Diversity & Radical Inclusion: Marlon Williams on the 10 Principles’ Racial Limits

This is the second entry in a new, long-form series designed to spark conversation about diversity, Radical Inclusion, and differences in the global Burning Man community.

Marlon Williams is the Assistant Director for Public Sector Innovation at Living Cities, a national organization that works to build more racially and economically equitable urban centers in the United States. Marlon wants to build cities where “you don’t have to be lucky to get ahead.” He was born in Guyana and grew up in Brooklyn. Marlon first visited Black Rock City in 2011 and has camped with Chakralicious and People of Color Camp.

Transcript edited for clarity.

Dominique: How did Burning Man become a part of your life?

Marlon Williams. (Photo by Cali Williams 2014)

Marlon: Burning Man first came to me through a storytelling podcast. It was this weird place that I Googled at work and I said, “OK, that seems like a great thing, but I don’t really have access or an entry into it.” [That was] until I met my now current wife and found out that she had gone to this incredible thing. She lived in San Francisco and I think going to Burning Man was a little bit of a rite of passage, but I hadn’t planned on going back until we got together. Then I went to Burning Man for my first time and, it was just all the cliches of a transformational experience.

But even in that [first experience] I felt there was a difference between going to Burning Man and being a Burner versus being a Burner of color. I’ve been to the Burn seven years now and it took me a number of years to try and figure out a way to reconcile those two things.

Was there any hesitation on the front end for you being a person of color going out to Black Rock City?

Yeah, so my primary motivation to go the first time was that I’m a planner by trade. My work primarily focuses on building more equitable cities throughout the world, and for me, “better” means ones that are more racially equitable.

So going to a place where you get to rebuild a city from scratch every year seemed to be the perfect learning lab. I just wanted to see how that works, what that meant, and just experience that opportunity. Because mostly when I work, you’re working with what you’ve got, and the idea to just be able to recreate something every year [really] resonated with me as a planner.

On a personal note, as a person of color, I remember the thing I was most afraid about: I could prepare, I could buy the list of things that I needed, but the thing I was most afraid about actually was what I was going to wear. A lot of being a person of color navigating through the world, and particularly navigating in very white spaces, you’re constantly trying to figure out, “How do you safely navigate those spaces and try to fit in?” The idea of radical expression terrified me a little bit, right?

Because it was about trying out, “How do I move among these folks?” For me there was a sense of like, “I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be grounded and solid in my identity as a black man that wearing some sort of costume felt like a turning back away from that.” I was trying to be myself authentically in all the spaces I could show up in, and wearing a costume just seemed like a backwards step. I was afraid that I wouldn’t find something that felt real or authentic to me.

You’re working to build more equitable cities. Looking at this issue of diversity from your professional experience and also your personal experience as a Burner, what do you have to say generally about the diversity that you have seen and experienced in Black Rock City? Is it an equitable city?

Where I start with that conversation is to remember that people often say, “Burning Man is on another planet.” I really like to remind folks that in my travels to Black Rock City, I am traveling through America, and that Black Rock City is a very American city. Even [through] the typical ways in which it tries to have a constitution and Principles and trying to have inclusion, without affirmatively trying to move forward on that ethos, [it] just replicate[s] all the things that already exist within the default world.

Marlon and Cali Williams’s wedding ceremony at Embrace in 2014. (Photo by Bret Lehne)

Black Rock City is not on another planet. It’s very much on Earth, and specifically the United States, with all the challenges of our racial histories. That comes into that space because our racial history is in the groundwater of all the places that we are in. So it infects all those pieces and sets up disparities in the pipeline of who can see this as a place they might want to be or feel faith in. 

I also like to think about the differences when you set up a table and you say, “Everyone is welcome.” Are you setting up a table behind closed doors and saying, “Everybody could get here and find it,” or are you actually going out into the world and trying to bring people to the table that you’ve created?

Those are two very different actions. I think we say, “We want to have Radical Inclusion,” but I think we really just settled on being inclusionary in thought and in design, [but] we haven’t been radical about it.

