All her life, white folks have peppered Portland artist damali ayo with questions about her race. Now, she wants them to pay for it.
That's the idea behind www.rent-a-negro.com, a website in which ayo, a 31-year-old African American, offers to attend corporate events, go out in public or answer queries about her hair and skin, all for a mere $200-$350 an hour. "The presence of black people in your life can advance business and social reputation," the site explains. "Rent-a-Negro offers you the chance to capitalize on your connection with a black person."
The website, launched April 20, has a working request form, and visitors can use PayPal to send ayo "retroactive" payments for past services. "When I was writing it, I had to believe I was going to go out on a rental, in order to make the satire as tight as possible," ayo says.
Another popular site, www.blackpeopleloveus.com, also mocks the way whites use their black relationships to appear politically hip. But while that site finds humor in both black and white stereotypes, ayo says Rent-a-Negro, is more pointed: "It's artistic. It's not about being funny."
Ayo says she doesn't want white people to stop asking questions of African Americans, but rather to consider the insensitivity, ignorance and privilege underlying this lopsided exchange."I'm hoping it gives people a moment to pause and think about how we treat each other as humans or as objects."
She's even considering taking on a client, a man who says he runs a Philadelphia nonprofit she won't name. "I'm curious to see how does that alter the dynamic," she says. Besides, she adds, "I already know how it works when I don't get paid."
Ayo says the Portland exhibition of performance artist William Pope.L prompted her to plan a new artistic piece this summer: panhandling for reparations for slavery.
If getting her messages across generates some income, ayo is OK with that. " I'm an artist," she says, "I would take it."