Is Burning Man a “White People Thing?”

Is this what Burning Man’s like? Maybe on Wednesday?

A close friend of mine was asking me about Burning Man.  She’s a black woman from Brooklyn.  “Nope,” she said eventually, with some frustration.  “I don’t think I’ll be going to Burning Man!”

“Why not?” I asked.  She should.  She’s magnificent.

“It’s a white people thing!”

Whoa.  I asked her to tell me more about that.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard that phrase applied to Burning Man.  My very first burn I was astonished to realize that an event that draws so heavily from the diverse San Francisco Bay would produce a population so colorless.  From camp to camp, end to end, it was a long block of white as far as the eye could see, with only occasional dots of diversity … rare enough to raise comment.  Where were the Asians?  Where were the Hispanics?  Where were the black people?

Shortly after I first asked myself that question I met a black man tending bar at a camp with a slip-n-slide.  I sat down, he gave me a drink, and I said “can I ask you a potentially difficult question?” He said sure.  In hindsight, I’m pretty sure he was expecting me to hit on him.

“I notice there are almost no minorities here,” I told him.  “You’re the first black person I’ve seen.  Any idea why that is?”

The term “white people thing” came up in his answer.

Since that time I’ve met more minorities on the playa – but not nearly as many as I’d expect.  There’s a reason for that:  according to the 2010 Black Rock Census only 13% of event attendees consider themselves to be a person of color – noticeably lower than the national population of 28% (according to 2010 census data – although it’s not entirely comparing apples to apples).

And that doesn’t take into account the fact that Burning Man draws heavily from far more diverse areas like the San Francisco Bay (where only 49% of the population considers itself white) and New York City (45%):  if Burning Man were pulling people in proportionately its level of racial diversity would be higher, not lower.

So what’s the deal?

As I’ve met more minority burners over the years, I’ve made a point of asking some of them (when I remember) about this issue, as well as the diverse friends of mine … like my friend in Brooklyn … who I think would make great burners but who say it’s not for them.   Their surprisingly unanimous conclusion:  Burning Man, while it may be great … “I love Burning Man, and I love Burners,” said one minority burner I’ve grown close to, “but these are some crazy ass white people, and this is their thing.”

At the risk of sounding like a Twitter tag:  Why is Burning Man a white people thing

Generally speaking, I’ve been told, there are four reasons:

1)       Burning Man requires a sense of security that is not common in American minority communities.

White people in America have a working assumption that they can go anywhere and be reasonably safe.  Historically, that has not been a realistic assumption for minorities.  For too many of them, for too many generations, it has been essential that they avoid dangerous environments and heed warning signs.

“White people expect that they’re going to be okay,” I was told.  “Black people think that they need to be prepared for something extremely bad to happen.   That means differences in behavior.”

For people who don’t assume everything is going to turn out fine, the idea of going out to the middle of the desert and surrounding yourself with naked people playing with fire has plenty of red flags.

Indeed, the very name “Burning Man” might say “neo-pagan festival” to white people, but not to everyone else.  “Hey, I have relatives from Louisiana to whom the words ‘burning man’ says something very different.  We don’t talk about it much, but they make sure we’re all aware.  That’s not a good image.”

This emphasis on security as a concern is also an issue with Asian American culture, I’ve been told.  “My parents came to this country and worked their whole adult lives to create a secure environment.  That’s always the emphasis they gave to us too:  find security,” one Asian burner told me.  “I love Burning Man, but this is not the kind of environment you go to if you’re determined to find security.  It’s an environment you go to when you’re not worried about it.”

2)       The sexual mores of minority cultures tend to be significantly more conservative than those of Burners

Hispanic, Asian, and Black communities in America are often tied tightly to community churches, and those churches tend to be more conservative.  The result, I was told, was that even among minority non-believers and liberals of faith, the sexual mores can be habitually more buttoned down.

“Are you seriously telling me your friend’s girlfriend kissed you?” I was asked in one conversation with a non-burner I consider a close friend.  “On the lips?  Oh no.  You see … we don’t share.”  This wasn’t a conversation about polyandry … just social norms.  “Somebody says hello like that to my boyfriend?  We’re not okay, and he’d better not be okay either.”

The nudity at Burning Man likewise comes up as an issue – not something that is condemned so much as something that people “just aren’t comfortable with.”

There’s also the disturbing legacy of what happens when minorities get sexually involved with white people (see “security” above).  Historically, it has been wise for minorities to avoid any sexually charged situations involving white men and women.  “It’s something we watch out for that you don’t so much,” I was told.

A black male friend of mine referred to it as “The Emmett Till effect,” after the black man who was abducted and lynched in 1955 – and whose killers were acquitted.  That history’s hard to shake.

“Black men, in particular, are not going to feel comfortable in a sexually charged, public environment with flirty white women and overhyped, anarchic white guys,” he told me.  “If somebody’s white girlfriend starts being affectionate with me in public, I’m immediately on my guard and watching him to see if he took offence, and checking the eyes of every white male around to see if he got pissed. They may be super liberal at Burning Man, but there are racist liberals too, they just hide it better.”

3)      It would be difficult to get acceptance from one’s family and community

“I don’t really talk to my family about what happens out here,” one minority burner told me.  “It’s easier that way.  The reaction is always ‘that’s a white people thing.’  I’m used to doing things my family doesn’t understand or approve of.  It’s harder for other people.”

“There’s really no support for going from my friends,” another said.

This eventually leads to a self-selection phenomenon:  minorities don’t go to Burning Man because they don’t go to Burning Man.

“My relatives, down to my third cousins or whatever, are not part of the route that news of an event of this kind will take,” said a Hispanic friend of mine who would do really, really, really well at Burning Man if I can ever get him to come.  “I’m easily the closest they would come to having access to knowledge of Burning Man, but we are mutually culturally alien enough that this transmission wouldn’t even happen in the first place, say, at family party during the course of hanging out.”

4)       A different history with counter-culture movements

“To me, Burning Man is a flower-power thing,” I was told by a minority non-burner.  “That comes from white history.  In the 60s blacks did civil rights, whites did flower-power.  So Burning Man seems like freedom to you, but nothing about Burning Man seems like freedom to us.”  This is obviously an overgeneralization, but one with a lot of truth to it.

“Minority rebellion in the 60s saw itself as engaged in a project of claiming and reclaiming recognition as persons and as a People,” another minority non-burner said.  “White rebellion didn’t need to do that:  whites already had that recognition.   They were concerned with expressing their individuality.  It’s completely different.”

You can see it in the slogans.  A civil rights slogan of the 60s:  “I am a Man.”

The flower power slogan of the 60s:  “Let your freak flag fly!”

It’s obvious how Burning Man resembles the second one;  it’s not clear to me how it descends from the first.

Another issue:  without the kind of social safety net many whites take for granted (see “security” above … yet again) the legacy of counter-culture sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll was far more devastating to minority communities.  “You can romanticize getting wild and getting high and not having any limits, but we saw all the people like us who had this kind of lifestyle destroyed in the 70s.  They died or they burned out or they were targeted by the police and the FBI.”

Are these perspectives true?  I have no idea:  but it’s what I’ve been told over the past few years.  I don’t pretend to have any answers.  I also know that these are crass generalizations that don’t necessarily speak to any individual’s experience.

But Burning Man prizes diversity in so many ways – it strikes me as worth trying to understand the ways in which that message fails to come across.  I also think it’s an interesting lens through which to look at American culture as a whole.  I know I’ve learned something.

Finally, I don’t pretend to speak for burners of color.  I hope they’ll speak for themselves in the comments section.

Caveat is the Volunteer Coordinator for Media Mecca at Burning Man. Contact him at Caveat (at)

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have 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

198 Comments on “Is Burning Man a “White People Thing?”

  • Dustin says:

    Another reason I’ve heard is that many minority “communities” still have “communities”. They aren’t as hungry for somewhere to belong as a lot of white people.

    Income distribution is also probably a large factor. Burningman has been getting more and more expensive and definitely falls into the “discretionary spending” category for most people.

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  • Reverend Dak says:

    I’m a people of color but I’ve always wondered this “White People Thing” myself. I grew up, and still live, in the pretty diverse city of Los Angeles. My friends are a diverse group, but even then we don’t reflect the diversity of LA, much less the Country. I think you have something there with the racial security thing. I see it with some of the members of my extended family. I have cousins that only hang out with other cousins, as if they don’t have friends. I find it strange, but that’s because I didn’t live near any other family except my brother & sister. So my social life was filled with friends, and these friends were as diverse as those willing to do stupid shit with me like culture jam, drink obsessively, burn things, ride bikes, play D&D, and blow things up. It also helped that my friends are predominantly white, I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood and worked in places that were predominantly white.

    I’m used to it, therefore maybe I feel secure “enough” in a white people thing like Burning Man. I don’t know. But it could be as simple as the old proverb:

    Birds of a feather… blah blah blah. My feathers are freak colored.

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  • bekitty says:

    Systemic poverty and unequal wealth distribution would probably have a lot to do with it as well. If you have a choice of either paying for food and rent for a month, while also continuing to work (that is, if you HAVE a job in the first place) because you can’t afford to take time off, or going to BM for a week, which would you choose? I know which choice I’d make, and it wouldn’t be BM.

    I’m actually quite surprised that poverty wasn’t one of the main reasons listed in your original post.

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  • Caveat says:


    I didn’t mention poverty because it wasn’t something that any of the minority burners (or minority non-Burners I was encouraging to come to the event) brought up. They didn’t mention it, so I didn’t.

    That said, the impression I’ve had is that the issue isn’t money per see so much as attitudes towards money. I’ve met a metric ton of white burners who have used their very last dollar to go to Burning Man, managed to finagle a free ticket and hitchhiked, went to Burning Man without having an apartment to go back to, or went to Burning Man instead of looking for a job.

    Poverty itself, then, is an obstacle that can often be overcome if that’s one’s priority. But for the reasons listed here (a different attitude towards security, the fact that one’s community wouldn’t be encouraging, or the fact that Burning Man doesn’t seem such a desirable destination in the first place), minorities seem less inclined to make it that kind of priority — and to prioritize it even when money isn’t an issue.

    That, at least, is my impression: but I must emphasize that it really didn’t come up in the conversations I had, and that I don’t actually speak for anybody.

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  • Fez Monkey says:

    I see you make reference to the results of the 2010 BRC Census. Hell, I’m still waiting for the 2009 Census to be made public.

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  • Eli says:

    Thanks so much for your attempt to generate dialog around this, Caveat. It can be a hard subject to raise tactfully but directly and I think you’ve done about as well as can be done.

    I wonder if you encountered any thoughts/suggestions about how Burning Man might better welcome people of color? Or, do you and your interlocutors feel like these are factors that will continue to keep the event skewing white into the foreseeable future regardless?

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  • SHAKTI says:

    Very insightful post, thank you!

    PS:Diggin the Loius 14 pic as well, your choice?

    Happy abundant & prosperous 2012 one and all! (Love you guys…)

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  • James says:

    I would say money is the main reason. I don’t know what the average income of a burner is but that stat might be misleading. I often come across at least one person in a camp who can bankroll things somewhat. The important part is how much a camp spends. I usually spend a few thousand each year making sure my camp is well-prepared for the week ahead. That might be a new bike for a camp mate, food, camp structures, chairs, car, trailer, gas, goggles, masks, lights, etc.. But it’s hard to commit to something like this without someone being able to commit to handling the overflowing costs.

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  • Jacob says:

    Lots of Asians too. Phish… now THAT is a white crowd!

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  • samuel says:

    …or “First-World People Thing”?

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  • Frank O Rogers says:

    Well, i went from 95 till 01. There were NO old ( abouve 50) , nor kids ( !!! ) nor other than caucasian people back the 90s !!! And i have Video to prove it . But it has changed, obviously ! Since i missed CARL COX, bummer !!! But , yeah it used to be an all radical , early 20s or 30s, punk rock / grunge kind of occassion . And , it used to cost only about 40 bucks either………Say Hi to Miss P and Pepe for me. Greets, Frank.

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  • cobblepot says:

    how about –

    1. it involves camping

    2. the music sucks

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  • giggles says:

    I’d like to throw out another possibility.

    I don’t know a lot of minorities who are really “in” to camping. Not that they hate it or like it, they just don’t know it and find it a bit allen. If one is not exposed to it early on in life, it can be quite a mental barrier to overcome: no sewer system, no running water, etc.

    Having said this, I feel like my experience at BM has perhaps been more diverse; much greater than the 13% number cited, certainly.

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  • JV says:

    The camping thing, too. This is a huge generalization, but communities with histories of struggle don’t typically camp. It’s like a step backward. Why the fuck do they want to spend the night in a tent sleeping on the ground when they’ve struggled so hard to not have to do that? That kind of thing.

    Also, all the other things you mentioned. Very good post. The topic is something I’ve thought about as well. I’d love to see a more diverse population at BRC, here’s hoping it’s moving in that direction.

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  • Paul Williams says:

    I think it requires a level of immersion within the capitalist system that enables one to afford the luxury of attending as well as a degree of personal consumer excess high enough that one looks forward to an escape from that excess. Maybe it also requires a bit of blindness to the waste involved in a celebration that rejects attachment to worldly possessions by burning them to the ground. That said, I already have my tickets, airline reservations and RV reserved. I suspect that people of color attend in proportion to the percentage of them that have achieved this level of hypocrisy.

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  • Dig Dug says:

    Great post. My first instinct was that money was a huge issue too but upon further consideration, I don’t think it is. Based on the “priorities” theory (to which I strongly subscribe), money is not an issue for most things.

    The issue of “public opinion” was touched on in the paragraph ending in “FBI” in section 4, but I don’t think it was directly stated. By “public opinion” I mean that minorities might be concerned that engaging in the “craziest” and most publicly visible counter-culture event/party would reinforce the negative views of racists and reflect badly on them and their community.

    Example: a minority takes a week off of work at the end of August/beginning of September. *Someone* at work is going to figure it out and, as Caveat says, the reaction minorities have historically gotten from counter-culture behavior is bad, whereas the reaction white’s have gotten has been mediocre and sometimes even positive.

    I’ll follow Caveat’s lead here and state that I am not attempting to speak for minorities, merely hypothesizing. In fact, I’ve never spoken to a minority Burner about this subject or asked a minority non-Burner why they don’t attend.

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  • Cadeau says:

    I think we tend to do the things our friends and family do, and since there are so few people of color at BM, they can’t really spread the idea to friends and family. I’m part of the more spiritual part of Burning Man (I’m a healer) and few of the healers I encounter both within BM and outside are healers. It’s the same with some sports – I see very few African Americans skiing or golfing short of a few pros…few of them grew up doing it, so they aren’t interested. And yes, the camping thing…it’s not just camping, it really is radical self reliance. Very intimidating.

    I’m not sure how to get a more culturally diverse BM crowd, but I do feel we miss out given the lack. And Burners invite all friends, so asking them to focus on minorities won’t make a difference. No clue how to change that, but I’d support it.

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  • Halfer says:

    Re: Camping

    I’m half Japanese and I can tell you that the white side of my family LOVES camping and my Asian family and friends are not interested in it AT ALL. Of course, the last time they went camping, it was an internment camp, so there is that…

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  • DonnaMatrix said

    I resent being called “white.” I am peach. Peach is a color. Therefore I am a person of color just as much as any other darker skin human.

    This whole White v. Colored should just stop. Stand up against a white board. Compare colors…. and you’ll find you are a color, just a light one.

    White people are dead people. White as ghosts (well, lighter skinned ones). I am not dead. I am alive.

    Stop calling me white. Please.

    That, ladies and gentlemen, is white privilege in action.

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  • Mewlet says:

    I’m a Burner who is part of a minority group in another community and think these conversations are really important. The conclusions here are good and point to a larger trend of systemic privilege that many Burners are unaware they have (the point about assumed safety is the strongest one for me).

    Unfortunately, the post started off on the wrong note for me due to this line:

    >> “I notice there are almost no minorities here,” I told him. “You’re the first black person I’ve seen. Any idea why that is?” <<

    It sounds like the guy in question was happy to talk about the issue, but I've found that this question is a bit too tokenizing (asking a person to speak for their entire demographic); there are better ways to start this conversation without putting a person of color on the hotseat (i.e. talking to them about Burning Man overall – what they like and don't like – a perennially fascinating conversation!)

    A few commenters have mentioned minority groups being less comfortable with camping as a pasttime; I actually heard an NPR story on this a couple months ago:

    There are so many great social justice blogs online right now, and getting started reading a few of them regularly (Native Appropriations is a great one for looking more critically at Burner culture, even if it's not addressed directly) has jump-started my thinking about creating more inclusive spaces everywhere in my life. Burning Man in its ideal form would welcome, and be a safe space for, people of all identities and backgrounds – but in the meantime we don't drop all of our unconscious biases once we step on the playa, no matter how much we'd like to think we do. We have a wildly diverse, passionate community that could stand to be even more diverse – what a fantastic opportunity!