To be radical about it would be to take more action and to be affirmatively moving individuals to understand, “What would it take for this to be a place that other folks might feel safe to be in?” Right now, we just kind of have set up those expectations of, “It’s inclusionary.” Inclusionary for whom? When you think back to our Constitution that says, “All men are created equal,” even within that idea is the assumption that the Constitution originally meant just all white, land‑owning men. Even though we have Radical Inclusion [as one of our 10 Principles], it often gets interpreted as Radical Inclusion for white people who have felt excluded from a lot of other experiences.

In some earlier conversations we had, you’ve brought up the notion that Radical Self‑expression might stem from white privilege. Can you expand on that?

When I think about what makes Burning Man special, I think about the Principles that it’s built upon. But even within those 10 Principles, [they’re still] tied to some of the challenges we have as a country.

Marlon at a silent disco Burner party in New York City in 2015. (Photo by Morning Gloryville)

What is the primary privilege of whiteness? The privilege of whiteness allows you to be an individual while everybody else gets categorized by their [race]. Self‑expression was always something really challenging for me, because in my daily life in the default world people always approach me and see me first as a black man before any other data point gets to be expressed. Oftentimes I don’t have the opportunity with most people I encounter with to go any deeper than that. One of the primary privileges of whiteness is that you get to be trusted and embraced as an individual without having any [of your] actions taken as a representation of your entire race. So Radical Self-expression really is based on the principle of white privilege and individuality. Many people of color show up in the world representationally, where I am first a ‘black man’ and I never get to be just a ‘man.’

Having a Principle that’s based on white privilege makes it difficult for people who don’t have that privilege to both see themselves as part of that community and to navigate through it. At the same time, I also think that’s been part of the transformation of what has attracted me to being in that space because I get to try and think about what it mean[s] for me to be fully expressed in a way that is not only about my own expression but my expression as a black man where I can hold those things together.

When you get to Black Rock City every year, what are the things that are different about Burning Man than say New York City, Detroit, Houston, or wherever it may be, when it comes to diversity and to your experience as a black man?

I remember my experience of coming to Black Rock City on my second year and getting to the gate and being met by the greeters and going through that practice of them saying, “Welcome home and you are beautiful.” I remember doing that one year after they had just done account after account of our black men being shot down by the police, and I felt like I was escaping a little bit into Black Rock City. 

Next to me there was a white women who was also going through the very same ritual through the very same gates and she was told, “Welcome home and you are beautiful.” I remember her saying, “Yes, I am.” That broke my heart in that moment, because for her coming into the space where Radical Self-expression is emphasized and into this community it’s a reaffirmation of all of the things she had been told both in Black Rock City and in the default world about her.

While for me, I didn’t get to ever hear those words outside of those city walls. [Burning Man] was a respite, [a] time to recover from all the things telling me that I was less than and not beautiful, and ugly, and scary, and something to be feared. Though we were both citizens of the city, we were coming in with very different experiences of what it meant to arrive.

How have you navigated being a person of color in Black Rock City?

So, one of my favorite things about being black is “the nod.” The nod is [a] recognition that other people of color give each other when you’re in spaces that you’re not really supposed to be in.

I love the nod. Whenever I see a lot of folks of color, you just acknowledge each other. The nod just says, like, “I see you, you see me, it’s a fucking miracle that we’re both here and there’s a story behind that.” It’s just a way we recognize each other and how implausible, because of all the things that exist in the default world, that we’re both here in this time and space. Those random embraces I have with other people of color never [stop] feeling like magic.

Baby blessing ceremony for Marlon and Cali at the Temple in 2016. (Photo by Bret Lehne)

I also recognize that the nod is a way in which we cope in a world that doesn’t fully feel like ours. We don’t fully feel like we belong. The nod is about saying, “We need community and we’ve got to stick together, because there’s something else here that doesn’t feel just right, sometimes.”

