Thoughts on the Place of Native Costumes, and Promotion of Social Justice, at Burning Man

I want to thank, and applaud, members of the HYBYCOZO art crew for bringing up the difficult issue of Burners appropriating the ritual objects and culture of indigenous people for the sake of a party costume.   I’m writing this piece in the hope of continuing the dialogue they started.

There is, to me personally, no more sickening sight on playa – I find it revolting – and while I would never expect every member of a tribal culture, or any culture, to be offended in the same way by the same things, I think it’s sheer sophistry to suggest that there isn’t a reasonable expectation that this is an action with a reasonable chance (an overwhelming one, really) of being very offensive, even hurtful, to someone who no one wants to hurt.

I mean, come on: even the smallest familiarity with the history of indigenous peoples (in America and elsewhere) should provide plenty of very good rationales for Not Wearing The Costume … and if someone doesn’t have even the smallest familiarity with that history, then their claims that it’s a “homage” or “respectful” fall pancake flat, don’t they. “I’m making an homage to something I am choosing to remain willfully ignorant of” is an attitude that calls for an immediate time out so that whoever said it can go think about making better life choices.

But my righteous (and, goddamit, wholly justified) indignation runs into a problem pretty quickly: if someone were to ask me “Caveat, where’s your leg to stand on here,” I don’t think I’d be able to find it.

The Lowest Moral High Ground

At this year’s Global Leadership Conference, I came on stage in a costume that was a poor imitation of a Catholic cardinal’s. It was a riff on our “Da Vinci’s Workshop” theme, to be sure, but come on – while Catholics have never had to suffer the same level of oppression (and outright genocide) as indigenous people (and hey, were often involved in that oppression), anti-Catholic disenfranchisement and oppression in America and around the world is nevertheless a historical reality. There have been anti-Catholic riots in America, anti-Catholic murders, and – yes – systemic oppression. America had a Catholic president before it had a black president, to be sure, but it’s only had the one, and it took until the 1960s to get him, and you’d better believe a lot of people voted against John F. Kennedy because they felt a “papist” had no place in power. Meanwhile there are places around the world where Catholics are minority communities persecuted for practicing their faith.

Some of these people might have a pretty reasonable case to make that my putting on a costume, that I didn’t earn, imitating their sacred symbols, was offensive, and even hurtful.

I knew this full well, and I chose to do it anyway.

No one complained, but if someone had, what could I have said? I suppose I could have used my education as a defense … I suspect I know a lot more about Catholicism and what my act of appropriation meant than the people wearing native costumes at festivals do. And I could have made an identity based defense of my own: while there’s no Catholic (that I know of) in my background, I am half-Jewish, so, HEY, I could just bring up the Spanish Inquisition and call it even.

But … come on. That’s offensively facile. Anyone hearing me do that would be entitled to put me into a time out so that I could reconsider my life choices.

The simple fact is that from a standpoint of historical legitimacy and cultural appropriation, I had no business being in that costume. And yet, I’m not apologizing for it, and the honest truth is that I will almost certainly do it again.

And okay, look, there are various reasons why I think it’s far worse to appropriate native traditions than Catholic traditions – why somebody in a Pope outfit doesn’t offend me the way somebody putting on a headdress before taking a tab to go have a “spiritual” experience at an all night rave with a great laser show does – but at this point I have to ask: is this in any way a productive conversation to have?

Let’s Visualize Success

I don’t mean “should we even be talking about cultural appropriation of native cultures?” Of course we should. If somebody is being hurt, we should talk about it. But is the approach of trying to compile a list of oppression based costuming taboos that we then attempt to argue for actually going to help anyone? Including and especially any native peoples?

