Tuesday, October 9, 2007

On the National Day of Panhandling for Reparations

It's the day before THE day and my partner-in-justice and I just finalized our panhandling location. The surge of excitement surrounding tomorrow drove me to blogspot, and here I am.

We'll be panhandling at the corner of Hyperion and Monon in Silverlake (in Los Angeles, CA). Right there, in front of the Trader Joe's. I'm excited because it affords me the justice I didn't know I needed.

See, I shop at this Trader Joe's every few weeks--it's where I get my Kashi Heart to Heart at $2.87 a box. Breakfast of champions. Seriously... those little hearts and Os are the perfect balance of wholesome, crunchy, and sweet...but I digress.

Every time I venture out from Koreatown to Silverlake--as liquor stores turn to coffee shops--my breath becomes labored from the thick smog of gentrification and hipster musk. Until now, I haven't had a way to interrogate this space--I've found myself shoved around like a pinball, bouncing from $200 matted hair-do to $200 matted hair-do inside this store, trying to get my hands on just ONE box of cereal and get the hell out!

Today I fully realized the opportunity to force the present into conversation with the past that panhandling for reparations provides. Tomorrow we will be looking history squarely in the eye, acknowledging its truth, and asking others to do the same. This is my opportunity to peacefully push back, to ask my hipster co-shoppers to take a second and locate themselves...or, at the very least, to make a reparations payment.


damali ayo said...

This is an amazing post! And i love the picture! It will be very cool to see the "in action" shot of the same corner with you on it.

Please post the is on the panhandlers' blog too! Your words are very poignant.



Kevin said...

I admire the activism, but I'm a bit perplexed by this action. Undoubtedly, the conversations that sprout from this are more valuable than the money received, but the structure of this campaign seems to focus on the passing off of money.

Is the goal to actually collect money? Is a conversation considered as successful as a donation? If confronted with this situation, I expect I would decline since I would interpret a contribution as trivializing the topic.

This concept seems to take for granted the notion that black=slave, white=slave owner, which though I would acknowledge is true on a metaphorical level, requires generalizations. Not all African Americans are descendents of slaves, nor are all Caucasian Americans descendents of slave owners. While you could argue that the implications of slavery have effects on these people regardlessly, that's not my understanding of what reparations are about. Furthermore, race is often ambiguous, and this premise seems to suppose that someone who looks black deserves the money while a white-looking descendent of a slave might be asked for money instead.

I'll be curious to see how this event pans (all right, the pun was intended) out, particularly with the black individuals who are offered the change. In this case, I don't think coins equal change.

Sky said...


It's true, there is no simplicity in this nation's history (and "this nation" and "history" are not alone in their complexity). The idea behind my participation in this project is simply to do my part in getting the job done. To me, asking for reparations today--or paying them out--reminds everyone of the history of our nation.

Some of the individuals I spoke with today took offense to the fact that I was "making it about race." However, I see race, racism, and white supremacy as salient concepts today. In this nation, the intersections between white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy are linked to the system of commodity slavery that build this nation's wealth. So race (or specifically, our perceptions of race)today are connected to this legacy.

You're right. we couldn't always classify people on the street, and they sure had a hell of a time classifying us--in terms of age, SES, gender, sex, race, and ethnicity. Of the people who stopped to engage in conversation, a few shared their family histories with us. Some thanked us for doing the work. Others told us we were racist and walked away.

One of the most striking things to me, however, was the contrast between the head and the heart--between the people who intellectualized the effort, even let us know that they wrote about this issue, but did not want to make a payment, and those who felt it at their core.

We aren't/weren't trying to play tricks on anyone; we're just getting the job done!