to say something meaningful on the subject. Otherwise just more northwest myopic viewpoints.

    1. Before you start blaming whites for all the racial problems in the area you should take a look at the Jewish Center shooting and the mob harassment of a Jewish owned business in the CD that’s been going on for months and involved open extortion, threats, anti-Semitism. Then there is the attack on Bernie Sanders This hate speech and anti-Jewish attitudes is as bad as the extreme far right but tolerated by the left due to the race of the people perpetrating it. How about some outrage over that?

  3. These people are doxxing people, having mobs of people attack and mock peoples fb profiles and are just plain horrible. I and a few other people have actually reported the doxxing and the threats they’ve just recently thrown at us to the IC3. I’ve reported many of their posts to facebook as well as the event page it’s self. Many of my post reports have been review and taken down and my reports of the event page it’s self are currently under review by both facebook and the FBI.

  4. “Anonymous strangers have suggested Marin “get a job” and “go back to Africa.” They’ve even sent threats to her and her family.”
    A Jewish owned business in the CD was harassed by black mobs a few times including a mob of 400 people on MLK Jr Day. He was told to go back to Israel (despite him not being from there) and was physically threated numerous times including by one of the organizers of Africatown (who told him that he and his family should go back to Germany and be put in ovens) and Nation of Islam. These incidents can be seen on youtube since the harassers were actually proud of it.
    Where was the condemnation then? I am under the impression that Natasha Marin and many other very prominent black folks in Seattle were very vocal in support of this anti-Jewish harassment.
    The discrepancy in condemnation and how the left frames these incidents due to their own bias needs to be rectified. You condemn the anonymous harassment of this celebrity, Leslie Jones, while condoning or even supporting the harassment and threats towards this local Jewish business owner.

  5. Dear Jane Doe, Thank you for reading my article. I’m curious who you are accusing of condoning or supporting the harassment of Jewish Business owners. Just to correct any misapprehension I think any oppression, denigration, harassment or marginalization of human beings erodes the integrity of what it means to be a human being. That being said, harassment of Jewish business owners was also not the topic of this article. I feel like changing the subject when we are discussing black lives has been an all too common tactic to marginalize black experiences. So while I’m glad you want to contribute to the conversation, I would invite you to consider participating in a way that is relevant and addresses the content of the article.

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