I don’t think it is. I think it is exactly the wrong way – at least at Burning Man – to go about having this conversation. Any taboo based conversation like this at Burning Man is going to quickly devolve from a legitimate discussion of how native peoples are getting screwed by rave culture to a conversation about white guys (ahem) defending their right to access their creativity by – I dunno – dressing like a Catholic cardinal. Which is legitimate on the merits but also completely beside the point if we’re trying to talk about native peoples. It’s counter-productive, pitting two important values – respecting native cultures and encouraging creative inspiration – against each other in a way that ultimately reduces both. It turns advocates of self-expression against basic cultural competency. Even if this is a fight that can be won (and I don’t think it can, I don’t think there’s any such thing as “winning” on these terms), it’s surely not how we want it to be fought.

I’m not, incidentally, saying that this is what the HYBYCOZO art crew did, but it’s certainly what the discussion quickly turned into. And this is usually what happens when unfamiliar issues of social justice are first brought up at Burning Man (and arguably anywhere, but let’s focus on Burning Man). That’s a dynamic that I suspect everyone wants to short circuit, whatever their politics –and to be clear, people of all political persuasions are welcomed at Burning Man. A commitment to Radical Inclusion must involve people someone disagrees with if it is to mean anything at all.

So how do we reframe these discussions in a Burning Man context? How do we do better?

(This is, of course, a suggestion made as a contribution to a dialogue – an invitation to further discussion of a common goal, not an attempt to have the final word.)

A Line in the Dust

The first thing to recognize – and this is a tough step to take for a lot of people – is that Burning Man is not a “safe space.” Not just physically, not just a dangerous environment where exposure to the elements or bad personal maintenance can kill you, but existentially. Burning Man is not psychologically benign. This is not an accident, and this is not a problem: this is why it works. Burning Man enables and encourages the level of creative exploration it does because it is a social and natural environment dedicated to tapping into the creative unconscious, the realm of the artist, and the creative unconscious is full of dangers and pitfalls. It does not respect logic or politics or even basic compassion. It respects inspiration and iconography, magic and symbolism. It values creative potency over common sense.

Burning Man reaches people because the stakes here are real, both physically and psychologically. The great love and good and comfort that people feel here is powered by the same creative inspiration that can do harm because it goes there. People feel safe at Burning Man not because they’re protected from harm, but because they feel empowered to take meaningful risks. Burning Man takes your risks and lubricates them. And if you fall on your ass, there will be plenty of people to help pick you up. But you can fall on your ass – you will fall on your ass – and it will hurt. And that means the stakes are real, and any growth you have here is real too. We are not here to make macaroni art. (Except for you, Macaroni Art Camp, and we love you.) We do not value the socially appropriate smile over the honestly felt roar.

Advocacy efforts that base their efforts at Burning Man on carefully reasoned arguments and the establishment of taboos and social norms are going to hit resistance, therefore, not because of their content but because they are trying to use reason to establish taboos and social norms. The form, not the content, becomes the issue. (Which is what I see happening in much of the discussion following the HYBYCOZO crew’s piece.)

It therefore seems to me that the most effective form of activism possible at Burning Man is to engage through acts of creative inspiration. Which is to say: make art. Create experiences. You will never find an environment more resistant to a rational argument, or a group of people more open to being inspired by an aesthetic vision. To not just like it, but to live it.

Whoever’s Having the Most Fun Wins

To my mind, there is a strong upside to this: surely the best outcome is not to get appropriators to shut up, but to enhance the real voice of the cultures they are thoughtlessly taking advantage of. To confront not with rules but with a powerful representation of the real lived experience – and through that, not to demand that they back off but to offer a way that they can, out of inspiration and their own free will, move forward to meet you where you want to go.

Interdictions in Burning Man culture simple don’t work unless they offer people something they find more inspiring. The creation of roads was a limitation, but helped enable a culture of camps and villages by making it possible for people to find one another. The adoption of speed limits and clear guidelines for Mutant Vehicles actually made more people think that developing and running an art car was possible for them – and now Burning Man is the global epicenter of art car culture.

The key to the promotion of social justice at Burning Man – I think, and I humbly offer up as an intended ally to a cause that, however imperfectly, I believe in – is not to try and lay down the law, but to create an artistic and experiential vision of a better approach that people will want to be part of. Especially if it’s fun and engaging and empowers their own creative goals.