I go through [Black Rock City] where [it can be] a challenge to recognize that. I get lulled into feeling like, “Everyone is beautiful and we’re all here,” and you just get caught up in the thing of the moment. But the moment you see another person of color, or you have an experience that really challenges you, you kind of think back to the fact that the challenges of getting to this space and this place are really high.

I would argue that there’s a way in which we as people of color need the [Burning Man] experience more [than others]. A place where you can go to be seen, to be celebrated, to explore who you are in a deep way is I argue, more important for people of color than white folks who have that experience and opportunity in so many more spaces. That’s part of why I’m really committed to bringing more people of color out to the Burn, because of that privilege I want more people to be able to enjoy.

The structure of our default society, which extends into Black Rock City, keeps too many people of color from having access to it. That’s something I’m trying to work against and break down.

What can white Burners do to recognize what you’re talking about as real and not as just an isolated voice, and what can they do about it?

A couple of things are coming to mind. I think my first thing is a little bit from before is that I want people to recognize that Black Rock City is an American city and that we need to really understand our racial history in the United States. What is the impact it has in terms of racializing our geography, racializing our relationships to each other and the ways in which it separated us from ourselves? [We need to think about these things] so that we can try to undo that intentionally in the creation of this city that we have the privilege and the opportunity to recreate every year.

Enjoying a dusty Burn night in 2013. (Photo by random Burner)

I want folks to think about not just what it means to be open but what it means to reach out and try and connect. We Burners have [these] values around connection, but how do we be truly radical?

Not just being open, but being radically inclusive. Not just saying that you can express yourself, but actually creating the space where people [who are not the same as you] can do that both in Black Rock City and beyond. I think having the requirement that someone has to go out to the desert to be a Burner is a false one, but how do we get people to be part of a community where there is power in the belief to try things. 

One of the things I experience as a person of color is that the cost of taking risk is so much higher for me than for my white counterparts, because of the ways in which our society is organized. What do we do to try to create a place that’s trying to undo a lot of the impacts of the current default world and becomes something truly radically different?

I’m curious to know if you have thoughts on Immediacy, Civic Responsibility, or any of the other Principles.

As an American and as a Burner I sometimes feel heartbroken that I am in love with a country and a place that never fully accepted me as part of its identity. How can you love a country that doesn’t love you back? How can you love a place that never had you as part of [its] vision? [There’s a] distance that that creates within a person and their ability to show up fully as a citizen.

As a black man, there’s nothing that I say that is not analyzed for its consequences by a white model, because the consequences for me of the words I [say] and the actions I take are just always so much more intense.

Marlon, Cali and their community perform a baby blessing ceremony at the Temple in 2016. (Photo by Bret Lehne)

Being radical and having Radical Self-expression and trying to live in the Immediacy, when the consequences are so much higher, that works against everything I’ve learned in order to survive. I remember after the Burn one year, we were back in Reno and some [Burners] were walking around and playing [in public] with toy weapons on them and I was like, “If I did that I would be dead.” It’s something that other folks didn’t have to think about. 

Finally, another piece that always resonates with me is that sometimes the process of “becoming white” involves a disconnection from community. For many white folks, the idea of Communal Effort and being able to be part of a community effort in creating a city and a camp and an experience is so transformative, while for me that’s everything that [I’ve experienced] in order to survive. It’s what we did in order to survive in systems, in structures, in places that put us on the attack. I always find it interesting that people find Burning Man to be sometimes their first experience of Communal Effort. That’s been the thing that [has] kept me alive to this point.

Can you explain that idea?

If you live in an imperfect system from a racial standpoint, then it’s the aunts, the mothers, the grandmothers telling [you] to be careful. They’re looking out for [you], it’s us looking out for each other. It’s the pulling a child aside and giving them “the talk,” which is not about sex. It’s about how your interactions with the police [can] turn dangerous. It is about pooling resources together, because of the way systemically, we haven’t had access to wealth‑building, just so that the child could go to college, or [so] that someone could buy a home, or so that somebody [can] eat. Those are ways in which, at least in my community, we build community and support each other. It’s always been for our mutual survival. 

