Damali Ayo Interview

Damali AyoSeveral months ago, Kameelah posted on the controversial topic of the National Day of Pan-Handling for Reparations. Well, the date is upon us. On October 10th, people across the country will be hitting the streets to beg for reparations. This is all part of political artivist Damali Ayo’s “Now Art” initiative, to raise consciousness and take action through performance. Ayo, the author of the award-winning book, How to Rent a Negro is the Oregon-based founder of the National Day of Pan-Handling for Reparations. Offended? Curious? Inspired? Then check out the exclusive Blackademics Interview!


Main Interview: Pan-Handling for Reparations (mp3)


Also, check out Damali’s thoughts on:
Read a Book! & Bill O’Riely

Digital Activism and Technology

People of Color and the Environment


Main Interview Transcript

Pierce Freelon:
Your work seems to be directed towards white people. How to Rent a Negro in particular, but also a little bit with the Panhandling for Reparations. It seems to be directed towards getting white people to think about whiteness and racism and stuff like that. Do you think that’s accurate, is your work directed towards white people, what is your take on that?

Damali Ayo:
I think that with the book, How to Rent a Negro, I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of the book because the book is divided into two parts. One is directed at white people, one is directed at people of color. And my experience with folks having read the book is that people of color really enjoy it and they really laugh and they have a good time. And I think the imbalance that people are perceiving is that I’m very rigorous with white people. I’m very hard on them, I point out their fallacies with regard to race and their attitudes and their lack of learning, their basically third grade level of understanding about race and racism. That’s what I talk about in my talks. But for the people of color, we know about racism, we know the work that we have to do, so I don’t understand, do Black people want me to be harder on them? So it’s kinda funny to me, because I’m not kicking their butts they’re mad at me. And I don’t think we have enough people in this country talking to, directing conversations about race to white people, they’re always directed to people of color. And quite honestly, I think that is really just an incredible imbalance that’s wrong and needs to be rectified.

PF:
Okay. Alright let’s move up to the National Day of Panhandling for Reparations, what’s the date for it again?

DA:
October 10th!

PF:
October 10th, so you heard it here. People are going to be out on the streets, I’m very excited about it. Why Pan-Handling?

DA:
Yeah that’s such a good question. You know the piece started when I wanted to do a performance piece about panhandling. In Oregon, there’s a law that for every 4 hours you work, you have to receive a 15-minute break, like a coffee break. So I originally wanted to do a piece that was validating panhandling as work by offering panhandlers a thermos of coffee and giving them a break and I would step in panhandle for them. And as I learned more about panhandling, I realized that that, for a lot of reasons wasn’t going to work. But the idea of trying to investigate panhandling, and bring panhandling into a mainstream conversation and exploring it as a performer stayed with me. At the same time, I kept hearing on the news every morning the reparations debate. At that time there was a congressional debate going on around it. And the two just married each other in my mind, and it came together because I was listening to this congressional debate and people for how many years just begging, begging. Can we please have reparations why won’t you give them to us, you know? Black people’s voices just get completely made invisible, inaudible and I felt the desperation in that cause. So I decided that actually begging would be a great way to represent that.

PF:
That’s very interesting. So your campaign is like, “join the performance” What advise do you have out there, on October 10th when people hit the streets, what advise do you have for panhandlers?

DA:
Well, when you go to the website, you can either go to my website: damaliayo.com, or you can go to reparationsday.com and download the instruction kit. I don’t send anybody out to do performance without some information and support. In there it has, for example frequently asked questions. Because when you go out there, you’re basically doing improv and you want to have something in your back pocket to say, “this is what I say if somebody asks me that?” Just so you’re not totally panicked. I’m asking non-performers to do this, so.. I encourage people to work in teams, so there’s always somebody there to watch you incase there is a safety issue. I really say right off the bat, don’t do this performance alone. I never do it alone. I would really love to see people in different cities meet up and then all panhandle within visual range of each other because that makes a bigger impact on the city and also helps the performers feel supported. And then the very first rule of the performance is that you go out and the very first thing that you do when you hit the streets is that you pay the other panhandlers on the corners around you and pick a place that doesn’t interfere with their work. There’s a lot of valid things that goes into this, to make it a true performance, and true experience and have a lot of respect for yourself and the people around you.

PF:
I think a lot of times, people – they don’t investigate the entirety of what you’re trying to do. They’re just like.. panhandling?? But it really goes deeper than that.

DA:
Yeah it does. I always go deeper; people should know that about me. They don’t trust me.

PF:
What’s the next step, then? After the performance, what kind of measures are being taken afterwards to continue raising consciousness and to turn this into a meaningful experience beyond the performance?

DA:
That’s a really great question, in fact I’m having a long conversation with a young man from the N’cobra Youth Council, (*N’Cobra – National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America) which is a reparations organization. And he was trying to talk me out of doing the piece. He wasn’t trying to, he was relaying from his group, their concerns. And after talking with him for quite a while, we really do need multi-layered, multi-leveled parts to this. So he’s actually in the midst of writing a poem that can be performed as part of it or handed out. There’s another woman, actually from Blackademics I believe, Kameelah.

PF:
Kameelah, my homegirl.

DA:
Yeah, she’s going to be doing a web-based part of it, I hope. I’ve got to organize it with her. And what I want to do is collect the names of white people who support reparations, because N’cobra said they don’t have any collected and I know I’ve met a ton of white people who have given me money as a way of saying I support reparations, I had a “in” there.

PF:
I’m sorry to interrupt, but are the white people that give you money, are you talking about people that you’ve panhandled from on the street?

DA:
Yep, yep.

PF:
Do you consider these people genuine supporters?

DA:
Yes.

PF:
Really?

DA:
Yeah, because. I think it’s very funny that there’s this fear that people are just doing this as a token gesture. Look – Americans do not like to part with their money. They don’t like to part with 20 cents. Look at how we look down at panhandlers, as a general rule. People don’t even like to give them 20 cents. So my experience, and the good thing about this is that, I’ve done this performance in 4 cities across the country, so I can say this is what happens. My experience is that people understand the performance, they look at it and they go, “oh I get what you’re doing, let me chip in my dollar, or my two dollars or my 50 cents.” It’s a way of almost voting, people really do use it as a way of voicing their vote. Nobody’s saying, “here’s a dollar, I’m done paying reparations.”

PF:
Okay, okay, so you see it as more as a thing of solidarity than actually people thinking, “Alright, well I don’t owe you Negroes anything else”.

DA:
Oh yeah obviously. It’s a symbolic gesture. That’s why it’s a performance it’s not a campaign, it’s not a protest, it’s certainly not posed as a solution. So I think that that is an important thing that people are missing. Now the other piece, when people register as a performer on my website or at reparationsday.com, they then become part of the community of performers, and we have a blog and a phone number. And on the day of the panhandling, everybody gets my phone number and they can call me if they need anything or have questions. You can talk about your experience and then you can call in your stories, or if people on the street want to call into the voicemail. So there’s going to be this wonderful verbal record of what happens on that day.

PF:
Wow, well, I’m telling you. There’s been a lot of controversy buzzing around the campus here in New York at Syracuse, and people getting excited about it, so you should be getting some phone calls or emails or contributions from the folks down here.

For more information, check out:
Damali’s site and Reparationsday.com

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