It’s not easy, it’s a lot to ask of people who are honestly right on the merits and have a reasonable case for saying “why can’t people SEE THIS?” But we don’t live in a reasonable world.   We live in a world where people are eager to be meaningfully engaged.   In creative communities, whichever cause has the best art and whimsy on its side always wins.

The true test for anyone trying to change Burning Man culture is therefore not “can I explain myself well,” but, “can I offer an experience of a better world that people will walk towards on their own – even if they don’t understand it.” There’s no guarantee that this will work, of course, but I think that over 30 years, Burning Man has demonstrated that it’s far better to offer people a compelling choice through art and whimsy than it is to insist at them.

Even if they reject that choice, by coming to engage with it, the dialogue is probably being elevated and advanced – and will have a powerful symbol for the next time it comes up.


Photo by Dmitry Chuntul

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat Magister

A member of the Burning Man Project's Philosophical Center, Caveat served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca from 2008 - 2013. He is presently working with Burning Man's education department on a cultural studies curriculum for Burning Man culture. Caveat is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, which has nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

33 Comments on “Thoughts on the Place of Native Costumes, and Promotion of Social Justice, at Burning Man

  • chaosmagic says:

    this article gave me aids….

    but i would ask that you all to please refrain from wearing green on the playa, because it brings ups some really terrible memories of the loss of my emotional support turtle.

    Report comment

    • wtf says:

      How about this:
      I’ll kidnap your children, murder your father, steal your house and force you off your land. Then I’ll choose to ignore the fact that those things have caused you a lot of pain. Then I’ll support me and my friends and kids in parading around wearing your family’s portrait on a neon t-shirt at a music festival and tell you to shut the hell up because your feelings are stupid and me/us “radically expressing ourselves” is more important and you have no right to tell me/us to stop.

      Honestly – I’m a white, straight, cis-gender, upper middle-class, able-bodied guy. I have never experienced any kind of oppression in my life and I never will, because our society affords power and privilege to all those identities.
      And yet I have the humility to listen to others, the maturity to challenge my experience and question the ignorance my privilege provides, the creativity to learn different ways to express and explore myself that don’t involve perpetuating things like racism, transphobia, etc., and finally the respect to honor the requests of people who are simply trying to make this world a better place. Because of this, if a native or other indigenous person makes a request to stop wearing something sacred to their people, I have the intelligence to understand WHY that is important and the grace to honor that request. And in no way does that inflict restrictions on my creativity and self-expression. It challenges me to be more creative and to grow.

      No, this is not self-rightenous rant. This is a call for other white/straight/etc. folks to step up. There is power in humility and beauty in respect.

      Report comment

      • tom Laws says:

        I’m confused, “stole who’s land from whom”? Are you implying that two entire contents belong to the race of the first individual that stepped foot on one of them? If so, what percentage of identical DNA must the second person in line have to be allowed onto those two continents? If the first person is an eccentric hermit and doesn’t allow anyone else onto “his” two continents and therefore dies without any offspring, how with the probate court determine who should be the heir?

        One more question; If crazy people like you have the same right to vote as logically inclined individuals like myself, won’t your nutty vote cancel out my sane vote and create deadlock?

        Wait, just one more question; If at some point in the future we are able the exchange thoughts with animals and those animals demand that american indians stop dancing around in the body parts of their dead ancestors, who’s got the moral high ground?

        Actually, i’ve many more questions for you like who owns Esharp and Dflat and the color green and the ocean (someone was first to swim right?)

        Report comment

      • sling says:

        Yes WTF, but you are not seeing the whole picture. For every native American that is offended, there might be 10 others that don’t care, and many native americans make a living selling their cultural art to us Caucasians, etc.
        Further, public expression, including the clothes that you wear, regardless of your race, are fundamentally protected by laws governing human rights-that’s why American Nazi groups, are repugnant as they are, are allowed to gather and wear their Nazi uniforms.

