She thinks her name looks better in lower-case letters, so that is how she writes it: damali ayo.
Art for her is not about making something that looks cool or pretty, but about making people think. To bring them up short and make them question what is going on. Not art for art’s sake, but art to change society for the better.
Rent-a-Negro started out as a website in 2003, became a book in 2005 and now, in 2008, is being made into a film.
Ayo does not in fact rent out any Negroes – not that white people have not asked for such a service! Instead the website is meant to make white people laugh at themselves – and then think about their strange ideas about black people! But many of them do not get it.
Ayo often finds herself being the only black person at a party and for many of her white friends she is the only black person they know.
So she becomes like a rare bird: white people want to touch her, especially her hair – sometimes they do not even ask first but just start touching! They ask her about O.J. Simpson or Katrina, as if all black people think alike, as if they only have opinions about race and not, say, the war in Iraq.
Her white friends have used her to prove how they are not racist: “Tell them, damali, how I’m not racist.” Or to talk to their racist grandmother.
Her mother told her to stop being everyone’s Rent-a-Negro. That gave ayo the idea for the website. White people should pay for the service she is providing!
She uses the word “Negro” because it is outdated, to make the point that the sort of white thinking she is talking about should be just as out of date.
As for the reparations, some whites give her money! One gave her 20 cents and then wanted a receipt! Ayo gives the money right away to the first black person who walks by. Others help her in the cause.
Ayo grew up in Washington, DC, went to Brown University and now lives in Portland, Oregon, right in the middle of Ecotopia: she very much believes in living in a more natural and earth-friendly way. She has a garden from which she gets much of her food and even medicine. She drinks rainwater and so on.
When she was little she thought Einstein and Houdini must be black because they were so cool and interesting.
One of the greatest joys in her life is her blind dog Stevie. Her former owner had left her in the woods to die, lost and alone.
She supports Barack Obama: he is by far the most honest man who has run for president in a long time.
She has not just her websites, but also a blog and a YouTube channel.