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  • Murali Allada says:

    I think points 2 and 3 are the most likely reasons. I’m Indian and I know that people from my culture are sexually conservative and we want to be accepted by our community. These were the two issues on my mind when I was deciding to go to burning man for the first time.

    It’s definitely not the cost or the fact that theres camping involved. Typically, minorities can live in places without proper sanitation or conditions that are harsh.

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  • Chuffy says:

    Maybe it’s a combination of factors: white privilege extends to the types of freedoms that Burners hold dear, but then there’s the very practical disinclination to attend a weeks-long event in the August heat, in an inhospitable clime, with a bunch of freaks who are all about total freedom. Total freedom involves risk, too. Total freedom doesn’t involve The Man.

    Another aspect is messaging. Americans are gravitating towards fascism, and the politics of dominance and submission. Going to hang out with a bunch of techno-listening, drug-addled white people in the desert wouldn’t necessarily sound like a good time to many people.

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  • LuxNocte says:

    If expense “wasn’t mentioned by anyone you talked to” then you didn’t prepare enough to write a decent article. It’s obviously the elephant in the room.

    Your take in the comments strikes me as further misunderstanding of the situation. That white burner probably can go to Burning Man without an apartment to go back home to, but still know they can crash on a parent’s couch…where minority would-be burners know that every week they go without employment makes a larger gap in their work history that makes it even harder for them to find a job. Remember that unemployment for minorities is much higher than for whites.

    “The Recession” hit minorities harder than it did whites, and minorities already tend to be a little bit lower on the economic totem pole. I’m sure some of you know how to plan a frugal burn, but at best this is quite an expensive vacation…not to mention the ability to take a week off work, which can be harder when we consider the types of jobs that minorities have, and the fact that minorities are more likely to be living pay check to paycheck.

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  • John says:

    Definitely not. I’m asian, well, filipino, and I love it.

    I was hesitant at first, but I loved it! 2 years in a row now… and I’m shooting for a 3rd this year

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  • deknoggin says:

    My white camping friends who are use to dry camping wont come to a burn with me because they don’t get the whole “dust bowl” thing. I say it’s an etchosketch effect, the whiteouts wipe the slate clean and you begin again brand new. They look at me like I’m crazy. I say you are greated at the gate with a WELCOME HOME…then you jump on your bike and ride…to THE ART, big and boldly placed on the grandest canvas they will ever see…and in between you drink a little drink, smoke a little smoke and meet new fokes… then in the end, they BLOW THINGS UP!!! My white camping friends say …I don’t know… the heat…the dust…sounds like too much work…what about going to that music thing down in Plam Springs…
    I guess my point is some fokes just are not Burners.
    We may be everywhere, but most people (peachie or more tanned) are not like us, they have more common sense then to drive to the middle of a dust bowl to look at some art..
    You kinda have ta like the KABOOM AND DANCING AROUND THE FIRE!!!

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  • stikmon says:

    wow what a gr8 discussion this will be my 5th burn this year and my first year i thought like alot of people that go some were in the middle of no were into a culture unfamillar to me so i asked my hommie should i bring a gun? why cause i grew up in the hood … cause im a minority…no cause ive traveled the world and theres alot of crazy shit out there i had skin heads try to kill me in prauge so not that im scared to hang out with a bunch of crazy white people cause of shit ive seen with this brown skin in this world but i do feel burning man cost way to much and wealth makes it easier to go have an rv mutant car all the other cool shit but to keep it real its very hard for some one like me big tall black guy with tons of tattoos and peircings to find comfortable places in the world to feel welcome and relaxed but i do at burningman and dont give a shit about color or orientaion its the most awesome place ive ever been

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  • Talicia says:

    It’s because they dont know.

    I’m black and heard about it for the first time in 2007. I then went in 2007.

    In 2008, I brought a black friend.

    In 2010, WE brought more black friends, our art and our music.

    By 2017, the minorities will take over.

    You’re welcome.

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  • Mandra says:

    I have tried to get several of my minority friends to join me at BM, among my hispanic friends I haven’t come across a common theme except maybe the costs, however the overwhelming majority of African American friends mention the heat and that “black people don’t camp”. The same is true for my Asian friends, except they seem to be more focues on the dirt and the desire for comfort.

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  • E says:

    Yes. I am a Burning Man goer (8 years!), and a POC (Person of Color), and I can unequivocally say that Burning Man is a White People Thing. This article touched on a couple of reasons why, but the whole “POC are weird and CONFUSING” vibe I got from it made me kind of clutch my head.

    1. This is pretty accurate. Historically white spaces (like Burning Man was and is) are going to make any minority person uncomfortable. Period. And the myriad of law enforcement seen out there by any Burner out there is going to be 100x more uncomfortable to a POC, especially if they’re Black and/or male.

    2. and 3. Uhhmm… WTF? No. Just… no. That whole “Those POC are Weird and CONFUSING!” vibe I mentioned from the article? That right there. There are plenty of White folk Burners who have trouble getting accepted for their weirdness/freakiness, it’s not really any different for POC.

    4. Sort of?

    This reason did not get touched on at ALL: Cultural appropriation/romanticization out the yin-yang. Anytime you see anything called “tribal” or a petite little blonde chick wearing a Native American warbonnet or anytime you see someone Not Asian decked out in so-called “Asian” costumery — that is cultural appropriation. There are some POC who don’t really care about cultural appropriation, but there are a whole lot who do, and seeing White people exercise their privilege by putting our cultures on like costumes is insulting and degrading.

    So why the hell do I go to Burning Man every year? I’ve managed to build myself something of a community of people, some who are like family, to give myself a sense of safety and security that many POC lack. I love the crazy art out there. I also have the privilege of enough disposable income to make it possible. I go because I like to put myself in extreme conditions and challenge myself. I go because The Burner community does have potential for greatness, and I’ve enjoyed being part of something bigger than myself.

    OTOH I have been a victim of both positive and negative racism out on the Playa. I have been cornered and asked to represent my race, tokenized, and expected to teach Racism 101 to ignorant folks. I’ve been “casually” followed by LE when out walking by myself. And some of the racist shit that Burners have come up with… does anyone else remember Visionary Village’s “Go Native!” party? Yeah, I do. That was a huge pile of BS right there.

    I have some really great memories of the Playa. I hope to have more. But the very fact that there are a bunch of White people arguing over whether or not this is a White person thing kind of makes me guffaw.

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  • Whiskey says:

    I’m a burner “of color”. There’s truth to a number of these factors. I don’t think it’s any single one of them. Security, community, sexual conservatism, acceptance, cultural disagreement… they all ring true to some degree based on the background of the individual non-burner in question. But I do agree with the comments above that socioeconomic status play a very large part. Leaving that out of the discussion would be like trying to figure out how to describe drug-induced hallucinations yet never having tried psychedelics.

    It’s not just about money, it’s about one’s entire relationship with money. Abject poverty is hell. Multi-generational struggles to climb out of the depths of poverty leave psychological scars. We’re only a couple of generations past the civil rights movement. Class mobility has only been a reality for minorities for a couple of decades. A number of social problems we’re conditioned to think of as racial are really class-based. Minorities in affluence are still relative social novelties. It takes a while of getting used to middle-class norms like social safety nets, concepts of security, life goals, material wealth, and dissatisfaction with what’s left of the American dream before you get so fed up with them that it radicalizes you into counter-culture.

    That or you have issues you needed to work out and you accidentally found an avenue to do that in this thing called Burning Man. Which is what happened to me. And that’s also the common thread I see amongst all the other minority burners I know (Come to think of it, that’s pretty spot on. That hadn’t occurred to me until just now. I don’t typically separate the minority burners I know from other burners based on ethnicity).

    And I was financially privileged enough at the time that happened to not feel like I was being a dick by blowing the hard-earned opportunity my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents worked their asses off to provide for me by going out to the middle of the desert and destroying everything I own.

    So yeah. I’d say socioeconomic status plays a big role in why it’s “a white people thing.” Big enough that it should be further discussed, anyway.

    Give it another generation. It’s not a white people thing, IMHO. It’s a middle-class thing.

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  • Sp@rkle says:

    I am considered a “minority” when you speak of race, however, I grew up in North America, am of a mixed Asian descent, and have been to Burningman twice now.

    To be honest with you, I really never realized that people were any color while I was on the Playa. Nor was I treated in any way that my race was an issue. In fact, it was such a non-issue, I didn’t notice anything.

    Upon reflection, I have met asian, hispanic, black, white, beige, whatever you want to call them, and even green (body paint) on the Playa.

    While travelling, I saw groups of all different colors, mixed race groups, all converging on San Francisco, Reno and eventually in BRC.

    Perhaps it may have started as a “white man” thing, all I know is that when I am at BRC, my color doesn’t matter, I meet amazing, kind, open hearted people, and if there happens to be a few unfriendlies, I know it’s there to show me contrast, and that even in BRC, some people don’t necessarily read the 10 Burningman Principles, or observe them. That’s ok. One of those 10 Burningman Principles is: Radical Acceptance. I accept that there are people who choose a different experience than me. I accept that my experience is what I make of it – by my participation. I do not play spectator.

    I have enjoyed both of my burns. I have met and fallen in love with the beautiful people and friends I have met on the Playa. I will be there for BRC 2012.

    As far as I am concerned, my color doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to the people I meet on the Playa, and it doesn’t matter to me. We are all beautiful souls, creating an experience on the Playa.

    If people choose to think that it is not for them, guess what? It’s probably not for them. It seems to be that those who are willing to open their hearts and minds to something indescribable, are the ones who end up there.

    If your friend doesn’t want to go. She shouldn’t go.
    Burner to Burner – “Burningman sucks. Tell all your friends.” ;-)

    Playa Love to you, Caveat. <3 xo See you back home at the end of August. <3

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  • Marie says:

    I’ve always wanted to go to BM. But. Although I am “white”, I am not young. Although I am occasionally an artist, I am not revolutionary. And to be part of a group of people who at 87% don’t represent my reality (I live in a country where I’m the minority and happy to be so), I’m wondering. The IDEAL of BM, to me, is the creation of art for art’s sake, the ephemeral nature of life in general. But, as a white, older female… I’d miss the diversity of all that this earth has to offer. Because art lives in the heart of all.

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  • Melanie says:

    It’s interesting that we are questioning why more minorities don’t go. I’m a plain old European mutt (aka white girl). I grew up near Washington dc and had friends of all races and religions. Never occurred to me to think about race, but I also realize I probably have a limited perspective. With that said, the person who introduced me to burning man is my boyfriend (who happens to be a poc). I’ve never thought of bm as a white thing. I’d never heard about it until I moved to CA. So I’ve always thought of it as a west coast thing. Additionally, I’m a pretty “boring” person aka not really the counter culture type. So the other way I thought about bm is that it was a “drug thing” and I’ve never even puffed a nicotine cigarette. I was drawn in by the pictures of the most amazing art work that my boyfriend brought back from hhis first burn. I’m going this year for my third burn. I think it’s amazing and that it can’t be classified as a white thing or west coast thing or a drug thing. It isn’t any one thing. It’s everything and anything you, we, all decide to make it.

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  • ced says:

    russians would never ever go to BM. east eurpeans in general would never set a foot there. they are mostly white. in that respect i think they are very close to black americans. they like luxury …it is a generality of course ….

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  • Blu says:

    Burning Man: the most diverse group of white people you will ever meet.

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  • nncxco says:

    Burning Man is like an inclusive Bohemian Grove. It is a world of privilege and that my friends is a white man’s thing.

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  • Citizen Z says:

    I can’t be the only Pakistani to have attended Burning Man #brownsploitation I do just fine in the desert ;)

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  • Nickrz says:

    “I resent being called “white.” I am peach. Peach is a color. Therefore I am a person of color just as much as any other darker skin human.

    This whole White v. Colored should just stop. Stand up against a white board. Compare colors…. and you’ll find you are a color, just a light one.

    White people are dead people. White as ghosts (well, lighter skinned ones). I am not dead. I am alive.

    Stop calling me white. Please.”

    -That, ladies and gentlemen, is white privilege in action.-

    Thank you Elias Hiebert for drawing this obvious conclusion. Most ‘White People’ don’t understand their privilege and it’s comments like the above that exacerbate the disadvantage most minorities experience.

    Excellent article and one I have discussed with many of my minority friends in Australia. I think you have done well to summarise the key points.

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  • Dan says:

    Interesting, but I doubt it has even been established that there even is any statistically valid disparity. Has anybody studied the BRC demographics with appropriate corrections for income levels and education levels? I would not expect the racial/ethnic makeup of the Burner population to match that of the US, or of San Francisco, unless the Burner population matched the income, educational, etc. distributions of the rest of the population, and I would be very surprised if that is the case. I highly suspect that the Burner population is not only whiter but also more affluent and more college educated, and that the second and third factors account for the first. But, it would require a lot more detailed demographic data to prove or disprove that. So is anybody doing real statistical demographic studies on Burners? Does that data exist, and is it publicly available anywhere? If not, this whole discussion seems premature.

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  • Diana K says:

    Did the burn this year seem a lot more diverse to anyone? We were camped next to a big group of about 20 asian kids. Met lots of Israelis, and saw a surprising number of blacks and latinos as well. That might just be my own bias, since I’m actively looking out for and noticing people of color.
    Another thing to keep in mind is that many people of hispanic descent look fairly white. My parents are Mexican and Spanish was my first language, but I don’t think most people could guess my race (a week of tanning makes it more obvious). You can’t always tell someone’s background from their skin color. You just have to talk to people. : )

    As a side note, pictures I saw from the South African burn were disturbingly whitewashed. Society there is still pretty segregated, from what I know.

    One more thing: whenever we see someone wearing one of those IDIOTIC “Indian” costumes, let’s all agree to say something, yeah? It’s just not cool, not cool at all. Freedom of expression isn’t an excuse for casual racism. Maybe social pressure will encourage them to show a little respect and sensitivity. Especially considering the historical significance of the area. True, the line between vague “tribal” style and overt cultural appropriation can be blurry, but that’s a discussion for another time… For now, here’s a good blog about the issue:

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  • Shine says:

    Well done, Caveat. The first step in social change is social awareness. And white people (myself included) take whiteness for granted. For example: your article begins by mentioning your friend, the black woman from Brooklyn. You did not mention that you are white… the readers just assume so.

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  • jwharhar says:

    White means giving up your background and being assimilated into the majority. Some burners are naturally free spirits or outsiders, but they can always be re-absorbed into the mainstream with less effort than someone who cannot ever be mistaken as “white.” Being colorful for a week in the desert might not have the same appeal for those who feel like they are outside of the mainstram all the time.

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  • ZehdD says:

    Love all the interaction created by this topic. I am a Mexican planning my first trip this year. i may not be the ‘POC” that my ethnicity suggests though. I have always cbeen called a coconut (brown outside, white on the inside) by my Mexican friends/coworkers. I don’t count it an insult, just a statement of being. I am hoping not to find black burners, white burners, or the dreaded plaid burners, just burners. While on this topic, how many of really know of someone from Hispania, Hispaniola, or Hispanicia heights?
    We are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, brazilians and on the rare occasion even Guacamalians. I know you envy the tan, but I am not, not have I ever been Hispanic.

    Adios for now

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  • burninggirl says:

    I hadn’t given the whole color thing much thought, bec. I felt there was enough diversity present there, but A) White people started it, and the whole area of that country is white (aside from the Native Americans), so I really wouldn’t expect to see a lot of racial diversity there, even if it is imported. People do come from other countries, but still…) B) The money thing is def. a factor, esp. when coming from anywhere outside the Bay area. I don’t care what color you are, if you’re not rolling in green. Yeah, it is a commitment, and, yeah, it can be done. I’m always broke, and I’ve gone, but maybe it is easier for whites to find jobs in general (if you have to find one when you come back). C) Yeah, some of my Burner friends are black, so I don’t want to generalize more here, but black people are def. not into camping (in general). Didn’t you see the Oprah show where she goes camping? LOL. Camping is pretty new for Asians, actually (in Asia), so that is def. a cultural thing. I don’t know what the S. Americans do, but many of them do live in what look like cardboard boxes (seriously, I’ve seen it), so a lot of them prolly aren’t inclined to do the camping thing, as was pointed out in some of the first threads (upward mobility/regression comment).