But I think if you have the privilege of living in a system that allows you to have advantage[s] and is built for your success, you never have to rely on those communities, because you have a system that’s about your privilege. [Living] with Communal Effort seems so natural to me, while I see that for some [Burners] it’s revolutionary.

Anything you want to add?

Narratives are really important and even despite your policies, practices, even your actions, the narrative about who you are as Burners and who you’re trying to be is going to predetermine if anybody’s willing to see your actions or feel welcome into the place. I do really feel challenged, [like the 10 Principles] sometimes [don’t] represent me, and that [they] represent the manifestation of white privilege in all its many ways. I still struggle to resolve being a Burner and being black, because [of] the ways in which there’s dissonance with the idea of the Principles. It’s a healthy conversation though, and it’s important to engage with it.

Each year I find myself making the pilgrimage back to Black Rock City for many of the same reasons I came that first time. My life’s work is about building better and more equitable cities, and I believe that getting to “better” is going to take a lot of iteration. Driven by a set of radical ideals we must test bold ideas, learn from what works, and let go of the ideas and strategies that no longer serve all of us. I can’t think of a better place to practice this than Black Rock City, a place that is born and burned again each year so we can strive to get closer to our dreams.

Top photo: Meeting the morning sun at the Temple in 2013. (Photo by Cali Williams)

About the author: Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley

Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley

Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Communications. Dom manages press/media relations, external communications strategies, and social media, to name a few things. On playa, he helps run Media Mecca with a team of amazing volunteers. Burning since 2013, Dom’s playa name seems to change every year. Prior to joining the Burning Man staff, Dom spent almost six years on the breaking news desk at CNN in New York.

38 Comments on “Diversity & Radical Inclusion: Marlon Williams on the 10 Principles’ Racial Limits

  • TinkerTinker says:

    Burning Man is a white man’s sport. Most Burners have minority ‘friends’ but only to virtue signal. When it comes down to actually getting out on the playa, those so-called friends don’t get included very often. Although most camps have a token minority, again – to virtue signal.

    No one wants to appear racist… or sexist, for that matter. That’s why so many women get a free ride at BRC (including tickets paid). All they need to do is look pretty and let the camp leader watch them shower or do whatever or anything. There’s a lot of prostitution (in various forms) on the playa and always has been.

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    • davidjbrown says:

      A much needed conversation within the Burning Man realm. Thank you for the honesty. We hosted a Meet and Greet in CIncy last year, connecting with the regional burners (as a preliminary to hosting the No Spectators show there) and as one of the organizers, I brought up the topic to the floor on racial inclusion; that BMan was very white. I wanted to get a sense from the group how they felt about it. There was some discussion. Some eyes rolled. We had what I would characterize as a polite conversation. To make any progress, conversations need to take place for any meaningful ideas to surface. I also found it interesting that two different burners, who are black, approached me afterwards and said to leave it alone, that the radical inclusion covered it. Maybe it does for them personally in how they navigate the BMan safe space. I also know that the BMan org seems serious about addressing it and I look forward to hearing about radical approaches that we all can bring to the table.

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    • Velvet says:

      This sounds like damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So if a camp has no POC burners they are racist and if they have a few they are just virtue signalling? If an attractive woman gets gifted a free ticket from a friend she is just prostituting herself and the friend of course has ulterior motives? What do you recommend to remedy this?

      Cursed be you to have this strange power to always know the evil in lurking in the hearts of men.

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      • TinkerTinker says:

        >What do you recommend to remedy this?

        You’re like a glass half-empty kinda person. There’s nothing wrong with what consenting adults do. There’s nothing wrong with prostituting yourself to get a free-ride to Burning Man. It’s your preconceptions that are the problem. There is no remedy to a problem that doesn’t exist.

        Oh, but doctor, it hurts when I do this…. So stop doing it.

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      • Bill says:

        This coming from a black hippy .

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      • atgo says:

        It definitely is a bit damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s hard to navigate!