        And of course every costume and clothing on earth is a reflection of that culture and its history. Caucasian Americans often wear Japanese Fashion-but hey the surprise bombed us in WW2, caused agonizing death to US sons, killing 10s of thousands of us-Why what and insult right? And Japanese wear western clothing even though the west dropped a nuclear bomb on then, right?

        Things like morality are not included in 10 principals but they are sorely missed. On the other hand, if morality is included in the principals, does that cross the line into making BM a religion?

        Report comment

  • Mississippi Ronn says:

    Thank god I thought this was gonna be another whiny social justice appropriation rant, instead it was what should be happening. If facebook can offer god knows how many imaginary genders then if someone feels like being a Lacota warrior go for it! One of my favorite people is Blaire White on YouTube. She is a tranny and smart and pretty to boot. So are both of my sisters and all my nieces, I’m not going to fuss because she dresses like a girl and claim she is appropriating their gender. The key to Burning Man is as I understand it Radical Inclusion. So include everybody. Much love!

    Report comment

    • wtf says:

      You missed the point of this article entirely. This author is supporting that these conversations about cultural appropriation do indeed need to happen, because they are important. What the author suggested was that instead of using words and rational arguments, that the best way to approach it is through art because THAT is what Burners are more likely to engage with and be open to. If you re-read the article the author does say that he thinks is unacceptable for a white person to do exactly what you’re defending. In case you missed it:

      “There is, to me personally, no more sickening sight on playa – I find it revolting – and while I would never expect every member of a tribal culture, or any culture, to be offended in the same way by the same things, I think it’s sheer sophistry to suggest that there isn’t a reasonable expectation that this is an action with a reasonable chance (an overwhelming one, really) of being very offensive, even hurtful, to someone who no one wants to hurt.

      I mean, come on: even the smallest familiarity with the history of indigenous peoples (in America and elsewhere) should provide plenty of very good rationales for Not Wearing The Costume … and if someone doesn’t have even the smallest familiarity with that history, then their claims that it’s a “homage” or “respectful” fall pancake flat, don’t they. “I’m making an homage to something I am choosing to remain willfully ignorant of” is an attitude that calls for an immediate time out so that whoever said it can go think about making better life choices.”

      And by the way, calling a transwoman a “tranny” is akin to calling a black person an N-word. She may refer to herself that way but it doesn’t make it okay for non-trans people to do the same.

      Report comment

      • Mississippi Ronn says:

        She does refer to herself that way and says she doesn’t get butthurt over it snowflake. Oh and I am 1/4 Seminole indian and instead of crying over injustice I’m just glad to be here. Oh and I’m part Scottish to should I run around telling burners not to wear kilts? Oh and all these whiny I’m part indian whoa is me types, indians were killing indians long before the white man got here. But see I’m am man so I must be part of the problem. Gods save us from snowflakes!

        Report comment

    • Permit says:

      “If facebook can offer god knows how many imaginary genders then if someone feels like being a Lacota warrior go for it!”

      Nice logic there.
      A marginalized culture gets some form of public representation that in no way effects you. In exchange you will support the symbolic oppression of a different marginalized group.

      Report comment

      • Samekixdiffbag says:

        Is this the same logic that people shouldn’t wear kimonos, kanzashii aka hair chopsticks, if they aren’t Japanese, Bindhis if they are Indian? When did we become so overly P.C.? Why does it seem it’s more “white people”, from European heritage, that is the most offended? I’m Japanese, Native American, and European. My grandfather was from the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. I rarely heard anyone other than Caucasians complain about cultural appropriation. We grew about 100% American with baseball and football games, hotdogs and hamburgers while entertaining other cultural festivities. I would think BM is DEFINITELY the place for everything offensive! For crying out loud, this year a camp had the American flag in a meat grinder as art. I saw naked Buddhists and Catholics in full debauchery mode. We really need to get over ourselves.