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  • Billee says:

    I am so glad to see this discussion happening. I was aware of the lack of native Americans and African Americans at Burning Man, and felt a little like a privileged white fella I am from Australia, in a remote place called Darwin, where we have a large Indigenous population. Australia is also a colonised country, like the US and Canada where the Indigenous population suffer from extreme poverty and loss of identity, culture, community and family. We also have minorities, mainly from Asia. Indigenous communities of Australia are trying to regain there identity in modern culture, and tend to like the same sort of music, where similar clothes, and undertake similar recreational activities. Burning Man would definitely not fit into that identity. Its more reggae and hip hop, and urban. When I talk to Indigenous people about visiting the US, or other places overseas, and going to Burning Man, they look at me like an idiot. They would much prefer to be at home on their land with their community.

    I would agree too that some of the free loving type activities at Burning Man would not be comfortably accepted by more conservative older cultures. So maybe Burning Man with its free thinking, free acting policy is unfortunately actually not making it inviting to older cultures and beliefs.

    Maybe we should look at why us White fellas are drawn to Burning Man? Do we lack culture, community, family in our own white fella culture at home?

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  • Upland says:

    Hmmm. There is no white people after 3 days in BRC

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  • Jimmy says:

    As prices continue to rise, eventually only Saudi sheiks will be able to afford a ticket and you will see the racial scales start to tip. Until then, yeah. Cobblepot said it already. It involves camping and the music sucks.

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  • gabe mott says:

    We tripped out on this topic back in 2003. And we went around Oakland and asked African Americans why they thought Burning Man was mostly white. The responses revealed the stereotypes and the idea of self expression in the African American community. The conclusion includes voiceover from Larry Harvey.

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  • White African says: – camping is there somewhere….

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  • Karen says:

    Instead of thinking about why ‘people of color’ don’t attend BM as a whole-flip flop it. Why do the majority of people go to Burning Man? I think an important reason is to find a tribe, a status, a home. Our ‘majority white’ culture does not provide that for them anymore. They are ‘burners’.

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  • Simon of the playa says:

    I dont know what your Niggas’s are talking about…

    I OWN this bitch.


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  • ced says:

    that all privileged white , poor black is just not making sens. snoop dogg or oprah ….are richer than all burners put together and they would not come to the playa. it is just not their thing. nothing to do with the color of their skin. its just not their thing. those black people who are saying “its a white people thing” just need to relax…and maybe go there and make it a colored people thing. it is just up to them . you dont need to be white or black privileged to go the burn. if you think the music sucks, bring your own. if you dont want to camp, bring your goddamn house. if you think the art isnt representing your culture, your skin color or your background MAKE your own: i will be thrilled to look at it and take pictures. Burningman isnt black or white. its whatever you bring to it. im white. not with any privilege:( illegal alien as they call me ) , dwell in a van on the 395 , make 500$ a month. i go to the burn every year and i am very happy.

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  • Andrew says:

    Minorities not camping is pretty real. I know the overwhelming whiteness of National Park visitors is something the NPS is concerned about, but I haven’t found any systemwide statistics looking just now. According to the links below, Yosemite visitors were 88% white, 11% Asian (and 11% Hispanic which is also included in the white count). Still, not very diverse. Everglades visitors were 98% white, around 6% Hispanic, and this is a park in very diverse part of the country. Plus, those statistics are total visitor counts; not everybody who visits camps, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the overnight camping visitors skew even whiter.

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  • joe says:

    White people are… crazy
    Black people are… cool
    Hispanic people are… sexy
    Asian people are… smart
    Indiginous people are… earthy
    Ok, now mix it all up
    and dump onto an ancient sea bed
    and smile a lot

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  • as you can see by the many comments you’ve written a very thoughtful article Caveat!

    it doesnt have to be but it’s obviously a White People Thing. i am Colombian and i attend because i share in many things that white people like. my white friends introduced me to BM and most of my friends are white. if you’re not friends with white people or comfortable with tons of them acting wild in a harsh environment then it’s much harder to have any inclination to attend or to “prioritize” your lower-than-most-white-people income in our current shitty economy.

    as Dan and Fez Monkey mentioned, what’s going on with the 2009 and 2010 census data? it’d be nice if everyone could study and access this data! here’s the one from 2008 for anyone interested:

    you can link to the previous years at the bottom of each.

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  • Buff Sanitized says:

    The one-man show that was staged a few years ago in Los Angeles “Burner: Tales from the Playa” by Oh Tony (a person of color) touches on this subject.

    His ideas and personal experience regarding issues of race at the burn are interesting and well stated. Race is not in any way the thrust of the piece. The narrative is absolutely universal burner — but the personal that he fills it with is telling and informative. If interested, you can watch it in parts on-line. Info and link below.

    “Burner: Tales from the Playa” is a one-man show written and performed by Tony Edwards, who goes by the “playa name” of OhTony. It is the true story of a six-time “Burner” and chronicles the joy, heartbreak, amazement and life lessons learned at Burning Man, the annual festival which takes place on Black Rock Lake, a remote, dry lake bed in Northern Nevada, loving known to Burners as “the playa”.

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  • JV says:

    “Give it another generation. It’s not a white people thing, IMHO. It’s a middle-class thing.”

    Yes and yes. And that’s not a criticism of the middle-class, just a fact.

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  • Pepper says:

    White burner here.

    When I first visited Burning Man in 1998, I was stunned by how it was almost 100% white. Really: I saw a single person of color there during my 4-day trip, a Native American man.

    So BM may be 13% people of color, but some of that might be historical inertia: that’s 13% more than it used to be, more or less.

    I’m not saying this to excuse the BM org or population. I think there has been almost no outreach to POC or public consideration of the whiteness of Burning Man and what that means. I’m pleased to see this article but I think it’s only a first step.

    I’m in agreement with E above that cultural appropriation is a huge deal, at least for folks who make it out to the playa. I’m white and the shit is constantly bugging me and up in my face, so I could only imagine what it would be like if it were my culture being appropriated. Though perhaps I’m projecting and people of color get thick skins or something. But it’s rampant in any case.

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  • AirChorizo says:

    is burning man a white thing?
    maybe, but i found it to be a collection of minds. there are no dumb ideas, things, or actions, just misunderstood perceptions on what is smart. add the most beautiful back drops you’d ever see, and it becomes a bliss-ful paradise. at the end of the week we’re all grey anyways………..oh and in case u didnt know already im Mexican

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  • Buff Sanitized says:

    As for appropriation of culture, it can get a bit silly out there on the playa but that’s part of the point, isn’t it?

    Whenever folks speak of cultural appropriation I’m reminded of I time I was in Cameroon in the early 90s. It seemed everywhere I went people were playing Paul Simon’s Graceland album. From mud huts you’d hear this and Madonna blasting from cheap Nigerian radios. Being a product of a privileged liberal education I would ask the citizens how they felt about this “white American making all this money on African music” — as I was convinced it was “cultural appropriation — if not downright theft.

    Not one African I met shared my perspective. Their response time and time again?

    “African music is not only for Africans. African music is for everybody.”

    That has always stuck with me. It’s not the end-all of the issue… but it is something to consider.

    Love you all!

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  • brownish says:

    None of my black friends want to go camping, at all, ever. ‘We fought this hard to get inside nice houses, with nice things, why the FUCK would I want to go out into that kind of hardship ON PURPOSE??’
    is a response I’ve gotten a lot.

    Working the gate at SF decompression, a black person came to my window. ‘Hi! I’m the black guy!’ he said. I then told the three subsequent black people ‘Oops, the black guy’s already here!’, to which each of them replied something along the lines of ‘yeah, he’s waiting for me’ or some other snarky joke.

    It’s no secret to anyone but the white people that there are hardly any PoCs at BM.
    We have community outside of the crazy art world, true.
    I’m sure there are any number of other theories, but mostly ‘why the fuck would I want to do that?’ is up there on the response scale.

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  • Jammie says:

    Agree with the one above.
    4 main factors:

    -Music selection
    -(nouveau) Hippies

    It’s a White persons thing.

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  • Micah..BlackLight says:

    Caveat!! EXCELLENT article, and seriously really cool approach to the entire thing [in my opinion]. I am a POC, and a Burner of about six years or so and, of course, I LOVE IT!! I think most, if not all, of the reasons you touched on and/or mentioned have a LOT to do with the phenomena in my opinion. Also, as mentioned in some of the comments above, ignorance plays a huge role- I mean literal ignorance.. like, a great number of POC in my experience, have either never heard of the Burn, or never heard of it from anyone who’s actually BEEN. The issue of money I think plays a huge role as well, but a lot different from what some might think. In my experience, although the cost has been VERY prohibitive for a great many of the folk I know, including myself, it’s not that alone which stops people from going. It’s been my experience, that a great number of factors go into the contemplation of saving up and then spending all that money in a single place.. First, many POC’s, based on where we were brought up and HOW we were brought up, don’t even think it’s necessarily possible to catch a flight to somewhere across the country purely for pleasure- I used to think of THAT as a “white people thing” even though I wouldn’t think twice about buying an item of clothing that cost the same amount as a plane ticket. It wouldn’t occur to me that it was remotely close to the same thing. Once I went to my first Burn, I realized just how limited my vision of WHAT WAS POSSIBLE for me was.. I think privilege does come into play, class comes into play, but all these things play out in a much more insidious way than a great many people realize. Going out to the middle of the desert, with not a lot of people who look like you, and music that most likely will be unfamiliar, and attitudes toward sexuality, and sexual preference, and nudity that are frowned upon within many communities outside of the Burn, and having to spend a CHUNK of money to do it? It can be hard to communicate the benefits of that particular set of circumstances to an individual who’s barely left the confines of their neighborhood or their home town except to visit family their ENTIRE LIVES.
    That said, once I went, OMG, ALL KINDS of doors just opened up in my head, and I realized I could go ANYWhere, and that sexuality didn’t have to be all hushed up or only brazen in specific circumstances, and I just had to get over my own homophobia when it came to nekkid dudes, because for me, it meant I got the other side DELICIOUS privilege of seeing tons of naked beautiful women-Love that- so it was a trade I was willing to make. But even as I was experiencing it, I was going through a mental checklist of folk that I would LOVE to come, who I personally wouldn’t think could take it. they’d freak out at the first sight of a naked male; or freak out [in a different way] at first sight of a naked female. There’s a particular mindset I feel one must be at least partially ready to embrace, in order to enjoy the Burn, and a great many of the communities of color have created some really strict mores and norms that are extremely oppressive in a lot of ways, none of which tend to jibe with that kind of freedom.
    lastly, I have most assuredly noticed an increase in the last couple of years in terms of folk of color, and I think a lot of it has to do with people like me and several others in the comments who come back and talk to EVERYBODY we can extolling the virtues of that crazy desert city with everything and anything available if you look for it. slowly there is progress, and soon- this won’t be such an issue aaaaany more.:)

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  • ced says:

    the majority of black americans are just snobs!! and way too uptight. they just need to relax. My camp once had one afghany, iranians and israelis (met rock climbing in the sierra) (not white right?) they LOVED it. they wish they could bring more people from their respective countries because in those countries they dont have the very privilege to just consider such an event…

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  • Nick says:

    Because Burning Man requires an enormous double scoop of privilege to get into. The amount of money and resources required to create a money-less, free-spirited environment is a HUGE privilege that goes uncomfortably unexamined by most of the burners I’ve met.

    In fact I’d say unexamined privilege is the main thing that makes me uncomfortable with Burner culture.

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  • Stunning Steve says:

    There is about 15% or more burners that came from Canada and our national language is English and French. Would be be in the colour profile?

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  • crazy otter says:

    I think there might be more POC on the playa than we all think, they just turn white and dusty after the first big blow so they look like the rest of us. :)

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  • Hapto McGee says:

    I see it a bit as a function of class, more than a function of race.

    In a class society, you’ve got things that folks can afford, and an attractive aesthetic to that class level.
    Burners tend to have some disposable income laying around. In not-so-fortunate classes, folks may be more inclined to use the little that they’ve got to be a little more comfortable in their lives.

    I mean compare it less to the cultural aspects, and more to mystique of “international travel” — since both require significant levels of effort. Also, why on earth, would we spend *this much money* on something that isn’t given to us in a nice package (like a resort, etc, and wouldn’t offer a visible, attractive escape from our lives?

    I mean, in India, where I’m working now, rural life is a lot like camping. You get a cot, you get a adhoc shelter, maybe a tarp or two, a stove connected to a natural gas tank. In some sense, its like burning man, without the nudity, sex drugs and sock puppets. “White people” or “people with enough disposable income” want to escape their lives too… we want to escape our privilege for a little bit, we want to make things happen in a world where we are given a lot of things. We want to make life harder… just a little, and just for a little while.

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  • Roissy says:

    I always find it interesting, those people who claim they want a colorblind society, are the ones who are always counting… As for me, I don’t care if we have x amount of this color or y amount of that. And who are we to make a judgment on that part of a person? Stick with the character, to hell with the appearance….
    I thought, that is what this little experiment is suppose to be about…???

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  • Domain says:

    If Burners have friends of other cultures that don’t feel comfortable about going to the Playa (for whatever reason,) then we should invite them to come with us to a Regional Burn. The Regionals are usually 1 day events, a little tamer than the Playa and a lot less expensive. In that way, we can hope that our friends will share their diverse creativity and expression.

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  • Anonymous says:

    How typical that white people would stereotypes to me why I am not welcome at burning man.

    Thanks for the blog post, I didn’t realize those involved felt this way.

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  • playamoth says:

    We are we still looking at color on the playa? I saw a lot of black, red, and browns there. They are dusted white.

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  • dsaxena says:

    Interesting read. My theory is that Burning Man, like many counter-culture “movements” and communities,are created by people who did not have a strong sense of community or family ties when growing up and are seeking a new definition of both. As a minority in this country, there tends to be more of a need to stick together and take care of each other than if you are part of the majority class/culture where you have privileges others may not. If you grow up with a strong sense of community, tied to your basic survival, my guess is you are less likely to seek alternative forms of such. While I am technically a minority, I didn’t grow up with close ties to extended family or the Indian immigrant culture and have sought out to create my own family weaved of myriad non-mainstream cultural movements.

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  • Yeah Yeah says:

    As a middle easterner, I’ve been considered by some as white, and by others as non-white. I nonetheless have met so many people on playa as a barker for my camp. From the number of people I’ve personally seen come take photos with the camp, only 2 or so out of 10 are POCs. It’s actually quite disappointing in some ways, but also requires that we put out the word better. I live in Boston and barely anyone around here knows what burning man is. Had they been better informed, I would imagine more people would come regardless of their heritage/background. Money is most certainly a factor for people who have to take a flight and buy all the gear nearby… so while yes, it is possible to do with nothing and perhaps even sparkle pony it up for a while, I personally like having the conveniences of my camp and putting in a fair share. I know a number of people who have to fly from Australia, Germany, Israel etc. to get to the burn, so for them it’s even harder. If we want to see more internationals (or even east coasters) come and return year after year, we need better means of storage for those people so that the sunk costs aren’t repeated on a yearly basis.

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  • Aik says:

    Black people are just not as open minded about certain things like this because they tend to be more conservative. This has less to do with money but how class and race coincide. Becauae of the history of the slavery esepcially in American balck peole still see certain things as white priviledges and thus a white thing even when they have money e.g. the still pervasive idea that being eduated is a white person thing and a middle- upper class educated black person is ‘acting white’. While this has been very true in the past, it still holds blacks from trying out new things when the oppurtunities arises and breaking the idea of what it a “white/black thing”. While I understand the reason for ths thinking, by continuing to think like this it only makes it more true, preventing black people from experiencing new things.

    I am Nigerian and I want to go to this event at some point in my life and the thought that it is a white thing didnt even cross my mind until iread this article. Even the idea that I would be ashamed to tell my friends is weird – my parent sure because they are just plain conservative but that has nothing to do with shame or me being black : they just wouldnt get it, culturally this is an ‘American’ thing! Now that I have read this I agree that given the history of America safety at Burning Man could be an issue for me as race is a factor in many places but only slightly. I would be catious like anywhere else but Burning Man does not inspire fear or inspire ideas of lyncng which someone refernced. I guess it makes sense since its occured in America’s history, but I think black people should expose themselves to more things and if they are not going to at least stop definining everything as soley a white person thing.Its gonna be that way if we dont participate more. I get it there are cultural and racial differencs but I am actually getting sick of hearing that when I or another black persn does something different for a change . I really dont care if it is a white thing or not, I cant wait for Burning Man!

    So yea: aside from finiancial issue, conservatism and other real road blocks stoppingthem, black people also hold themselves back when they make everything as a white/black thing and not exposing themselves to more when they can.

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  • Aik says:

    “I always find it interesting, those people who claim they want a colorblind society, are the ones who are always counting”

    I agree with Roissy

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  • Japes says:

    Perhaps burners’ penchant for self-aggrandizement might be a big enough turnoff to keep anyone, minority or not, out of BRC.

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  • Francisco says:

    I’m of mixed race, half Jewish and half Mexican. I’m pleased to say that I’ve started to see more Latinos show up in the last two Burns, though it is true that White people far outnumber any minorities.