        Dealing with systemic injustice, like white privilege/supremacy, is incredibly complex. As Marlon says in the article, it’s about having a dialogue, understanding the history and reality of life for POC, and engaging with the complexity. Nobody is going to get it right 100% of the time because there isn’t always a right answer.

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  • Ned says:

    I made a camp and I admittedly had a hot ex-GF with me. We weren’t really together or apart, we were just trying to have a good time. So my complaint is that a black guy set his eyes on her. He would come into my camp and eat our food and drink our booze, but was all the while trying to separate me from my ‘GF’. My attitude was, ‘Fine, if she wants to be with you then fine.’ , but I have a duty to my camp and keeping in safe and under control… He didn’t like that, he just wanted to have sex with her. She wasn’t unresponsive to him and if they went off and had sex I wouldn’t have bothered me.

    What BOTHERED me was he viewed me as an obstacle to his desires, while at the same time receiving my services and assistance and goods.

    The straw the broke the back was when I shared my precious 3 grams of cocaine with him. And high as a kite he told me that he wanted to kill me. So… I’m not really sure about all of that. Like Larry Harvey famously said, ‘Black people don’t like to camp.’ … And I think the gentleman proved it. This of course sounds racist, but I have a foundation for stating it.

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    • Dr. Yes says:

      Why is it relevant that he was black? He was also a human, a man, drank water, had certain food preferences, was either a heterosexual or bisexual by the sounds of it, etc. You’re the one deciding that his behavior had something to do with being black, rather than just being a dick.

      Why not focus on the fact that he’s a male doing this? It’s almost entirely males who are just interested in interactions with people in order to have sex with them. That’s got nothing to do with his race. Is it because you’re a man so you know it’s “not every man” but you’re not black, so it’s easy for you to tar black people with a generalization?

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      • Playa boy says:

        Why not focus on the fact that he’s a HUMAN doing this? It’s almost entirely HUMANS who are just interested in interactions with people in order to have sex with them. That’s got nothing to do with his race and GENRES.
        Is it because you’re a WOman so you know it’s “not every WOman” but you’re not black AND A MAN ALSO, so it’s easy for you to tar black people AND MEN with a generalization?and I can keep going like this ME TOO

        You’re almost there, good job for the inclusion of people of colors, keep going with Genres too. We love you without the sex part

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      • Ned says:

        >Why is it relevant that he was black?
        Oh, wow… How did I guess you were going to say that? I must be magic.

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    • Havoc says:

      The equal worst part of this comment is that you consider your “hot” ex-girlfriend your property, like everything else you listed in your racist rant. Gifting comes with no expectation of exchange. Being aggrieved that two adults were interrelating without YOUR consent is an embarrassing thing to bring to this excellent journal article.

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    • Velvet says:

      As others have said it has no bearing that this guy was black. Your comment is a great example of Marlon’s point that everything he does is seen first through the lens of his race.

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    • Bill says:

      I kinda agree with Dr Yes. He could have been white with those exact same behaviors. I’m a black hippy. I’m here to say that it was your camp and you should have the right not have someone around – white or black without worrying about being racist. Or, the black guy should’ve had enough where the girl would’ve gone to his camp of her own volition.

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  • Velvet says:

    Great article Marlon and Dominique. Lots to think about and navigate. I’ve often struggled with how to deal with my love for the 10 principles, and desire to promote them, while realizing that they do come out of a place of great privilege.

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  • Bry says:

    Wow, the type of response to this post here and on Facebook is really telling about people’s lack of ability to discuss race and racism. Automatically labelling people as racist and bringing up random unrelated anecdotes misses the point entirely. You would think Burners would be better.

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  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Thank you for relating your experiences. I’m looking forward to the series!

    Analysis of social justice and related, including those styles in style now, are always changing. And everybody seems to like to argue about them. But they are only a tool for action. Action in improving things is all that matters.

    I was introduced to the event in a non-pushy way by personal friends. So perhaps the way we diversify the burn is by inviting diverse personal friends.

    In turn, participation in the event is a tool too.

    Perhaps it creates optimism, or it frees from past thinking, it inspires creativity, it introduces you to collaborators, it teaches new skills, it evolves your values.