        Report comment

  • Lindo says:

    Thank you Caveat for this insightful piece. I appreciated and connected with the HYBYCOZO article. Some of the comments it generated were extremely unsettling to me. Now I find that you’ve reframed the dialog. Burners don’t need to be on the same page, but while we’re on the same playa I want to be part of “an artistic and experiential vision of a better approach”.

    Report comment

  • Tammara says:

    Maybe radical inclusion means that everyone can dress or not dress exactly the way they please. And we can dig it. That is exactly what makes burning man such a delight. Cheerleaders in panties, leather buffed warriors, princesses with feathers… it’s all good. Too get to far out there in ‘what should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be misses the whole point. It all is.

    Report comment

  • David B says:

    Hi, does anyone getting ready for the burn really have time to read and think/comprehend about all this? I am much lower on Maslow’s Pyramid, like “where am I gonna fit all my stuff?” Nevertheless, I appreciate that the author has put a lot of energy into writing this piece….maybe I will have time in a couple of weeks to ponder it.

    Report comment

    • wtf says:

      Well yeah. I guess if you’ve never experienced any kind of oppression then no, I don’t imagine you would make time for it, because it’s never affected you.

      Report comment

      • seriously, wtf says:

        Seriously, wtf… what the fuck? You must just be completely plagued by white guilt. We get it, you’re not a racist. Stop fucking lecturing everyone and calling everyone a racist when you don’t really, as a white, straight, middle class male understand racism in the first place. I’m sure your doing plenty of things that were at one time or another misappropriating someone else’s culture. That’s how culture works.

        It’s unfortunate that the Native Americans (and “my people” for that matter) have been historically treated like shit by the likes of your kin and are still done so today. It’s unfortunate that of all the things (besides dream catchers, wolf tee-shirts, and turquoise jewelry, tee-pees, head bands, moccasins, Kokopelli, etc, etc) that war bonnets are the next thing on the block in this melting pot of a culture. But thats how it works, we mingle, we exchange, we evolve. There are so many things in our collective culture that were taken from somewhere/someone else.

        We’ve been around for a long long time, lots of people have been oppressed and had their symbols misappropriated. Is it right, no, does it happen, yes. Will you stop it here on journal.burningman.org by harassing everyone that you can, doubtful.

        I feel like in all honesty, it’s actually people like yourself that perpetuate hate and racism because you can’t let it go and use the race card every chance you get to make yourself feel better. You can’t move on and say, “well you know that shit was totally fucking wrong, but to hell with it, let’s let bygones be bygones for the greater good and harmony”. Everything is always going to cause hurt and pain if you never let it heal. By saying “this is only allowed for those people” then you aren’t bring people together, your dividing them up and creating and encouraging the segregation.

        Just let it go, it’s not your fault. Also, before your panties get bunched too far up your ass, I’m not saying it’s a great idea to wear a headdress with gold chains and a tutu and that HYBYCOZO should shove it. I’m just saying that YOU need to calm down because I’m not exactly sure you’re mister perfect yourself and your self-righteousness is just annoying now.

        Report comment

  • Hardon says:

    This article makes a lot of sense. Burning Man, to me, is that place I can be free from rules. Free from judgement. When people tell me I can’t wear something (even though I haven’t) because it’s cultural appropriation, I immediately want to wear it. This feeds my rebellious nature, one of the reasons I enjoy Burning Man. I like that this article delved into that a bit.

    Report comment

  • Terbo Ted says:

    I can’t help but ponder this issue over the past day and have discovered a moral consistency I would like to share.

    I will never say the ‘N’ word.  I cringe when I hear white people say it.  I cringe when I hear black people say it.  But I believe in the right to say it.

    I would never draw a disrespectful cartoon of Muhammad.  But I believe in the right to draw such things.

    I would never wear an Indian war bonnet, whether made of real eagle feathers or plastic ones.  But I would not restrict others to do so.  Although I do respect the environmental laws against using endangered animal parts, whether eagle or rhino, etc.  Further, I would expect faux Indian style headdresses will be made in China for centuries to come.

    If I understand this article correctly, it is correct at pointing out the pushback from artists and/or burners at cultural restrictions being imposed upon them.