    I agree with lots of the reasons why minorities don’t go to Burning Man in this article. The Latino population is very tight-knit, conformist, and community-oriented. Burning Man is a very radical, individualist event, and it’s hard to get single Latinos to branch out to such a different environment.

    There is also, sadly, a deep machismo and homophobic sentiment embedded in Latino culture, and this makes many males uncomfortable around open and expressive gays. In general, BM culture is and extreme jump from what most Latinos are used to.

    Income also plays a big role. It does cost a lot of money and commitment to go, and Latinos by and large do not have a lot of disposable income.

    As a person of mixed race, I felt right at home on the Playa. Burning Man offered me something I couldn’t get at home: a place to fit in. Though I felt attached to both the Jewish and Latino communities I was a part of, I also felt that I didn’t fit perfectly in either. BM gave me the release I was looking for, and it also made me appreciate my cultural roots as well. As a result of becoming a Burner, I found myself becoming more active in both communities. In short: Burning Man helped me find my center and made me comfortable in my skin, and I was able to use the new Me to become a more active participant in the default world

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  • Alena says:

    This article made me think how I would feel if I were one of only a few females to attend – I mean if burning man was a “man thing.” I would be extremely uncomfortable knowing it was so exclusive, and #1 on the list would definitely be a reason. Maybe it’s not a valid comparison…but I do think that burning man is a lot of things, many of which involve exclusivity in one way or another. Personally, I’ve felt like a foreigner at bm the couple of times that I’ve attended, but I feel like a foreigner in the default world too. So does that mean that bm is not all that much different than the default world, with all of its heirarchies? I don’t know, but I continue to be excited about bm because I have this hope that I will eventually experience something different…something that feels like acceptance.

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  • Bartholomew Burner says:

    Sad. I’ve heard a couple people of color say that from the outside looking in. It’s only “a white thing, you wouldn’t understand” if you don’t go. I think more of it is explained by income level and education as I’ve seen a fair number of Asians of late (that’s 50% of me, btw) there and the tickets and associated costs are relatively expensive. I could see some people of color being worried about a breakdown in rural Nevada.

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  • Eugene Wild E says:

    Com’ on people. You all are over thinking this way too much. It is not complicated why there are not more minorities at Burning Man. First let me say right off that I am Black and one of the few minorities who think Black Rock City rocks.

    I have been following this blog since it started and have found it to be provocative, stimulating, sometime inspiring and in general a great insight into the way different people approach race and BM.

    First of all let’s just take ‘poor people’ of the table regardless of race. If you are truly poor and it is a chronic condition then any form of discretionary activity is out of the question. Your whole life revolves around survival. And by the way, all Black people are not poor. It is true that the black community has a higher percent population wise compared to other races. Still there is a ‘hidden’ large and active Black population who can afford and do whatever they want.

    So why don’t Blacks choose Burning Man? I agree with C. Magister that it may have something to do with culture and the conservative views expressed in church. This view is not limited to the minority population. There are a whole lot of white people who have no interest in going to BM although some do actually consider it for about as long as you can hold your breath under water. Then there are the evangelical types who think Burning Man is a sure sigh of the coming apocalypse. You talk to any of them about BM and you are likely to hear a sermon sprinkled with ‘hellfire’ and ‘damnation’.

    The answer is simple why more Blacks don’t go to BM. Like most of us we have a ‘comfort zone’ Burning Man is way outside of that zone. You don’t see Black people out in the desert camping when there are no white people around so what would be the benefit if there are white people? Where is the ‘fun’?

    Does it bother me that Burning Man is a ‘White people party’? Dah, it’s a White people country. Good for you guy’s. It’s another example of good old American enterprise. You have an idea, you develop it then you sell tickets. Way to go. Who show up are those who want to be there. It is no different then a Rollin’ Stones concert or a NASCAR race. It is not an exclusionary event. You buy your ticket. You show up at the gate. You enter into a great social experiment. You know, if we leave our ego, attitude, and (weapons) at home, we really can all get along.

    Shhhhh. Don’t tell anyone but there is going to be a White people party this summer. I’ll be there and I will party hardy. Do I care that there are not more minorities there? A little. Is it an issue? No. Burning Man is as much about a mind set as it is a place in the desert. See you on the Playa my Brothers and Sisters.

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  • Kay says:

    I am black and I am artsy and I just moved to SF Bay area recently. I didn’t consider whether minorities were represented. I never really consider that. I have always been an outsider, I guess, so those considerations given in the article don’t really apply to me. If BMan is really a “white thang,” then I guess the minority attendees would have to be very individualist individuals who don’t give a damn if they are represented or not. I am one of those types. I do what I want if I want to and art draws me in every time; the more creative, the better!

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  • BRD says:

    This whole discussion is interesting to me. As a burner who’s been 9 times since my virgin year of 2000 I definitely agree with those who say there has been change in the number of minorities present. However, I really had to think about it.

    We can tell from the festival’s history that, yes, it started out with a bunch of mostly white people. Isn’t it then just like anything else in this country that starts within a single cultural group be it race, religion, creed, or area of residence? It just takes time to filter out into other groups.

    Fret less about why people aren’t coming and concentrate your energy instead on sharing your experiences with those around you and enjoying your time with everyone you do meet in the dust.

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  • Scott says:

    Wow, what a great article. I am going to have to share in. In 2009 I invited this lovely black woman I know and the conversation and ended the exact same way. In my effort to convince I sent her the blog I found of a black-female-feminist to prove she needed to reconsider. Alas, she never came. But really well written and great!

    I feel like the diversity has been growing. Camp Dickstracted is almost entirely Hispanic and the are really a lot of Asians out there. I have video evidence, ha ha ha. And I know a lot of them that go.

    This might be coming form a different mindset in another discussion similar or close to this one as the demographic I see that is more diverse is the queer population. It is growing out there… more diverse… and often plays in their own burner reality out there. Just an opinion.

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  • fred says:

    Its a little bit those reasons and a lot about MONEY. Look at other expensive hobbies, scuba, golf, flying, mountain climbing, skiing/boarding, whatever. All expensive and all mostly white with some Asians who are in the same or high economic bracket as Whites (who are people of color, just tan or pink color).
    Asians can afford Burning Man but are in less numbers and do succumb to societal and family pressure not to go. Of course no one has to tell anyone they’re going.
    Whites frequently have disposable income and like blowing it on hobbies like Burning Man. In any event, this is a non issue. People who want to pay to go, go. People who don’t don’t. So what?
    Its socialzing and recreatian, not education or a job, so no hand wringing is needed.

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  • kors says:

    thank you for this article. this is an extremely important issue for all of us to be talking about.

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  • Badorable says:

    I would have to agree with BEkitty that unequal distribution of wealth amongst race is a huge factor. @Caveat, while you mention that none of the minority burners mentioned poverty, it is important to take into account that these burners are the ones who could afford to attend. This is a biased selection. I agree with you that socio-cultural reasons play a large factor, but it is important to remember that the price of burning man increases each year and that this is a limiting factor for many burners out there.

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  • fred says:

    Cobblepot has good points. (Not that all the music sucks, just much of it)
    Ive been to a bunch of electronic music events and rarely see blacks or latinos. Ive been camping and backpacking a bunch and rarely see blacks and latinos. Asians do both in much smaller numbers then Whites.

    cobblepot Says:
    how about –

    1. it involves camping

    2. the music sucks

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  • Becca Book says:

    First of all, thank you so much for this post! It was very insightful, and a topic that needs to be discussed… it highlights alot of thing we should consider both when dressed up in sequins and fishnets and when wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
    I think one aspect that has a big effect is the racial profiling of law enforcement. Burners (and pretty much everyone for that matter) know that that cops will be on the playa, and cops know that burners will have drugs. And pretty much everyone knows that the rate of incarceration for drug possesion is MUCH higher in minority communities than in white (or peach whatever, you were born with this privilege at least recognize it.) even though drug use has been shown to be roughly equal. Adult African Americans were arrested on drug charges 2.8 to 5.5 times more frequently on drug charges than white adults in every year from 1980 through 2007.
    I think if I knew i was 2.8 to 5.5 more likely to get arrested at burning man I would stay home too. :(

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  • Becca Book says:

    also, props on the ‘priorities’ point, I agree whole heartedly.

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  • Douglas Acres says:

    I’m a white guy but have dated black men and women and other people of color a lot, which gives some insight into aspects of their culture, expectations, and trials & tribulations. Not proclaiming that I have to deal their burden of how our system treats them, but I have been witness and been inundated with their perceptions of the system. All that said, my comment is just this. Music! There is a significant lack of Hip hop, Rap, R&B, Jazz, Blues, and Funk. If there were a few camps with these elements it would be great. Perhaps a year could be given over to cultural integration, invite some of the above music artists to the table.

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  • Pony Fairy says:

    I noticed the lack of racial diversity at my first burn. Too bad that people are still strapped by cultural differences. I wonder if the world will ever quit thinking on terms of “white thing” “black thing” or any other “thing” and allow the “humanity thing”. What I loved obout Burning Man was my feeling of freedom from…well…every “thing”. If a person feels that much constraint by social issues then they just aren’t ready for the experiance. This is why we still have racial tension. Maybe some day?

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  • Arthur G. says:

    Very good read, great analysis.

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  • TrancePants says:

    I can only speak for black folk on this topic, as I grew up between a black family, and a white one (biracial). Something I learned after moving out of my fathers house is that black people oppress and belittle themselves and its all in their heads. Its weird, even when its just a few good friends together, theyre constantly clownin on eachother, always trying to one-up the next guy. I know the same could be said for other cultures and especially whites (finding various ways to seperate “us” and “them” [race,age,body type, sexual orientation, class, ect.]), but what black people do specifically is make every negative thing that happens to them a result of their skin colour. Therefor they tend to only seek friends within their race, do the activities they like to do, and concern themselves with issues that face their community.
    Now taking that into account, look at the countercultural movement and the people involved. Raves, festivals, nature-based events and the like. Most black people laugh at that shit because it seems overflamboyant and completely out of their element. If it doesnt involve sports, hip-hop/r&b, or fashion, most blacks will count themselves out. And even if they do hold an interest, they fear ridicule from friends and family members. I know this because I had to deal with it through all of my teen years, and I’ve heard similar stories from other ravers/festies/burners of colour.

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  • anthony lorenzo says:

    i Have a Dream!…….i Have a Dream today…….that one day, little Burn-folks will burn hand-in-hand…..etc. we joked, croaked, and choked on this same dissed-cussion…on the playa… ’95. Check-out what “Tacilia Says” (above) sez……..Burnolution and “color”/Race-mix is::::::inevitable. Hey……ComeOn!……..KUHMA MELAH (India… 5 to 20 million per fest). And, we just left “Universo Parallelo” (“Parallel Universe”, Brazil coast) The Whole Spectrum of Human Pig-ments:::::::from the blackest of Congolian-black, to the lightest of platinum-Scandanavian-blonde, and EVERY SHADE BETWEEN! Just give a Fest….and peace…..a chance.

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  • Aliscious says:

    I thank Caveat for bringing this up and other people for their insight. I have a couple points that I don’t think anyone has brought up yet.

    First of all, people should not be surprised about the lack of Black people at Burning Man. A huge chunk of the participants going to Burning Man are from the Bay Area, and if you go out to any techno (in all its genres) night at a club most of the time you are going to find 2-4 Black people out of a crowd of 200 -300. This has been the case since I moved here 12 years ago. And in my experience many of those POC you see out at techno events are the same POC you see at Burning Man. Of course, not everyone goes for the music, but the music does bring a lot of people out there.

    Second, I totally disagree that Black American culture is more conservative sexually than white culture. As Aik points out, yes West African culture is more conservative. I have lived there and I agree. But really just listen to the lyrics of Black music and compare it to the bands white people love over the last 50 years and it is clear that it is actually white culture that is way more conservative sexually. Having done sexual health education and HIV/AIDS prevention with Black, Latino and Asian communities, I would agree that Latino and Asian communities tend to be more sexually conservative. But for the people who try and tell me that Black culture is more conservative, I tell them to look up the lyrics to Oochie Wally Wally or the thousand songs like it.

    Third, I do believe it has to do a lot with Burning Man for years being spread by word of mouth. Yes the last few years have seen way more mainstream media attention. But from 2000 – 2008 most of the people I knew went because their friends went. So it is not surprising that it has taken awhile to reach that 13%. Thinking of the main burning man camps I know and parties I have been to with them over the years, I haven’t seen more than 13% POC at those events either.

    Finally, I agree with Eugene Wild that most of it boils down to your comfort zone. Most of the white people I know haven’t gone and spent years living in all black countries like I have. That is because developing countries are out of their comfort zone. I think the same thing applies to POC and Burning Man. For some POC, it doesn’t matter if it is all white. For others, it would deter them because they may not feel comfortable being at an event that doesn’t reflect the community they are a part of.

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  • TrancePants says:

    That last paragraph is a very valid point

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  • Mark says:

    Burning Man is about what you are on the inside. Inside…. we are all pink.

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  • Phil Goetz says:

    Art is supposed to be a big part of Burning Man; but all the art on the Playa taken together occupies only a fraction of the space of Western art. Burning Man is almost entirely psychedelic art (“things you would see while on mushrooms”), with baroque, art deco, pop art, and postmodernist influences. You will not see representational painting, a photography studio (unless everything is post-processed with funkadelic colors), or an art car blaring Piano Magic, let alone Beethoven. The question “Why is Burning Man a white-people thing?” might boil down to “Why is dropping acid a white-people thing?” According to the U.S. SAMHSA’s 2003 NHSDA, white youth (ages 12-17) are 7.8 times as likely to try LSD as are black youth, and 6.75 times as likely to try mushrooms.

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  • David says:

    Not being able to take for granted a sense of security or family acceptance is also common in queer communities, and those communities are well represented at Burning Man.

    The other reasons make a lot more sense to me, and I imagine they’re also why you don’t see many traditional, white, Christian evangelicals at Burning Man, either.

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  • Finn says:

    Hey, if you think the playa needs more funk (and I agree), then bring it!

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  • Rio Gordon says:

    Great Article! 2012 WILL be my fourth year at BRC, and I can’t wait to celebrate with you all! I think one of the greatest things that the Burningman community brings to the table is the notion of a carefully balanced self reliance coupled with the attitude of generating a gift economy, a system of warmth and openness that thrives devoid of any mindset, sociology, nation, gender, sexual preference, what medium you use, etc….sure you must do your best to bring everything you think you’ll need, but if you fudge it and find yourself in a clutch on the playa, there is no friendlier place in the world, you can literally expect miracles and help to come for the asking, and the transformation that this realization worked in me allowed a process of change in my lifestyle choices, and art, that have brought about a more generous, helpful, humble person while simultaneously enjoying more abundance! As the receiver of this amazing economic structure, I was unhinged and allowed (or shown) a path to allowing that awareness in Others, by being the vessel for giving, as best or much as I can, without expectation of reward or return….Being a citizen of Black Rock City has changed my life forever, but the simple, whole ideals that are ensconced in the Ten Principles are something that is wider and greater than race or culture or socioeconomic status…I know LOTS of POC’s who come and Burn, some of them quite wealthy and moderately famous, I also know a lot of ‘absolutely broke’ white people-artists-who were raised in broken communities devoid of real culture, tribal identity or ceremony who make or break their ass to get to the Burn, hell or high water, because the EXPERIENCE and TRANSFORMATION are worth it….my response to POC who say “it’s not their thing…” awesome! glad you doing your thing, cause there’s only 50,000 tix anyway…nuff love to EVERYONE no matter where YOU from….Aloha!

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  • haz says:

    A little anecdote for ya’ll, but first, the requisite background: I’m a white guy, born and raised in Inglewood, CA. Still live there. Been going to BM for 10 years. I’d tried to get my neighbor and best friend since birth (black guy) to go. Despite the amazing tales I’d bring back year after year, he’d always declined with a dismissive shake of his head.

    A couple years back I pressed him about it. “Are you kidding? That’s for you crazy white people. There’s no way I’m doing that shit.”
    “What do you mean, crazy white people?” I asked.
    “I mean you fools are crazy. You know why you’ve never heard of a black man getting eaten by a bear? Because black people don’t camp because black people aren’t crazy. You know why you’ve never heard of a black man getting caught in an avalanche? Because black people don’t jump off mountains with planks strapped to their feet because black people aren’t crazy. You know why you’ve never heard of a black man getting eaten by a shark? Because black people don’t swim in the ocean because there’s shit out there that will eat you. No sane person would do any of those things, and from what you’ve told me, no sane person would go to Burning Man either. That’s for you crazy white people.”

    I might have taken offense except that
    1) I’ve been caught in an avalanche (just a little one tho),
    2) I’ve surfed less than a mile from a Great White breeding ground (but was told we were perfectly safe because the sharks didn’t like to come in the shallows),
    and 3) the last time I was camping I saw a bear and said “Hey, cool!” instead of turning and running.

