This has been an intense summer. So much of the news in the United States today feels — well — unreal. I’ve been at a loss to write about it. So, I’ve been watching tv and wondering what my white, WASP Republican family would say about Donald Trump if they were still alive. They aren’t, so it’s a one-way conversation that I’m having with them. But since I know how white people who are casually racist talk, I can imagine alot of it. My mom would be for gun-control (she always was) and would be horrified by Donald Trump’s idiocy, and she would take a dim view of Mrs Trump’s lifting of Mrs. Obama’s speech. But she would be less sympathetic to the protestors in Ferguson. My dad would resonate with that white-man rage so on display at the rallies, although I think he would stop short of booting the babies out of the halls and stadiums. I fear he would totally support open-carry. And, needless to say, he would feel no sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement.
So, when Natasha Marin sat in an easy chair on the stage at the Loose Leaf Reading Series at Chop Suey last night in Seattle, with a pretend fire roaring in the fireplace, and read comments from white racists directed at the question of reparations, I recognized some of that verbiage. The bizarre linkage of victimology with white privilege and the continuous insertion of a bastardized version of Protestant predestination (“work hard,” “no one helped me,” “you have to make it on your own by yourself”) into questions of late capitalism and labor — yeah I know this. My dad lost his job at 50 and never worked again, but he LOVED corporations. He LOVED capitalism. He was SURE it would work out better for me, because I would play the angles right somehow. I could never talk him out of this view. What was wrong to his mind, was everyone else: all people of color, black people in particular, and of course, the Jews, those marginally-raced people who passed as one thing but who were really secretly and sneakily, something else.
My husband is Jewish. I converted to Judaism almost 20 years ago — my small way of trying to resist my own privilege. But I can’t un-couple myself from it.
At one powerful moment, Natasha looked up from her computer and said something like “This is happening right next to you, this is REAL.” What she didn’t say — perhaps because she didn’t have to — is that racism is happening in your school and on your street and in your house and maybe even in your bedroom.
It’s not only real, it’s here.
This anti-performance of a beautiful black woman sitting on a chair on a stage with a microphone reading white supremacist comments from her laptop, while a largely young, predominantly (but not only) white audience gazes at her — now, that was a strange, surreal experience. It captured and pushed to the forefront the uncanniness of this whole strange summer in the United States. And it re-paired the political situation with us, the people sitting and standing in the room. It’s not out there, it’s with us. It’s our problem.
No. What I mean to say is: it’s with me. It’s my problem. And I can’t repair anything until I reposition my relationship to the question. Do Black Lives really matter? How much? What do people in my house and/or apartment and my synagogue and/or church or mosque and community centers say about Black people? What do I allow to go unchallenged? Are Black people actually IN any of those spaces? If not, why not and if so, then what am I doing to make that space more spacious?
What about other people of color? What am I (not) doing?
I’m thinking about these questions, and while I think about them, I’m taking a look at Natasha’s Reparations Website, and seeing if there’s something I can offer, and/or something I can give.
To read articles about Natasha Marin, click on these links.
Washington Post piece on Natasha’s project
The Guardian essay on Natasha’s project
Los Angeles Times article on Natasha’s project
Once again, here is the Reparations Website.
6 thoughts on “re-pairing, reparationing — Natasha Marin and making the questions real”
I was there at Loose Leaf too. This post captures the edgy real nature of Ms. Marin’s “anti-performance.” Throughout, I felt Ms. Marin asking, how are you going to react to this? While at the same time, she undermined all of my usual white liberal reactions. I think your reaction is real: this is my problem too.
thanks. yeah, it was something!
Well said, Stephanie. I love the way you speak from your heart. You are the best! Pat
Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂
Thank you for the truth you speak in this essay. I have written much about purging the buried seeds of racism within myself. On one hand I despise and deny racism. The people I love most in this world, my family, are an ethnic soup from Africa, the mideast and all over Europe. Still the pale skin I wear has influenced my life in ways I will continue to discover as long as I live.
thank you so much for reading and commenting. thank g-d, we are increasingly living in families and communities like yours. thanks again.