    I reject the cultural appropriation arguments in general. All culture is appropriation somehow or culture doesn’t exist. There are hundreds of native american nations in the USA alone, certainly some of them appropriated the war bonnet concept from other tribes.

    I cringe when I hear blanket statements about First Nation people or white people and so on. No one can speak for any of these broad groups as a whole, not white people, not first nation people.

    I’d like to share a story. In the early 90s some early burners decided to throw a rave party on native American land near Pyramid Lake. They put out a flyer that had concepts such as ‘clothing optional’ and ‘nude body painting’, which was consistent with early burner beliefs. Other new age stuff was also implied. Once the local native American council got ahold of this they cancelled the event. Because the native Americans who lived there were fundamentalist Christians and were offended by all this new age hippy stuff.

    Report comment

  • Weezle says:

    Just no feather MOOP please…

    Report comment

  • Betsy Guthrie says:

    I want to know if something I say or do or wear makes someone else uncomfortable or sad. Then the dialog can begin.

    Report comment

  • DNA 23 says:

    There is a wide consensus that the racial categories that are common in everyday usage are socially constructed, and that racial groups cannot be biologically defined.

    When people define and talk about a particular conception of race, they create a social reality through which social categorization is achieved. In this sense, races are said to be social constructs. These constructs develop within various legal, economic, and sociopolitical contexts, and may be the effect, rather than the cause, of major social situations. While race is understood to be a social construct by many, most scholars agree that race has real material effects in the lives of people through institutionalized practices of preference and discrimination.

    Socioeconomic factors, in combination with early but enduring views of race, have led to considerable suffering within disadvantaged racial groups. Racial discrimination often coincides with racist mindsets, whereby the individuals and ideologies of one group come to perceive the members of an outgroup as both racially defined and morally inferior. As a result, racial groups possessing relatively little power often find themselves excluded or oppressed, while hegemonic individuals and institutions are charged with holding racist attitudes. Racism has led to many instances of tragedy, including slavery and genocide.

    And:

    The human genome is the complete set of nucleic acid sequence for humans (Homo sapiens), encoded as DNA within the 23 chromosome pairs in cell nuclei and in a small DNA molecule found within individual mitochondria.

    (Wikipedia)

    There is only one human “race” (Homo sapiens) and it is so very depressing and disturbing that, in 2016, racism still thrives and oppresses people world wide.

    Going back to packing now and NO FEATHER MOOP!!!

    Report comment

  • almost says:

    I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in this article. I think it has the potential to be a fantastic follow-up to the previous article. I think it misses the mark.

    On the positive side – it’s great the article is affirming that yes, these conversations about cultural appropriation do need to happen, because they are extremely important. I also think he’s super on point about being creative about the ways we engage in these conversations. Create art – speak to the heart and the soul rather than just the mind. The internet and conversational threads in particular can quickly escalate into arguments and because it’s just words, things tend to stay really heady. There is a connection with the heart through art that is necessary in these dialogues.

    Where this article fails is that, affirming the other article, he goes ahead with a whole explanation of why appropriation is okay. And clearly, a lot of people are only going to grab onto that and use it as an excuse to continue doing exactly the kinds of harmful things that the author said we should quit doing in the first place. No, dressing up as a cardinal in the face of a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment is in NO WAY akin to white people dressing up as Native Americans. He’s fallen into the trap of examples that aren’t comparable.

    I completely agree that art and creative expression are exactly what Burning Man is about – opening minds, hearts and expanding consciousness. I applaud him for encouraging us to use our brilliance to connect with each other and help each other grow. However the idea of artistic expression doesn’t translate into using it as an excuse to ignore the fact that there are complex histories that, as conscious human beings, we NEED to consider and respect. If we are indeed, creative people, then we can do better.