    To put it mildly, he might have a point: those of us who think its a good idea to spend all this money to camp in one of the most inhospitable places in the world and do the crazy things we do are the oddities…minorities even…

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  • AllThatJazz says:

    This has to be (beyond the ticket fiasco this year) THE FUCKING DUMBEST POST I HAVE EVER READ and the responses are equally asinine and pointless. The fact that the term “minority burner” is being thrown around is enough to make my head explode!

    This is some odd attempt to allow white people aka mainstream culture to sit around and discuss all their screwed up racist notions of why “minority burners” don’t exist. WTF?!?!

    The problem of diversity at BM is a CULTURAL PROBLEM and reflects the cultural issues that exist at large in America as a population. I guess at this point I should note that I have been attending the event since 1996…which probably gives me some insight as a “minority burner” (read=black) that most of you simply can not begin to understand. So you can only imagine my HORROR as I read the awful generalizations made above. The mere fact that article frames the issue as whites versus minorities is shameful and goes to show a real cultural misunderstanding in the author. I mean the post starts out:

    “I have a close friend from Brooklyn, she is black…blah blah blah. I met a black man at a camp…blah blah blah”

    I can’t believe that is the actual tone of the article! It is obvious that the author has some deep deep racial shit to work out…and I don’t really feel he is doing the issue any justice by quipping that “burners of colors” should enlighten him at the end of the article. Really?

    BM is a counter cultural event *NOT* a white cultural event. It pains me to read the awful comments above that desperately get this wrong. It seems this article does nothing more than tap into some variant of mainstream white guilt while trying to appear supportive to other cultures. I feel very strongly, and have for all the years I’ve attended, that BM needs more cultural diversity since it is not accurately representing the actual counter culture that exists but only a tiny slice of it. Unlike mainstream culture which IS predominantly white, privileged and entitled; counter culture is incredibly diverse both in its scope of ideas as well as the people who are the source of the ideas. If anything, a good majority of the comments above represent basic mainstream bullshit ideas about other cultures…and that is truly sad.

    I mean saying dumb shit like its the music…don’t you realize that we (read=black) basically pioneered electronic dance music? the kind so popular on the playa. Have you heard of Detroit or London? It is so frankly “white” to say things like “black people don’t like this or that”. The truth about BM culture is that is not quite counter culture anymore and that lots of mainstream culture has bled into the event itself over the past 20 years. The BIGGEST change is that it has gotten more expensive with each year and this fact alone has more to do with who is able to be on the playa each year than any notions of “comfort zones” or whatever.

    So rather than talk about “minorities” lets talk about PRIVILEGE and ENTITLEMENT…because that more than anything else is what defines Burner culture right now and until we can change that, the culture will continue to grow more monolithic each year and shun any diversity at all costs…

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  • Banshee Ghost says:

    I love honest dialogue and open forums. I am considered black by america’s past practice of identifying people as “colors”. That’s part of the old slave tradin’ days and has left quite a social scar.

    Burningman, culturally is a white people’s thing originally but it has evolved into a community culture thing. It’s organizers try to reach out and have tried to encourage diversity. That’s very nice. I decided to actually “test the waters” after the story about a truck dragging of a black man by his white friends in Texas. I wanted to know had white people in their social setting moved beyond racism for the sake of keeping others down?

    I went to burning man to find out. what I found was that those party goer’s that I camped with acknowledged that burning man was “shades of gray” but that we were welcome.

    I have to admit… my fear that the burning man might turn on me and that we would be burned crossed my mind and my family scared the beJesus out of me. don’t go! don’t go! don’t you understand the history?

    Well… I’ve gone to burning man found some confederate flags, witnessed some gay bashing and even partied with someone who has a hanging man from a tree as their logo….hoping to change the world by our interaction.

    I can say I am a twelve year burner and that burning man has served as the 60’s flower fest I never knew but wish I had… except for the drugs…. I don’t do drugs because I am afraid I would never recover from them. I kept an ecstasy pill someone gave me though! I didn’t take it that was year two! I still have it to prove I too can be hip!

    We need to keep up discussions like these because they improve our society…what with all the “Obama hatin!”

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  • krzylade says:

    I jumped through the entire list and was struck by the comment that no russians or east europeans would come to BM and thought that is odd and not my experience at all…I’ve met quite a few. My perspective at BM seems to have had a lot more diversity than many people appear to have had…I’ve been more amazed at how such a group of different beliefs/cultures and values/perspectives/income have come to together to become as inclusive as it has. However, now that it is noticed in reflection through this blog… that while I’ve experienced many people who could be categorized by “skin-color/country of origin” it really doesn’t reflect statistically the diversity of the area I live in. PRIVILEGE and ENTITLEMENT…astute perspective, thank you for such a lengthy discourse. @ has: I could just see and hear my dear departed friend saying almost the exact same thing as you have about crazy “white people” “we don’t do this because….just crazy white people do that”

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  • Mrs. Rowe says:

    My friend who’s actually attended and burned is Native American. I’m a Peachy Priveleged Princess, and I am one with the burner community with every fiber of my being, despite never yet having “arrived”. Beginning in 1999 I got really serious about participating and taking my kids to experience the art and be disconnected from TV and all that canned fantasy. I wanted to turn on their imaginations, I even said something about how it would be as enlightening as an acid trip but without all the legal ramifications. My husband ridiculed me then and continues it today as the family joke. I have been blocked from actually attending primarily by economics, having to do with survival issues of raising 4 kids alone -my husband turned out to be smuggling pot back in the ’90’s…I just got stable and the recession hit – I work with mostly minorities, and the cultural pressure thing is intense. They do not want to rebel – or draw any attention to themselves from the law. They want to assimilate, drink some beers and hang out. By about 2005 and co-inciding with the nasty divorce… I started having my own little annual burns – which mostly consisted of old paperwork, fat clothes and crap left over from yard sales. By the time I sold the house and got rid of the man I was burning furniture and stuff that laid out in the yard for years. Now I am considerably lighter, the kids are adults, the dog died and I have set myself free from a lot of the extra responsibility I was taking on. I may get a ticket this year… or next year…. or never. But I will decorate my car, and enter it in a parade or two this year, take a truckload of burnable things out to Ocotillo Wells where I will play some tunes, drink out of the bottle, and send my carbon-based baggage up into the universe to be free of me.

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  • Whiterabbit says:

    “We want the funk! Gotta have that funk!!” ~ George Clinton.

    I would love to see the growth of communities of non-whites in BRC. This electronic whitey music does get old after awhile. Seems like it would take a minimal population, or critical mass of non-white population to get past several of those issues; security, community, belonging, etc. for a group to feel comfortable.

    Keep it up Talicia! Thanks!

    DonnaMatrix is a racist, or her(?) parents are, and she’s struggling with internal demons.

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  • teachermrw says:

    Well, historically, Black people in America don’t have positive associations with mobs and fire, especially where there is a preponderance of White folks. And, there’s the rough and rugged and rustic nature of the thing. Most Black folks I know, including Yours Truly, appreciate modern comforts. An outdoor, all- day jazz festival on the other hand? Now, I’m feeling that vibe.

    Won’t catch me at BM – not in this lifetime, at least.

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  • kiwano says:

    Sometimes, when I read/hear/etc. white people worrying about predominantly white activities and events continuing to be predominantly white, the desire for inclusion takes more sinister undertones. Rather than coming across as welcoming, it comes across as colonizing. I suppose that it’s a sort of perverse confidence that white culture has in its activities, that white people just assume that participation must necessarily be desirable for people of color.

    To try and put this in perspective with an bit of an analogy, there’s an Italian church in my city which holds a Good Friday procession like the ones that get held all over Italy. I’ve participated in it even though I’m pretty clearly not Italian (and also in spite of the fact that when I tell friends about it, their responses tend towards: “You went into a church?!? And didn’t catch fire?”). It’s a wonderful event, and I’ve found it to be quite welcoming. And yet, the participants are (wait for it) overwhelmingly Italian; there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it’s an Italian thing, or that it should be anything other than an Italian thing. The fact that it’s an Italian thing has never really made me feel unwelcome or excluded as a non-Italian; rather I suspect I’d feel quite a bit less welcome if people there were to start asking me to help them achieve better diversity, and address the issue of it being an Italian thing.

    Ok, Burning Man is a white people thing? So what? White people things are another facet of cultural diversity. When’s the last time that any of these hand-wringing white folks went and enjoyed themselves e.g. at a black people thing (a black people thing that was welcoming/accepting/inclusive of white people without sacrificing its character as a black people thing to be that way, of course)?

    Basically, I think that there’s a very fine line to be drawn between inclusivity and cultural imperialism, and if we don’t let Talicia (and other like-minded burners of color) handle this, then we’re probably on the wrong side of that line.

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  • KathieJ says:

    Last year was my first burn after hearing about it from my daughter who had been going for many years. I have to say that it wasn’t until I left the wonderful environment and spent several weeks reflecting on it, that one of my thoughts was about the make-up of the burn–and one of my comments to someone was that it seemed to be “a white person thing” and I wondered about it. But I also wondered about other groupings as I pondered. I had thoughts about the male/female and the young, middle-age, old., etc. So, I appreciated the article that gives me more to think about. I think I finally settled on that spreading the word about this great place to be whatever you want just takes time…

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  • chai says:

    I’m not too sure how comfortable I’d feel being a white person going to a festival known by many to be a black people thing

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  • White Moose says:

    Imagine an event that was all Blue? Would red people go? In fact I saw a Red Block Party at Burning Man, but I didnt see any blue people attending that party, only red people. So weird, we should discuse this further. Who wants to be the only blue guy at the all red women party. F E A R !!!!! WHAT, FEAR, I tryed to bust into that red party scared to death i would be chased off. But I i did it anyway, didnt take long before my blue was gone, and they painted me red. If any poc’s were on the fence about going, after reading these posts im pretty sure they have stepped back and said what a bunch of confused white people, I think I will pass.

    So Join mean all Poc people (including peaches) and lets Face our Fears together. Lets all go to burning man and freak some white people out. They wont bite you, I promise. Its a very cool place. All are welcome, really.

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  • Bookworm says:

    I have to say,this article made my laugh because it is so true on many levels. What was said was true on many levels. Last year was my first year at Burning Man and I knew I would be one of the few black people there. And I was happy to see a few, One fellow black man called out to me, “Black Man on the Playa” and I responded, “Oh yeah!!!!!!”. And I hope I receive the same joy when I come back this year, but l I would like to speak about each point made.

    1) This is right to some degree. Minorities or minorities in urban areas sometimes live in unfriendly neighborhoods where you must be aware at all times. And I have lived in such areas, it sucks and what that teaches you is that you don’t go looking for adventure. You try to be as safe as possible. As a young black person when I was young in the 80’s and 90’s I got weird looks for being in “white” neighborhoods which made me nervous and angry. And in your own neighborhoods you had to watch out for being robbed,killed, or beat up by a gang. Now Burning Man is full of mostly white people with very little law, and out in the wild. To most minorities that is a recipe for bad things, lol. But not to me.

    2) Now it is an understatement to say that minorities and the black community in general are sexually conservative. For one most of them are very religious, so nudity is a big “no no”, and two Burning Man welcomes all genders, and sexuality. The minority community is mostly homophobic. It is sad but this is true, so most would not like the open atmosphere of Burning Man. Personally I love the diversity of Burning Man and the wild sexuality and I would not feel nervous if a woman of any race hit on me. In fact, one beautiful white woman told me I was beautiful and gave me some artwork :-).

    3) So true!!!! Me and my wife lied at first to our parents about where we were going. Now you might ask yourself why lie to your parents about Burning Man when you are in your 30’s, lol. One, we couldn’t just go off the grid for a week without them looking for us. And two, my parents and in-laws are religious people. And my wife is Hispanic, so we have two sets of parents who would freak out and tell us we were partying with heathens. After the Burn, we realized we were 30 years old and told them anyway. My father in-Law thought it was cool, and my parents just said that it was another crazy thing that we did. Now I told some other minority friends of mine and they seemed weirded out about naked guys running around, go figure. The minority community has not yet opened up to these ideas of freedom and expression.

    4) Burning Man has many cultural aspects that is hard for minorities. And one is the drug culture. It is in the most part a positive at Burning Man. I can see where this would be an issue, because when I was going up, people on drugs, looked like drained out zombies, shells of human beings. Nobody you would want to party with. Crack heads in general. So there is not usually a positive attitude towards drugs. And there is a pagan feel to Burning Man which I love but most minorities would find it uncomfortable.

    All that said, I think each year there will be more minorities, because society as a whole is changing and from what I here, there are more people of color each year. And to all those minorities out there that are wondering if they should come, don’t be scared or think you won’t fit in. There is something for everybody and I have never been to a more welcoming place. I loved this article, and I can’t wait to be back home on the playa. And if you see a Black man in a kilt, don’t forget to yell, “BLACK MAN ON THE PLAYA”, lol.

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  • setesh says:

    Doesn’t Burning Man derive from the fire festivals of Northern Europe? See Frazier’s _The Golden Bough_. Just sayin’.

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  • Breeze says:

    I am considered to be a “minority” and have attended BM. I believe it doesn’t have much to do with “being” a minority but rather “believing” that you are the minority. If you have static and set beliefs about religion/sexuality etc. and believe you know how an adult should behave, of course BM sounds unsafe because it might shake your beliefs (passed down from your minority community) and what do you do then? Become the black sheep of the family? Based on my observations and my experience, most people who decide to attend BM reach a point where they realize they are open to any experience. They are ready to expand as human beings and explore their different dimensions. People in my minority “community” are so busy defending their “minority” identity that they have become unchangeable. Many of them stick with traditional views because if they don’t, they might not be a community anymore and might be left alone. They have a clear sense of what they are and will in no way try to go beyond that(Who knows? Maybe they know what they’re doing). One who believes he is a minority and judges “white burners” by assuming the they will judge him, will never make it to BM because he simply views himself as the “other” who won’t be able to acculturate in this “crazy white counter culture thing.” To go to BM you should let go and be a little flexible with yourself and others. You should be comfortable with change and learning new things about yourself. You should be comfortable with getting out of your “minority” shell that you’ve put yourself in for one week. For the lack of that ability, some of my minority friends/relatives will never go to BM, and that’s their choice/fault not the white people who attend BM.

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  • Savvy says:

    * Are there any rules preventing minorities from coming to Burning Man?
    * Have there been subtle messages put forth by Burning Man and those who attend suggesting that minorities are not welcome?
    * Is poverty always racially exclusive?

    At least from what I have seen, the answer to all of the above is no. So if minorities are not taking the opportunity to attend Burning Man, then that is their loss.

    Is it sad that more minorities do not attend? Yes it is, but how do you change that without stereotyping, instituting quotas, restrictions and rules that go against everything that Burning Man is supposed to be about?

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  • Pugsi says:

    I thought Burning Man had people from all over the world? Isn’t that “diversity”?
    Every time I go the only “majorities” I meet are people from Russia, Australia and California.
    Also, I can’t help but notice a lot of people are trying to decipher possibly socio-economic or other reasons “minorities” don’t go; but you’re talking about a multitude of DIFFERENT

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  • Pugsi says:

    races & cultures, each with their own possible cultural tendencies/reasons for not attending. (split comment because my laptop is a little wacky with the enter key & i don;t see a ‘delete’ anywhere- sorry)

    I think the common blanket statement “i don’t go because ‘its a white people thing'” says a lot more than it would sound for such a vague statement; if a racial or cultural group’s reasoning for not going is because people they identify as ‘like themselves’ aren’t going then it won’t change until more people from that racial group decide to go. From the reasons I see listed hear it really sounds like those people are choosing not to go because of things they ‘hear’, what other people ‘think’. These are coincidentally the exact same reasons LOTS of “white” people I know & other know, won’t go (uncomfortable sexual energies, too many drugs, too much loud music, too hot, too “crazy” or altogether alien to their current group/lifestyle etc..)

    I also agree, there is probably something to the whole camping thing.
    I see how you’d think $ would be a factor but concur that its obvious so many people who go are not financially affluent enough to support the habit comfortably; they simply are so driven to go from curiosity or enjoying previous years so much they just make it work anyway.

    I can’t help but notice there is a simple and undeniable common denominator, especially in people’s comments to this post and that is that it REALLY boils down to what a particular person’s “groups” find acceptable and how much THAT person considers what their group(s) thinks. If nobody you know is going to go, why would you go by yourself?
    This obviously extends to white people, not just minorities, but maybe there is a key there hiding around in a place where there’s a greater trend of “white” people lacking a sense of community in their lives and minorities creating and actively participating in their own communities in day to day life, holding onto that “community” environment and keeping very close inside that environment?

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  • AllThatJazz says:

    Look…check it. I have taken the time to re-read the article and all the comments. I still think *everyone* is missing the point. The author is making a mistake by equating the BM event with American society at large…and then putting it into the language of “us vs. them” or “mainstream vs. minorities” (read=white vs. black). This is my problem with the article and a lot of the comments. It leads to very narrow confused perspectives such as “this is what i think about blacks” and vice versa. The reality is no one cares. Ideas that whites have about blacks, really? Who cares? It neither addresses the issue nor solves it. Think about it.

    I want to instead help everyone understand what I meant before when I spoke of the CULTURE of BM because ultimately, that is where the problem lies. BM, after it picked up some speed in the early nineties, was an event BY AND FOR ARTISTS. At that time the two main “types” of artists were the DPW (who build the city and infrastructure) and the counter cultural artists who aggressively beautified it and made it interactive for the partipants (groups like the Cacophony Society, etc). These two dynamic groups played off each so well that a novel idea grew from their interaction. This idea really defined the event going forward. It was a simple one but very powerful. The idea was “NO SPECTATORS ONLY PARTICIPANTS!”. In other words, don’t come to watch or take pictures but come to get your hands dirty! Make stuff, build stuff! Create at all costs, as if your life depends on it!! (because we are going to burn and destroy *everything* at the end of the week!! haha)

    At face value, this was supposed to insure each year was filled with creative makers of all types who wanted to celebrate each other and the temporal things they created. However, very soon another group started to attend the event. Lets call these folks the REVELERS…they who come to party and get down. (and not really do much else) These were not artists per se, but people who enjoyed all the benefits an event like BM provided. So they would do the absolute minimum to be creative while pushing the “yeah lets get fucked up and naked!” aspect of the event. So basically, since around 2000, these revelers who are really *just* spectators and not truly participants (in the true sense of what it means to participate on the playa) have become the de facto folks who attend each year. 50,000 people at BM and how many are *real artists* who have contributed art on the playa? Imagine if even HALF that number were artists who made or built something that wasn’t just a bar? I know I am generalizing here of course, it is not that black or white really (pun intended) but hopefully you understand what I am saying about how this affects the CULTURE of the event.

    So rather than talk about white vs. black at BM, why not talk about ARTISTS vs. SPECTATORS? It is my belief that if BM attracted more artists period, that you would find an *incredibly* diverse event each year. Artists of ALL cultures would be represented. Instead what BM attracts more than a diverse selection of artists are people who only see the event as an outrageous party in the desert and the group most attracted to that idea (just like the idea of a rave or coachella for instance) is by and large mainstream America…which again is mostly white, privileged and entitled. This is my take on why BM might seem culturally monolithic and non diverse. It is because the mainstream is subverting what used to be a counter cultural artistic event. In my own experience in the past few years, I have met fewer and fewer artists on the playa and more people who are there to *see* the artist’s work and dj’s and art cars, etc.

    If you followed me this far then you can now see that is not a question of “white thing” verus “black thing” but rather CONSUMER versus PRODUCER. The “product” being consumed is the energy, environment, art, music, people etc. BM asks all attendees to be PRODUCERS by making art, theme camps, art cars, etc. If people can just stick to that idea, that they are bringing their creative ideas (read=art) to a huge art festival instead of thinking that they are attending a huge costume rave, we might begin to see the diversity grow and the culture broaden. And what better time than now? Lets just drop the whole white/black thing and starting talking about it as an *artist thing*, the way it was intended to be! After all, the theme this year is FERTILITY…(wink, nudge)

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  • Keith says:

    Does it really matter? The only reason whitey worries about diversity is out of guilt because we’ve marauded half the planet. I bet you don’t see study groups wondering why there aren’t more whites at the Martin Luther King parade in LA? Can’t we just do our thing and embrace it the way it is? If people wanted to come, they would. I lived in Idaho for years and pretty much all of the ‘minorities’ in the ski tow I lived in thought we were crazy for going camping and climbing mountains and stuff. I had a number of Latino guys I worked with and if we were out at the bar we introduced each other as friends. We laughed together, went for lunch together and talked story but they didn’t come backcountry skiing with us and we didn’t spend the weekends working on Impalas with them. We had different interests but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t have each others backs in a pinch. Can’t it just be ok to be different? World history has played out the way it has and theres no changing that.

    As for Burningman… if you wanna worry about diversity, ask why the average attendee is a college educated white male in his thirties. That’s not exactly a representative demographic of American society either.

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  • Segue says:

    I’m just happy to be seeing more Mexicans at BurningMan! It’s about time our neighbors to the south got word and came up to join us. A great discussion which gives a lot of insight into differing perspectives and realities. I just wanted to add that I didn’t even SEE color until I was forced to take a course on African-American writers in order to graduate from university (it had to do with the category to fulfill a prerequesite and fitting into my schedule). The noble intent of the course was to respect and honor the voice of African Americans in U.S. history. The effect was that it taught me to see people in terms of categories according to the color of their skin. In my school years, when I reflect back, I had friends that were Japanese, European, African-American, even deaf, but I didn’t think of them in categories. I just thought of them as people with different personalities. Yes, personalities are shaped by roots, but they are also shaped by current culture and the unique perspective and tendencies of each individual.

    I guess that what I’m trying to say is that seeing color is TAUGHT. It isn’t innate to a child to see people as categories. The question is: how can we forget color? How can we forget categories? How can we let our children just see the world as it IS without denying that some people are still victim of this sort of categorization?

    And how do we sabotage our own personal development by seeking identity in a category? How do we fall into the trap of reinforcing this sort of compartimentalization of humanity?

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  • IDontHaveACoolNickname says:

    I’m a black man who has attended BM twice.

    To me, BM is a crazy-white-people thing, but in my experience, more people of color need to do crazy-white-people things.

    I’ve read the article and the comments. This discussion has really helped me understand some things about myself and others.

    When I try to describe the amazing atmosphere of BM to people (all people, white and non) I see a look of fear come over their faces. They just can’t fathom leaving everything they know behind for a week away from what they are comfortable with. They say that don’t like camping, or they don’t want to be hot, or they don’t want to be dirty, and they can’t imagine that there’s enough joy and kinship at BM to make the ‘discomfort’ worth it.

    I don’t know how to speak to those people. When I see their faces close down, I don’t want to convince them. If they want to stay closed, let ’em. BM doesn’t need people who can’t imagine a better way of living and being.

    In the comments above people have mentioned security and social norms as reasons. They’ve mentioned that white people just assume that everything will turn out okay. I think there’s some truth to that, but I think it’s a question of percentages. Maybe 12% of white people think it will turn out okay, vs. 2% of non-whites. That still leaves 88%-98% who think that only crazy people spend a week in the desert, white or not.

    Somebody else mentioned being the outcast or the black sheep of the tribe. That really resonated for me. I’ve become used to doing things alone, because I want to, and not being able to convince others of the value of trying new things. My life is incredibly rich because of the things I’ve done and tried. People admire my adventurous spirit but have less of a desire to emulate it.

    So, is it ARTISTS/CREATORS vs SPECTATORS/CONSUMERS vs REVELERS? Is it the adventurous vs. the non-adventurous?

    I think BM appeals to a certain type of person, a person who is willing to take a risk, who is willing to gamble that utopia is worth a little discomfort, who is willing to go outside their comfort zone and trust that it will turn out ok. I think more white people have arrived there than others, for whatever reasons.

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  • Pags says:

    Being of Asian descent (and an immigrant), I was really surprised to see a “Yellow Fever” camp (or named something like that) this past year. I definitely noticed a LOT more Asian people in 2011 than in 2010. And I have to admit that it is unexpected to me. I think a lot of the previously mentioned reasons for Asians definitely applies – we have a traditional, conservative culture that does not camp, do drugs, explore sexuality, or are very liberal minded. Stereotypes exist for a reason. The issue is definitely one of BM being a particular cultural phenomenon.

    I’ve never thought of BM as a “white people thing” …. but perhaps I partake in more of the North American activities than most Asians do. I grew up in a racially diverse community in BC and had very little ties to the Asian community. My only wariness at BM is avoiding those that interact with me because they have Yellow Fever. But that’s not a wariness exclusive to BM – I take that caution with me everywhere. Equally, I avoided the Yellow Fever Camp as I try to surround myself with ethnically diverse people and it really bothers me when any ethnicity only interacts with their own ethnicity. That’s not the privilege of living in N.America.

    So while it may seem odd that there is not a better representation of minorities at BM, I don’t think it’s any more odd than the representation of doctors at BM… or lawyers… or devout church-goers. BM has a very specific culture and a very specific group of people who participate in that culture. It’s not about colour.

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  • Ted says:

    I read this article, then thought I’d pitch in with an explanation that I heard in an end-of-burning-man sit down discussion with panel members including Larry Harvey, some famous lyricist from the Grateful Dead (I forget his name. Anybody know?), and attended by about 100 of us fortunate audience members in ’02 or ’03 (I forget). It was filmed, so video footage exists somewhere of this nice panel discussion.

    Anyway, Dustin, the first commenter on this page (Jan. 4) already said it, but I’ll tell how the Grateful Dead guy answered it almost 10 years ago.

    An audience member asked the panel why most only white people at Burning Man. He suggested it is same reason why mostly only white dead-heads. He said back in the earlier glory days of Grateful Dead (G.D.), he invited a black friend to one of the concerts. Afterwards, he asked Friend how he liked it. Friend said it was good music, nice vibe, but Friend wasn’t anywhere near as enthusiastic as the over-the-top fanatics that make up most of G.D. fan-base. I think Friend even said he’d be okay if he didn’t attend another G.D. show. When G.D. lyricist asked why he’s not so into it, Friend answered that it really seems that Dead fans are there for the sense of community/family that is otherwise largely lacking in white culture – at least relative to black and other culture’s of color – not just the decent music jam sessions G.D. puts on.

    So, G.D. lyricist concluded that the reasoning is the same with B.M. – us whites be getting together to creatively and funkily commune to make up for our lack of it in normal life.

    I even say we do it so much more funky and intensely at B.M., because even the majority of us burners who are more akin to and pursuant of community and creativity than mainstream white world, still aren’t very community/creative expression oriented in normal life, so we gotta make up for it in 1 week of BM!

    Any walk through Barrio Logan in San Diego, or any ol’ neighborhood in New Orleans, and you can see people communing creatively (playing music, dancing, cooking, etc) in the streets, on porches, in living room windows a hell of a lot more than usually seen in white hoods – and I’ve been all over this country.

    P.S. No need for anyone to reply that creative communing does happen in white areas. I know it does. I’ve seen it my whole life. My point is that it happens a lot more in non-white areas – so we whites gotta make up for it at BM. And I’m better off for it. Thanks, Man!

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  • Duke says:

    As a black guy who has gone to Burning Man 8 yrs in a row, I find the points raised in the article to be way off.

    What exactly is a “white thing” ? Is it something that mostly white people do more than another group ? To me, THIS IS NOT A WHITE THING, its about awareness that Burning Man exists, money, and exposure to things like camping, tolerance, etc.

    Notice that none of those have anything to do with race. The lady in Brooklyn sounds rather ignorant and I’d bet she a) has never been camping b) doesnt like try things outside of her comfort zone c) is not financially well off

    I think alot of black people call things that they havent thought about or have never done “white things” because they conflate the idea of many whites doing one activity as being white. It really comes down to socioeconomics , and whites are obviously more affluent and more numerous in the US.

    I have talked to at least 50 black people about going to BM from 5 different states and not one of them mentioned any of the 4 points in this article. The only thing I I’ve heard from a few people is the lack of a shower and not wanting to be hot, dirty, and sweaty. I think people from any race would have that sentiment.

    I dont know any black person who wouldnt go because of what their “community” woudl think, thats absolutely ridiculous. Also, I’ve never even heard security mentioned other than some people wondering if it was safe to leave your stuff in your tent unattended.

    The majority of black people I’ve talked to have never heard of Burning Man, and after I show them pictures and describe it, they want to go (if they are able to financially).

    This is really about awareness of BM and money, NOT RACE. How many burners are from West Virginia or who have incomes less than $40k a year ?

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  • scarletfire says:

    @Caveat- first, thank you very much for this article!!!

    In your comment to @bekitty you site how your white friends spend their last dollar to attend burning man to sidestep @bekitty’s comment about wealth distribution & the cost of burning man for people of color. Not to mention the cost of supplies, etc.

    If you look at wealth distribution in the US (Esp. SF and NY- two areas you draw heavily from) you will notice that people of color are disproportionately living in poverty. Wealth is a political and its distribution is structured in ways that reflect the racism imbued in the institutions that distribute it.

    Structural racism means that when a person of color, such as an African American, falls on hard economic times, the opportunities open to regain social standing are much more few. A white person is more likely to know white people with money or in positions of power- also there is less structural exclusions they will encounter. Less chance they will be arrested by the police, more likely to get a job, etc. Of course, this may not speak to your personal experiences, but it is true statistically.

    Therefore, for the majority of white people to spend their last dollar to attend BM means something quite different than it would for the majority of black people (to but it crudely).

    Also, there is the every tricky question of cultural and the very subtle nuances of cultural exclusion.

    Call me a Marxist, I say its all about class.

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  • Zorsha says:

    Issues of poverty also ran through my mind when reading this article. Having grown up in the northeast, in very diverse, close to “ghetto” neighborhoods, I can think of plenty of people, black OR white, who could never fathom spending what it costs to go to BM. Although, now living in Portland, Or, i know plenty of average, working class white people that hold the same cynnical attitude about the expense. All they need to hear is the price of the ticket, and they freak out. Then I explain to them that, for most, that is the majority of the cost – then there’s food/supply/travel, etc. Not much more is required moneywise, unless you are part of a theme camp. When I first inquired about the cost, my burner friends told me it was basically the same you would pay for the average vacation, but spending in a different way.

    In conclusion – The issue may be less about poverty, and more about ignorance…across ALL races. Just my view. Fascinating topic and enjoyed the reading.

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  • EGH says:

    I have often thought about this phenomenon in regards to many other counter-culture movements. I wonder if many white people, especially in North America, crave a sense of belonging that many minorities may already have from being very much in touche with there cultures. I often hear white people, (my self included), complaining about a ‘lack of culture’ that we experience in North America.

    Camping is also an interesting phenomenon. Perhaps many white people, also, crave a sense of connection with the natural environment that we have spent generations distancing ourselves from, with industrialization, urbanization and technology. We tend to romanticize it.

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  • la bruha desi la says:

    thanks for bringing this topic up. everyone commenting above me as already put in their word. I will say something new tho. to get more black, etc POC if you will up on the desert, simply put out an advertising campaign to get people to go. on the website if there are more black faces, then black people will assume that they can go. image is everything. if we see all white people, we assume. if we see mixture we assume other ideas. of course some conservative types will think them POC`s are crazy but there is a growing new community of non conservative POC who will definitely burn!

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  • H3R3T1C says:

    Yea the Playa could be more diverse.
    I think that’d be a good thing.
    But let’s not go overboard and treat our friends of other ethnic backgrounds like a science experiment ya know…?? It seems more to me about personality than color..
    Just bring cool people…all colors of people have cool people…

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  • Francesco says:

    NASCAR is a white thing.
    Freaknik is a black thing.
    Burningman is a freaky deaky dusty weeky where white black yellow brown red straight gay drunk sober coexist and cross pollinate on a lake that not even the native Americans we stole it from want.
    If you are so worried about it, I can hook you up with some of my nice friends from Oakland if you let them stay in your Rv and gift them a ticket. They would teach you a lot, they are beautiful people.

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  • Andy says:

    I wonder if the reason Burning Man is a “white thing” is the same reason that in our area so many cab drivers are middle Eastern, so many convenience store owners are Indian, and a generation ago so many dry cleaners were Chinese. The only reason is that a few people in one community started doing it, and their friends, who were largely from the same community, joined in, and new immigrants looked to people who looked like them for jobs. It could have just as easily been different jobs or different ethnic groups.

    I don’t know if any of the first 20 folks at Baker Beach were minorities, but I’m sure they told their friends, and so on, and burning man grew up mostly white. Had half of them been minorities, Burning Man might have grown up fully integrated. Burning Man does get a fair among of press *during* the event, but most of it sounds like “look at all these nutty people in the desert”. , The actual growth is by word-of-mouth during the off-season, so to speak.