    Report comment

  • Para Pull Née Push says:

    Yes; the author’s earlier writing did contain this beneficial concept tunnel “Now I want to emphasize here, emphatically, that I am not suggesting that there should be any restriction on speech at Burning Man events,“
    Combining these presentient words with what is here now, it can be realized that the restrictions being suggested/insisted this week can be said to be in response to people potentially feeling forms of restriction in response to others’ unrestricted choices! Restriction seems to be the most crucial puzzle to notice and try to solve within and as life!

    There is a sense that there is more encouragement now for everyone to consider what hidden and unintentional ways the festival itself contains restrictions. I will offer something that I’m not sure will be anyone else’s idea: What year will there finally begin to be an ongoing digital Burning Man experience available on this official site, where all burners and camps have the option of presenting their own personal pages to interact and share every day, forever, if they so choose? The message board is wonderful but fairly reductive compared to what is possible, and, something like facebook is the “default world“ to a T. The silence about this potential is deafening, though I also believe it will be resolved over the next few years if not much sooner!

    Report comment

  • Phalkor says:

    Burning Man is not a safe space. Amen.

    That is the beginning and the end of the discussion. If someone’s expression offends you, remove yourself from it. Nothing, absolutely nothing is objectively offensive. Offense is a subjective reaction. It’s okay to be offended. It is not okay to attack someone because of it.

    Report comment

    • Kay O. Sweaver says:

      Sure, but if one is offended, doesn’t one have the right to express that feeling? Isn’t that also radical self-expression? And then, if the person who inspired the feeling of offense themselves feels offended from being informed? This very quickly turns into a feedback loop.

      Radical self-expression like free speech means you’re allowed to say something if you want to, it also means the recipient is allowed to respond. You don’t end this kind of cycle with rules, you end it by consciously changing the dynamic, either by trying not to offend other people, or by trying not to be offended. Somebody has to take the higher path and as long as people insist that someone ELSE has to do that, the cycle continues…

      Report comment

  • roy powell says:

    I think the question about appropriation is a juicy and complicated one .
    I come from a fine art background where anything goes .That said if you don’t have the intellectual underpinnings for the expression ,and can’t justify your expression intelligently then you will probably get into trouble ,And if it’s done out of ignorance go for it but be ready to get schooled . We live in a post post modern world and if you take things at face value your fucked ,Wether someone is aware or unaware really does not matter there is an opportunity for growth and understanding if we can approach this with maturity and compassion . We all started off ignorant , Demonizing the ignorant to feel better about yourself is no help .Who gets to decide what is a valid expression of outer where anyway .There is a great dialoge here ,and should be approached with the utmost care and compassion .The world doesn’t need another us against them situation .Radical expression is just that radical ,ignorant or enlightened bring it on ,all are welcome . Just watch your back cause you are being watched .
    Oh and where does all this end ,the land that the festival is on was stolen from the very people in question ,should we even be there ? There is something to talk about . Are people willing to give up there fun to do the right thing ? .And what is the right thing anyway? And who gets to decide ?

    Report comment

  • JV says:

    Burning Man isn’t (or shouldn’t be, at the very least) an approximation of daily life. Would I wear a Native American headdress at home? Hell no. Would I wear one on the playa? I haven’t yet, but I wouldn’t put it past me. For me, Burning Man is a place to play and experiment with cultural signifiers. That includes, sexuality, gender, identity, and costume. It’s a place to distort and transform the meaning of things. A tutu means one thing at home and another thing in BRC. You’re a teacher at home and a hallucinating, leather chaps wearing fire artist in BRC. I understand how some people could be offended at non-Native Americans wearing war bonnets. Maybe Burning Man isn’t for you. I’m Catholic and saw a couple wearing priest and nun costumes literally fucking. BRC is a place to transgress. For me and many others, that’s almost the very point of the event.

    Report comment

  • Benja says:

    Our experience last year: The Cultural Appropriation Police. Make of it what you will.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9DEi2PvuH4

    Report comment

  • JustMark says:

    I applaud all efforts to be sensitive to others, and I applaud all radical expressions, be they wearing outrageous costumes (that some may be offended by) or by screeching at how violated you feel that someone has worn something that offends you.