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  • Sniffer says:

    Wow, there was a typewriter in the center camp this past BM and I wrote about this subject. I’m African-American, gay, a professional, and I’ve been to 3 burns thus far. I’d like to say what interests me about BM, and describe why my upbringing allows me to assimilate into the BM culture (irrespective of my race). I attend BM because I enjoy art, camping, techno/dubstep music, being naked, dressing up in costumes and being in sexually open environments. I find BM a comfortable place to be because: 1)was a boy scout and camped a lot, 2)am an artist, 3) was educated around and grew up with a lot of Caucasians, 4) am gay and comfortable with expressing my sexuality in an outward way 5) love good music and dancing. There are so many ways any person of color can identify with some (maybe not all) folks at Burning Man. I have been successful at getting other POC to come to BM. I think you will see more in the future and I’m glad to see this discussion. Just FYI, when I see other black folk at Burning Man I greet them, and it’s the BEST greeting ever. I surely couldn’t expect such a greeting saying hello to just any another black person on the street. People at BM are cut from the same cloth regardless of their race. Those POC will find their way…you’ll see.

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  • Jimmy says:

    I’m a white guy who was recruited by a bunch of Latinos.

    I think if we want more minorities to go with us, we need to “market” the event differently to them. I don’t really think that the main motivators have to be *sexual freedom* or *drug use* or *flower-power*…

    People make their own rules for their relationships–if something is off limits, it’s off limits. Other burners respect other people’s boundaries. This should be emphasized.

    And, I didn’t really think of burning man as a “flower power” type of thing… and also had to get over feelings about “security” and “being out in the middle of nowhere.” I know that not all of us told the rest of our friends and family about all the details of BM or that we were doing anything more than going camping… (Perhaps we should let them know that, too?)

    And it’s only a “white people thing” because you call it that. In reality it’s an all people thing.

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  • Christopher says:

    If Burning Man is a “White People Thing”, then how is it I get away with doing so many “Black things”?

    I camp at Black Rock Roller Disco, hang around other Black men, I play Disco, Funk and R&B…. uh… oh yeah, I also drive a mutant vehicle based on a Black TV show: I drive The Soul Train.

    I do all this, not ONCE thinking “Oooh, better dial back my Black thing. Don’t wanna scare dese White folks none”. Nope. I bring the Funk, unashamedly, unapologetically, without thinking twice.

    So if Burning were truly a “White People thing”, would I feel comfortable doing that? Cause really, until reading this post, I never considered the Blackness of my actions.

    No. Burning Man is NOT a “White People thing”. I don’t even see color when I’m out there. When people see me, I don’t see judgment, bias or unfamiliarity in their eyes. If anything… we ALL are the same minority. During the other 51 weeks of the year, I feel lonely. When I’m told “Welcome Home” when I arrive, I actually believe that shit. Whenever I run into a Burner in the default world, I feel like I’ve run into a long lost relative. Whenever the topic of Burning Man comes up in the default world, if I’m the only Burner in the room, I smile and decline to comment… in the same spirit that one might say “It’s a Black thing, you wouldn’t understand”.

    So why don’t more people of color go? My answer? How the FUCK should I know? People who use phrases like “Naw, that’s a White People thing” are LOOKING TO BE EXCLUDED. They can’t be helped! Every Burner KNOWS that Burning Man isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is supposed to go! I don’t know what color has to do with it.

    As always, I wish you Love, Peace …. AND SOOOOOOOOUL!

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  • Jorge Bongo says:

    I learned two things in the Army
    1: Blood is red
    2: Pussy is pink

    You don’t see a whole lot of white folks at the “Soul Food” Festival, or in Hip Hop clubs-just as you don’t see a lot of Brothers at Raves, or at Burning Man.. Different strokes for different folks thats all. Doesn’t mean that it won’t happen it’s just what is…

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  • Zeus says:

    A few thoughts on this debate:

    Why I go to Burning Man

    My sister referred me to Burning Man and that very same year I attended it for the first time. Word of mouth is powerful. I had heard about the event prior to her suggestion but timing, a relationship break-up and finally my sister’s advice (she hasn’t been herself) prompted me to attend.

    I have since fallen in love with Burning Man and registered to buy a ticket for this -my third year. I am able to attend because I do work that pays well and allows me time-off usually whenever I want it. If I don’t get time when I want then I quit my job – because my attitude now is – life is short.
    Of course, being younger and single allows me a freedom that others with children may not have. I don’t normally worry about quitting jobs for that reason; I also have one that is in demand.

    So I attend Burning Man because I enjoy the sexual openness and flirting, the sense of freedom and lightness of being once my feet hit that dusty playa. I enjoy experiencing an environment where people are sharing and inviting and undermining the accepted norms of mainstream society (Socially appropriate boner day); where competition – for the most part – is relegated outside the borders of Black Rock City for the week.

    It’s a time for me to experiment with myself, push comfort zones, challenge my beliefs, open doors to my personality and psyche that I normally don’t explore. It’s an essay on becoming a more complete and spiritual human being.

    Yes – some fellow Burners will make ‘harmless’ but very lame jokes about my skin colour, they’ll express curiosity or prejudiced assumptions about my cock; I’ll see ‘fun’ events scheduled that really just highlight the organizers cultural ignorance or racist baggage i.e. “Fake Jamaican Accent Hour” (thankfully it was just a one-time event).

    It’s a White Thing

    And when I hear Burning Man labeled as a ‘white-people’ thing; I believe it’s a legitimate criticism and ultimately a reflection of the fact that the world is a different place when you can claim ‘white’ membership.

    Yes poverty, class, race, gender and entitlement all factor in to create Burning Man’s demographics. The art world is rife with examples of the more well moneyed artist making a bigger splash, being better represented, than his/her poorer counterpart. Why should Burning Man be any different? So let’s not make asinine mental leaps that Oprah or Snoop Dogg represent any relevant section of Burning Man attendees.

    While we’re at it let’s dispense with racist notions that black people don’t camp or swim or do anything, really, that any other normal human being can or would do. And let’s lose the notion that any of the latter explanations is any more credible to account for the lack of blacks on the playa than the old sports argument that you didn’t see blacks in hockey because they had ‘weak ankles’. If we as a people, or community, are not willing to look at distribution of wealth and opportunities in the larger society then all this talk about more non-whites at Burning Man is truly nothing more than ‘mental masturbation’.

    Talk About Race

    When we say something is a ‘white thing’ this comment is also in part a reaction to chronic white-whinging about ‘having to be’ politically correct. Really, whites are burdened by having to be politically correct because truthfully they are so used to a position of privilege that many of them have just come to believe in general that ‘their shit don’t stink’.

    Hence, until the last couple decades, whites have been accustomed to saying and doing anything and everything without being ‘called’ on it. So yes there is a white backlash within this climate of ever-evolving social consciousness that now challenges their once untouchable attitudes and traditions; where whites are forced by changing norms to be ‘respectful’ to groups and individuals whom normally were ripe targets for every kind of insult and attack by the ‘whitestream’.

    So the rules have changed and now being ‘white’ isn’t so right anymore. Oh – and to be clear, being a white person has far more to do with a person’s mental attitude than anything to do with his or her skin colour whether it’s peach or any other hue. Whereas, being black or the construction of blackness – at least in the context of Canada or the United States – is oftentimes simply a reaction to white supremacy in a country where ‘if you look black then you are indeed considered a black person’.

    You’re the Man

    If we want more non-whites at Burning Man there are ways to encourage it: art scholarships, targeted grants, subsidies to marginalized communities; these are all just random ideas that I am throwing out. I’m sure there are other people out there who have better more effective ones. The point is – there are ways to add colour to Burning Man if we truly want to, and not just colour to but equally important – new voices.
    In the end though the non-white Burner community will build the same way as the white one did: Word of mouth; people in a community sharing stories with their peers. I’ll stop here for now.

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  • Mikey says:

    Physical security expectation, costs vs. income demographics, use of time-off-work priority of the culture, etc.

    But, from on-playa observation, a la “only crazy dogs and Englishmen”, the whites are out baking in the sun. Once the sun goes down, a lot more darker skins, heavier & small people. Seeing them saving their energy for when they can wander without the sun baking their energy away, I always thought it meant they were smarter…

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  • Dale says:

    Very interesting, I guess it depends on your camp. I’ve only been going since ’06 but there have always been POC in the camps I’ve stayed in.

    Obviously there are some good reasons for POC to come or not, but I’ll have ask my camp mates what they think about this.

    I’m sure knowing who you are camping with reduces many of the negatives.

    A previous comment mentioned Eastern European’s, I camp with a Russian and we always see other Russians around the playa, I visited a camp that was all Russian and spent some time with a guy with limited english on his first trip to the US.

    Stereotypes are just that.

    I’ve ended up on a ski trip where I was the only one in the condo that didn’t speak Russian, we all had a great time even if I missed some of what was said.

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  • Ramon says:

    I am Mexican. I guess you could call e Mexican-American since I was born here. But I call myself Mexican…I have gone to BM twice. Am trying to go for my 3rd..From talking to friends and family, I can tell you it is a combo of money, freak conditions and complete unknowingness that keeps them from coming..I try very hard to tell them the benefits of going. Such an eye opening experience. But they are stubborn. To me, going to BM has been great. Yes, I must say, I do feel like I stick out. Yes, I do feel like people make me feel stuck out..But I still love the music, the dancing and the girls, who, seem to like my skin color…The guys, maybe their a bit put off that someone different has come……these are my thoughts

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  • blitzy says:

    I really don’t see the point of this article. Firstly, as a gay, asian, first generation immigrant, I represent possibly the thinnest sliver of ‘minority’ vs. the average (‘majority’) burner out there. Yet again, that is irrelevant. The fact that there even is a discussion on this calls to mind of a distinction, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, an imprint of society’s inflicted perception. May we even asks ourselves why the realization of this observation in the first place? Maybe, it represents one of the ‘baggages’ we unnecessarily lug into the playa, which arguably, what we want to leave behind in the muggle world in pursuit of the dessert utopia we want to create. In the true spirit of radical inclusion, it is surprising to me that at times, we can’t even peel the very first layer of ourselves (i.e. our skins in shape, form and color) that seems to separate us in our oh so very tiring world we live in. I’m all for diversity. A diversity that each single one of us is as unique an individual to the next, regardless of any segments, groups, boundaries and compartmentalization that society has drilled into our heads since the day we were born. Not color. Not religion. Not creed. Not anything. Every one of us is not the same. Isn’t that really the true essence of diversity? And as unique as each of us are, we all have an equally unique ‘role to play’ at Burning Man. And I believe with that perspective, as a whole, we create a self-sustaining burners’ ecology that as one giant unit, we all thrive! No separation. Just oneness.
    p/s afterall, covered in playa dust aren’t we all gray?

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  • steve slade says:

    Spending most of my time as a white person in the carribbean, I was the subject of constant racism (toward me) I feel that the reason blacks do not go to burning man is because of the lack of edge that they have acquired in the last 40 or so years in the default world. There is no room for superior feelings at burning man regardless if they are because of over correction of historical atrocities or not. Burning man is not a “white thing” But is everybodies thing. As it is said “welcome home”

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  • teriese says:

    i really appreciate this discussion. i’m glad it came up and i’m so very grateful for the variety of responses. i suppose it all boils down to the individual. “to each his own” rings true here. and while we can generalize to some degree, there will always be those of us who are against the norm, whatever background/culture we’re from. i am so happy to be introduced to the whole BM experience. I look forward to my maiden voyage in august.
    much love

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  • Richard says:

    Here are a couple of reasons why you don’t see alot of people of color.
    a. Black people party together to get rid of the tension that they pent up in their daily lives due to racial judgment by whites.

    b. Black people party together differently than white people. Music,dancing food, booze and did I mention music and dancing.

    c. Black women’s hair. Not designed for camping.

    Besides, what make white people think that Blacks doing a white thing is an upgrade in their life. Different, Yes!

    The Burning Man Event is an offereing. It will be accepted or rejected based on the ants and needs of the people that it was intended tto appeal to.


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  • Wayne says:

    I think this has been wayyyyyyyyyyyyy overthought, and that is such a “white people thing”. I’m a white guy, pale as a damn ghost, but my camp comes from all over the country. My wife is asian, we both roll from the east coast, VA. A half dozen of the other part of our camp comes from 4 corners of Latin America. We have a couple other crackas like myself coming from San Fran. And we also always end up with a few extras floating through camp. I think money has the biggest factor to it, but its not a poverty thing. I understand in areas there are alot of poor latino and black communities, but these folks have no interest in what Burning Man is or does. Its not a white thing, its more a “black thing”. Its just not THEIR thing. Like its not MANY MANY MANY white peoples thing either. You know one of the biggest reasons most friends I have who comment on Facebook or anything else say about Burn? These are white, latino, Black friends across the board. IT looks wayyyyyyyyyy to DIRTY and NASTY for them to deal with. Not the cost, not time off, more than any its the dirty conditions. Next its the craziness factor. They would rather spend their vacation time somewhere else, thats all. And as for poverty, again, the majority of african american folks I know do much better off than myself. I am just willing to go broke for the following couple months to get to Burn, they are not. THey prefer trips to the islands. Also, I think linking this back to FLower Power days and civil rights is also going beyond the basics. I cant say I have seen all that many hippies out there much over the years either. Depending on what part of the week you are there, it could be easy to make the argument by the time Friday night and Saturday night hit, half the patrons are weekend warriors from nearby states. Now I’m not saying that maybe some of these issues dont apply to some folks, but a large majority of people just have no clue what Burning Man is. Regardless of color. And the ones that do, have no interest in going. Whats so wrong with that? To each and their own.

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  • amalatove says:

    not sure if anyone in the comments section said this but those who identify as people of color and recognize the homogeniety of predominantly white spaces also usually recognize that these same white people are those who negate cultural differences and pretend that everyone is just ‘human’ and reek of white privelege and entitlement. from what i seen of videos and photos, the art at BM looks great but do i want to hang out and do ecstasy with white yuppies in a sand storm and pay $500 + to act countercultural? no i don’t. sometimes perhaps life is easier for brown ppl when you are not concious of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality and make your self believe that you belong here with these white folks.

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  • amalotove says:

    and let’s not forget it’s a lot about class as well. you need money to go to BM so those people of color who do go to BM are those who have the money to spend and they are usually those in the money world, with well paid jobs, trustfunds, etc. and these are the ones who got lots of white friends as well.

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  • Heland Lee says:

    Observations from a Chinese Trinidadian New Yorker

    Thanks for bringing up this subject.
    This is something that I’ve long discussed with my friends. But admittedly, I’ve been selective about airing my thoughts about it. I’ve found that my White Non-Burner friends tend to glaze over upon discussions of race in 21st Century America; White Burners are far more receptive to hearing the concerns of People Of Color.

    Even though the BM racial demographics don’t reflect the racial diversity of NYC, I feel just as safe there. It’s the only place in the U.S. (outside of NYC, SF and Hawaii) where I feel a sense of security and belonging. But for me to get to this point, I had to take that leap. Going to my first Burn took great effort: I’d known about this crazy “festival” for ages but didn’t feel like it was for me. I think the fact that Alex was the one to re-introduce me to the idea, made a difference. Being encouraged by another person of color, put me on the path to being a lifelong Burner.

    Black Rock City continues to evolve.
    My life changed after I went to my first Burn in 2006. I had one obvious observation among the multitude of emotions I was bombarded: I was often the only Asian in the Village. Every year that I’ve gone since, I’ve noticed that Asians seem to be warming up in attendance. It helps that the BM organization fosters acceptance. So, even though racial minorities are severely underrepresented on the Playa, I felt as safe there, as I do in more heavily populated centers like NYC and SF.

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  • AllThatJazz says:

    I still find it so very interesting that most of the comments which continue to pour in deal mainly with the commenter’s own particular hang ups about issues surrounding race (and by default gender, class, sexuality, etc.) It makes me realize a few things that should be brought to attention…

    1) BM is an annual *event/ritual*. It is NOT necessarily a LIFESTYLE. I think this is the foundation for most of the confusion in this and other discussions on the blog. Once you present BM as a lifestyle then you start to wonder “whose lifestyle is it?”… White people? Black people? Asian people? That is what I am seeing in a lot of the comments, an assumption that the event represents a particular lifestyle of a particular group. Everyone wants to own BM as their personal thing that reflects themselves. This is problematic of course for a variety of reasons. The *only* group that BM reflects accurately are the Artists and Creators. To put that in a different way, you can remove all the other aspects of BM culture and still have BM…but if you were to take away the ART you would be left with nothing but an empty gesture. Art is essential to the playa and its core culture. Art has no race, no sexual preference, no economic class. Art is Art. Artists are the true “authentic” burners.

    2) Now lets talk about types of Art… lets say there is “safe” Art and “dangerous” Art. BM originally supported dangerous artists. Back in the day you would be greeted at the gate by a gruff dude holding a loaded AK-47 and not some sparkle pony who wants to hug you (haha). People DIED each year for all sorts of reasons! This lead to BM becoming policed and adopting more rules due to safety concerns.
    So the Art itself has morphed as the type/kind of Art changed over the years. This is very very important! It means that more than any other factor, ART is the deciding critical issue on the playa and not race/lifestyle/sexuality/etc. It is not about whether the artist is white or black…but what KIND of ART are they bringing to the playa? It is *the* defining aspect of the ritual.