    However, as we have been fond of saying of late (and.. it seems to sum up the ‘flavor of burns’ rather well and succenctly) “fuck yer burn”.

    I’m not here to make you comfortable, and vice versa.

    yeah – kumbaya moments are da bomb, but NO one should be attending a burn with a list of things to avoid doing because it might hurt someone else’s feelings.

    Feel free to express outrage if something offends you, but be prepared to have that outrage reflected by those who don’t hold the same view as you.

    Great article, great debate.

    Report comment

  • FlyingMonkey says:

    Stop calling us “White People”. It’s a racist term that lumps all Non-Black, Asian, Latino, or Native American people in to a group that creates an “Us versus Them” mentality that inaccurately depicts our heritage. It’s an over-generalization & marginalizing. Most of us “whites” are of European Descent but many of us are a mix of cultures. A large portion of my genetics comes from Ireland. The Irish have a long history of derogatory stereotyping and have been discriminated against & yes……even enslaved. The rest of me is a mix of other European cultures. I have seen & heard people get upset when they see a perceived “white person” wearing a traditional Native American headdress. They claim that it is a cultural appropriation and that they have no right to wear it. Never have they considered that the person they condemn may actually be part Native American. If someone is 25% Cherokee is it Ok then? How would you know (without asking) before accuse them of such atrocities? Does anyone actually think that the cultural significance of the headdress will be lost because a pretty woman chooses to identify with & wear it? Is she not worthy of expressing herself because we assume she has not experienced the strife of the native people it represents? Is she somehow harming a culture in doing so? We each must answer that for ourselves but no one has the definitive answer or right to demand one way or the other.
    Burning Man has “culturally appropriated” more of my heritage then most others. The Man himself is an appropriation of the Celtic Druid’s Wicker man. I see people wearing Kilts everywhere. Black and monochromatic Utilikilts for god’s sake! If that doesn’t completely remove the cultural significance of my ancestors tartan!!!! Once I even saw a dark skinned man with dreadlocks wearing a kilt.
    But I was not offended.
    Why? Even though it is part of my cultural heritage, I do not practice the rituals of my ancestors and therefore lay no claim to ownership of such. Just because my great great grandmothers uncle wore a kilt and his ancestors where probably pagans, I have absolutely no right to say who can and cannot use, wear, display or make art with the symbols of my lineage. Just because my ancestors were Irish, Scottish, and a pinch of German I have no ownership of these cultures. I have every right to participate in & honoring their traditions but cannot tell others that they are somehow unworthy. The argument that the culture of my ancestors will somehow be diminished or diluted by that dark skinned man looking so freaking awesome in that kilt is a complete fallacy. No one is going to think that the kilt originated in Africa nor will my Scottish heritage be damaged because of his fashion statement. And if my cultural identity was so fragile, if indeed the significance of my people could be lost, then it would be upon ME to educate others about & preserve that cultural identity. Did I mention the fireworks? Sadly those have been culturally appropriated from the Chinese.
    In that same spirit, no one has the self-ordained authority to tell me that I cannot wear a headdress with a kilt and sing the blues as I run down the Esplanade with my Chinese dragon flying overhead. But you are all welcome to join me.
    Your ancestors MADE your culture and you can chose to participate in it or not. But you are not the sum of your ancestors and do not OWN that culture.
    There are no purely black, white, Asian, or indigenous people on this earth. We all started in the same place, spread out all over the planet, and have adapted to our environments in different ways. But if you go back far enough we are all the same.
    We are the Tribe of Man (Human) and we gather on the Playa each year to celebrate each other. We build great things and burn them to remind us of the immediacy of life and our fleeting existence.
    We celebrate our differences and those things that make us who we are.
    We celebrate NOT appropriate parts of every culture & that is an awesomely fantastic thing.

    Oh yeah…….Fuck yer Day!

    Report comment

  • Will from Minnesota says:

    To the author: So what about The Wild Tchoupitoulas of New Orleans fame, do they make you sick too?

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.