    3) Finally, BM is an event with a long history that goes mostly ignored. Over the years this has always been a bone of contention between the long time 20 year plus artists and the newer attendees. Unfortunately, there is a real lack of respect for the older participants as the newer crowd always ends up subverting the experience of the event. There seem to be four distinctive groups: the “less than 5 years”, the “5-10 years”, the “10-15 years” and the “over 15 years”. Realize that each group has very specific ideas about what BM is and is not. Also understand the amount of time and money that the older groups have put in versus the newer attendees is staggering! (crazy respect is due to the DPW for that reason alone!!!)

    The point I am making is that everyone should think about how these factors dynamically interact together because it speaks to issues of WHO is attending the event each year way better than putting it terms of race/class/sexuality.

    How else can burners imagine a future of BM without truly understanding its past?

    (especially now that due to social media like fb it is now no longer considered underground and you have HUNDREDS of thousands of people trying to attend when we can barely meet the needs of 50k!)

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  • el gallo says:

    I find it odd that we are so obsessed with this issue really. Only white people (and it is a color in the cultural sense, like black, even if both are technically pigments), especially “liberals”, leftists, whatever…are. There are many “colored” people events, here in the US and around the world, wherein no one scratches their head and asks “Where are the white people?”, or “Where are the Bantu?”, or “Where are all the Pashtuns?”. There was an African-American couple at our camp last year (2011) who loved Burning Man, had a great time, and I never thought to ask them “Where is the rest of your tribe?”. They seemed perfectly at home and very comfortable. But more importantly, there is nothing wrong with 50,000 white people gathering together for whatever reason (and I understand that the initial question didn’t overtly suggest that). There is nothing “missing”, there is no capitalist, class interpretation to be made of it. There is no fear and insecurity factors that might address “minority” issues of marginalization or security. Anyone who has ever picked up a paper, or been to a Hip-Hop event can attest that fear of danger is hardly an obstacle to black, white, brown, or Asians, going anywhere. Burning Man is simply something that white peoples, mainly, are interested in doing, and others, for no specific set of reasons, are simply not interested in. If they were, they would come. When they become interested, they will. To a PC regressive liberal this may seem incomprehensible; but there are no socio-economic factors determining anything here. No white Man’s burden to bear, no Post-colonial residue, no capitalist plot against the poor proletariat and peoples of color, no class, identity, and the subjective self issues of any relevance. It’s just, as Nietzsche tried to tell the bone-heads a century ago: aesthetics.

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  • realafterglow says:

    Thank you so VERY much for posting this. I’m going this year and it’s my first time. I’m a woman of color and pagan so I’m used to being the only person of color in the room (not to say that there are no black pagans, just that I tend to be the only one here in Seattle…) I have to say that it is a little tiring to hear about an event that is supposed to be so amazing and special and break boundaries and yet, this boundary is never broken. This isn’t a problem exclusive to Burning Man but to many other events. I “volunteer” for an anime convention here in Seattle and have been doing so for 5 years. When I first started, I was the only one. Now there are many people of color who particpate and attend. I think it takes time and I think it takes a sense of being really open to everyone who wants to attend.

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  • realafterglow says:

    OH, and the comment about black woman’s hair (Richard). While I can see his point in some ways, I think that it’s rather restrictive to not think that a woman can change her hair or do something to make it work more at camp. But, for the sake of full disclosure, I have dreadlocks and it’s been 10 years since I’ve had straight hair…

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  • SJ says:

    I have met Russians and people from Eastern Europe, perhaps you need to go for more years to have a greater chance at running into “minorities” like Russians, I have been 11 times.

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  • Norbu says:

    Not that it should matter but 3 time burner.
    Now for the relevant info: classic NeoyoRican
    Grew up b/t the 2 worlds of NY and PR in the 50s and 60s
    Took the whole family to the 2nd burn in ’09

    Really appreciate the conversations above as it is a critical one not just to the Burn but to the US of A healing itself. Some good insights into why the whole of this country in all of its colors has a hard time with or at the Burn.

    Bottom line for me and my partner: the music is too one-dimensional. So much thumpy thumpy techno trance electro. Boring after a while. Yes some pockets of other rhythms b/c the Brazilians showed up or Nicodemus was there but talk about “minority”.

    Be prepared if you go to a bit of a music desert in the desert.

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  • LS says:

    I get really sad when I watch videos from burner festivals and see white people with dreads AND native head dresses dancing around to Dub Kirtan All-Stars. It presents me with a real dilemma. I’m a white person who’s aware of the systemic racism in American society (and no, you can never convince me it’s not real), and looking at a group of white people who feel enlightened but aren’t enlightened to what priviledge is… it just makes me sad and hopeless.

    If it makes you feel globally-oriented to dance to kirtan whilst wearing a native headress and dread locks, I feel you on the desire to believe that, but it’s a lie you tell yourself to hide the terribly difficult truth. All of the cultures you’re embracing have been oppressed brutally by white people, and the reason you have their artifacts is largely because of that oppression.

    Doesn’t that bother you? It bothers me.

    I don’t have a solution. But I urge everyone to think about it… and if you feel the need to respond to this post in anger, stop and take a moment. Why are you angry? Are you hiding from something? Why don’t you want to believe this?

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  • LS says:

    If something is so terrible and all-encompassing that it’s difficult to comprehend AND it challenges your own identity, it’s oh-so-tempting to avoid the topic…

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  • El Gallo says:

    “Black people party together to get rid of the tension that they pent up in their daily lives due to racial judgment by whites.”
    This is such knee-jerk perfectly stupid self-indulgent Liberal bullshit.
    Why don’t you mumble some “per mea culpas” and say three Hail Mary’s and make a good act of contrition while you’re at it.
    I teach a world music class, and an American Popular Music survey class. I have around 60% Black students. Burning Man doesn’t interest most of them. they could care less- furthermore you, nor I- have an answer as to why Black people do anything, including why they party. Black people party because they want to. All humans have a party instinct, but it doesn’t manifest in the same way. Burning Man doesn’t appeal to most Blacks I know and have spoken to. A few are fascinated by it and we are planning to go together in the near future. It’s as simple as that. We needn’t think we are so important, or that there is a socio-economic-political component to why someone might not want to come to our party.

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  • Antelope says:

    Just my 2 cents. I am native American, live and work within 200 miles of the playa. I hesitated going to burning man for a few years, as other natives I spoke to about burning man all cautioned me not to go, as they or someone they knew had bad experiences. Some of those with a reluctance to go, or they are not particularly fond of burning man are very near he black rock desert.

    I finally did go last year, had a great time and yes, seeing non-native ‘acting” like Indians, isn’t so hot for me, but live and let live. And yes, burning man does seem to be only for those that can afford the steep ticket prices.

    I didn’t even mind having my picture taken with numerous burners, they seen my long hair and immediately wanted a picture. A few even expressed some amazement that I was there. As they don’t see many long hairs at BM I guess.

    BM as is America, is changing color–from mostly “white” to people of color. And really to me it don’t matter–people are people. Just don’t force your missionaries on me–they did enough damage. **if you know anything about native American history, ya know what I am talking about**

    I have a ticket for this year, so am going again. Sorry my post is rather bland, and really didn’t have any stellar points, its just as I said…”2 cents” worth. See you on the playa or not. I will be the native in the johnny depp tonto makeup–with “real” real long hair. lol

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  • Coolio Unroolio says:

    The event is always going to be mostly European-origin Americans and Europeans. Everyone else has a culture. Also, the whole notion of trying to be “freaky” or “weird” is also largely a “white” phenomenon. In addition, let’s face it, “The Burn” is an amphetamine fest. All the imbeciles that think “E” is hallucinogenic are mostly “white” people. People of color are often happier kickin’ back with a brew and a blunt. Also, the crummy electronic, droning, brain dead music is largely enjoyed by … you guessed it … white people.
    If more white kids would just try and ask their parents and grandparents about their heritage, a few trips to Europe would offer copious real festivals that have historical significance and meaning. Burning Man really has no meaning; it’s a collection of white people that are largely directionless. Plus, the whole idea is simply stolen from the Hindu festival Dussehra, where a large figure of a man is burned symbolically. See for more details.
    God, white people are always thinking they “discover” things like … America, chocolate, tobacco, potatoes, etc.

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  • Delicate Flower says:

    “White people are just more interesting.”

    “Black women’s hair. Not designed for camping.”

    “The minority community is mostly homophobic.”

    Y’all… that is some racist talk. You should be ashamed.

    And regarding the post: “The sexual mores of minority cultures tend to be significantly more conservative than those of Burners.”

    Guess what? The sexual mores of American culture in general tends to be significantly more conservative than those of Burners. Of all the asinine, thoughtless, pointless statements… Let me throw some statistics at you. A recent Gallup poll found that 11 percent of people found polygamy “morally acceptable.” 58% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Only 10% support the legalization of MDMA or Ecstasy. I think we can assume that the approval rate is rather higher among Burners.

    There’s nothing wrong with wondering why BM is so homogeneous, but remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. If you really want to know, get the census folk on it properly. You asked about it in 2013- release those results once the transcription is done.

    Come on. We’re better than this.

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  • Kim says:

    I was at burning man last year for the first time, and I didn’t feel out of place because I carried the attitude of radical inclusion. Everyone is welcome, and race doesn’t matter. I love that concept because there isn’t a necessity to *try* fitting in, you can just be yourself. I experienced various things there that are still impacting my heart almost a year later. I believe that to a degree, a real dialogue about the racial dynamic of burning man is avoided because no one wants to feel uncomfortable., yet at times, I felt that people really wanted to engage me and talking to me, and ask me about my state, background, etc. Other times, I felt that people purposefully avoided me simply because my dark skin made them uncomfortable. I view that is an ignorant attitude to take if you call yourself a burner. In no way, shape, or form should exclusion, even if it is subtle should be apart of your actions because of someone’s race; essentially, that is a hypocritical approach to take as a person who believes in the burning man principles. From my perspective, what kept me from having the desire to go was central to my finances (my hair definitely survived the dust). On any given day, I absolutely cannot afford burning man. A thousand dollars easily on essentials? That’s rent, food, daily travel expenses, etc etc. I may be making an argumentative statement, but from these comments there is an impression that I get that whites think blacks don’t want to be around them, or blacks (we) don’t like the music at burning man, and the list goes on. If that is the case between some blacks and whites, isn’t that the personal issue of the individual??? Do I need to exclaim to you all that I like white people? LOL That’s kind of a silly statement, isn’t it, considering that we are ALL human beings, and the fact that some of us don’t like to be around each other speaks to a larger issue within ourselves. Burning man is representative of a lot of important ideas and concepts to me, and it is an event that people should go to at least once in their life; a blue, green, purple, or orange person. It’s a good way to get away from the things that divide us and to actually be human towards each other. The very last thing I’d like to add, is the problem with some of the comments: You really cannot know why someone doesn’t take the steps the acclimating to a certain environment unless you ask that person. People of any race cannot assume the mind/heart of another race because of their perception, or from what they’ve seen in movies, or television shows. Those places of social expressions, to me, are exaggerations of a group(s) of people. I think that burning man, one day should be reflective of the many different cultures that exist in America, it shouldn’t be reflective of the fact that we are all divide and avoiding each other out of fear, and/or hatred, that is an awful feeling to carry around with you, and I don’t agree that that is what being a burner should be.

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  • B says:

    I think you’re placing a lot of responsibility on people of color for not coming to burning man, but not looking at the factors surrounding the creation of burning man and the circumstances supporting burning man as cause. For one thing, just looking at the pictures, there seems to be a whole lot of racism going down (ie. people wearing “Indian” headdresses). For another thing, it was founded by people who had the time and in many cases the money to build art in the desert. That concept alone is incredibly privileged. Also, by the way, your reasons listed above are racist. You are making blanket generalizations about all people of color. Not cool. Sure these might be true for some people, but not all. I think it’s really harmful and oppressive to suggest that all people of color are afraid to go places, or aren’t as sexually adventurous as white people, etc. While perhaps you are trying to just make observations, they are subtly very racist (racial micro aggressions.) Anyways, I think it’s an important question that you posed, but I think you need to approach it from a more contentious perspective and don’t assess people of color as if we are all the same. wrong

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  • 1q1b says:

    interesting article…i’m going to burning man for the first time on tuesday!!!! i’m a black woman who’s grown up, worked and lived in diverse (at times international) environments so i have friends from a variety of backgrounds.

    no one has hit me with the “is it a white people thing” question yet, BUT i do get the following:

    – “isn’t that just like a hippie festival?”
    – *gasps* “be careful, don’t do drugs!”

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  • xraytwonine says:

    All of the behavior within the playa is counter culture inspired.

    Minorities survive through cultural preservation.
    Without culture, there won’t be “minorities”.

    In fact, white burners are a minority within whites.
    Counter culture movements survive by having things like Rainbow Gatherings and Burning Man. Indeed, it is no different that any ethnic parade, cultural festival.

    Also, burning is an activity of privilege for the privileged few.
    Few minorities are privileged so few attend.

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  • Ian Denchasy says:

    With P-Diddy, Will Smith, and Michelle Rodriquez in attendance, you can be sure word will get our and more people of color will finally make the trek – and we’ll be better off for it.

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  • DavidM says:

    Isn’t it interesting … the first thing I googled about Burning Man is “Is BM a white thing”. This article came up first.

    As long as their is the world white and the words poor, then as long as duality exists, whilst a week of Burning Man may be able to give you a little sense of “freedom”, the reality is that there is white and black, rich and poor. If these things are not dealt on a conscious level within society, then BM is simply another cult and event fad. Burning Mans will be popping up all over the world in their local vicinities and it will just be like some of those paintthrowing events that have sprung up worldwide mimicking the Indian religious festival of Holi.

    So yes, BM is a white people thing.

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  • DavidM says:

    Isn’t it interesting … the first thing I googled about Burning Man is “Is BM a white thing”. This article came up first.

    As long as there is the word “white” and the word “poor”, as long as duality exists, whilst a week of Burning Man may be able to give you a little sense of “freedom” from duality, the reality is that there is white and black, rich and poor. If these things are not dealt on a conscious level within society, then BM is simply another cult and event fad. Burning Mans will be popping up all over the world in their local vicinities and it will just be like some of those paintthrowing events that have sprung up worldwide mimicking the Indian religious festival of Holi.

    So yes, BM is a white people thing. It definitely isn’t a black thing.

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  • BeyondBarriers says:

    I’m so glad some thoughtful person figured it would be a good idea to start this discussion. I believe that open minded talks about racial issues and perceptions are the best way for today’s societies to move forward and finally leave the oppression of the past behind.Those talks may be awkward, painful and uncomfortable but they are very worthwhile…a bit like life! I’m a mixed race female and I’ve wanted to go to Burning Man for years, I have, however,been the victim of quite a few racist incidents over the years. I used to live in Scotland and I’ve now just moved back to Florida. To give a few examples of the type of incident I’ve experienced, just recently, a complete stranger whom I’d nodded to and smiled at as I got out of my car with my little toddler, waited till I was out of sight then go out of his car, walked around mine before taking a big wad of gum out of his mouth and smearing it on the inside of my windshield wiper with the intention that it would obscure my line of vision while I was driving. I would not have known if someone else in the car park hadn’t witnessed the entire thing. The police didn’t want to know and the man just point blank denied it when I asked him “Why would you do that?” I’m also an artist and have found the art world to also be extremely racist, I was sabotaged and targeted with deliberate intimidation tactics after having an exhibition at a prestigious venue back in 2007. The reaction shocked me greatly and it took a long time for me to recover my confidence. The deliberate harmful actions and intentions of a minority of white people towards black people is a big reason for why people of color feel less comfortable in certain situations. We have been terrorized away from that happy, free state of being, because there are still large organized groups of people who actively seek to prevent us from being happy and free. It is a form of supremacy that seeks the removal of all good things, including good emotions, from the ethnicity they seek to subjugate, because they perceive their freedom as eventual competition and they know that the true history of much of the world has been suppressed. However, the majority of white folks are not like that and although it may be difficult to keep your defenses down and live life as a free and open, welcoming spirit as there is often the occasional racist who tries to spoil things, it’s worth getting out there, putting up with the aggravation from small minded spite filled,impoverished souls in order to transcend our past. As a mother, I dread the day when I have to explain to my little boy that there are people in this world who may hate him, or victimize him because of the colour of his skin. It is however best that I prepare him so that he knows how to psychologically defend himself if necessary. However he will also have the benefit of knowing many good hearted, welcoming spirits of many races and I think that these are the kind of people who are often attracted to events like Burning Man. I am looking forward to attending the event sometime in the future. Peace and Light…:)

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