    Those tools, in the hands people who will use them year around, to improve conditions in the world, benefit us all.

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    • Yolanda says:

      >perhaps the way we diversify the burn is by inviting diverse personal friends.

      We need to push out white men. So your task this year is to make POC friends and not be friends with white men, because they cause all the wars. Even if you don’t really like your new POC friends, invite them to BM anyway. Diversity is our strength, although our diversity numbers are below 1%.

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  • Boyscout says:

    Hi Marlon! Thanks for letting us hear your voice!

    I have had a very good friend who’s both black and a woman, and while I’d hang out with her quite a bit in the default world, I didn’t really see into her life much. This past year I got her to come to the Burn, and she had a great time. But beyond that, I was privileged to be able to be there at the Temple on Saturday which she had not been going to all week until that afternoon. Listening to some of her history and past that I had no idea about, what she’s been through was terrible. But that all started me on the path of hearing more about the truth of daily life for various people of color. Not just her, but other friends in various communities I’m part of. And both listening more carefully, and most wonderfully being TRUSTED to hear their stories.

    It’s been eye opening for me, for my daily life and how I have made myself change my internal feelings/expressions, in order to try and project an outward change and acceptance. A constant struggle for me, and I know I have that white male privilege, but I’m trying a little bit each day, as I can.

    And as for Black Rock City, I think there’s a LOT more than can be done, especially on a local level with Regional groups and artists and such to intentionally go into those local communities and try and see what _they_ might need, and want, and like. And with luck, help provide more community for them, and not just trying to export what _we_ think is the Best and Only Way to have a community.

    Here’s a recent shot documentary titled: In Pursuit of Happiness: Black at Burning Man

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  • sve says:

    There’s this story about this idyllic mythical place unaffected by the world around it, Brigadoon. It appears once every 100 years out of the mist for just a very short time. If lucky you may happen upon it out on the Scottish moors. It’s a place where you can leave your ordinary world cares behind and for a moment be where everyone treats each other with with love and care, as family. Then it fades and disappears. When I return to Burningman I feel like I’m experiencing this same transient thing for real. The BRC is very big, and the efforts needed to be good to each other are high for all the residents. But it is a magical thing worth creating. I’ve had moments when it was fully there.

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  • NixyKnox says:

    Don’t assume that the white woman saying “Yes I am beautiful” at Gate feels that way anywhere else in the world. We all have assumptions and many are wrong.

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  • Gabe says:

    Thank you for writing this piece. It’s important and I look forward to the series. I’m saddened but not at all surprised by some of the comments on this thread. These are heavy topics and a lot of white people aren’t ready to hear these words. I hope the Burner community as a whole can continue to do the work to understand the power dynamics and privileges that are ever present, despite the perceived utopia that is created every year. Burning Man is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    Also, life on the playa is a complicated environment for anyone who isn’t white, straight, or cis-gender. I’m a mixed-race, queer, trans-person and although Burning Man feels safer in some ways compared to other environments, it also brings with it a lot of complicated experiences. It’s difficult and most of my camp-mates and friends don’t understand what it’s like to navigate the world in a body that is “othered” in several ways. I can’t simply exist and participate in the ways they can.

    Thanks again for being vulnerable and for sharing.

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  • Saphira says:

    I can appreciate Marlon’s individual perspective and experience. However, while I appreciate the perspective, I do differ. I am a black woman and a co-founder of a camp of over 100 persons – 2019 will be my 7th burn with the camp. I, respectfully want to share my insight and differing perspective.

    I grew up in the poor south with a single parent (father, no mother). A co-worker (white male) told me about Burning Man, and I googled it at work, just like Marlon, yet I thought, “I can’t go here unless I meet someone who’s been, I’m not showing up here alone.” That was also followed by the thought, “Will Jesus be upset?” Fast forward 4 years, and absent of religion, I met someone and I was brought right onto the Playa.

    My thoughts, if you will:

    I don’t believe it is the responsibility of the BMOrg to recruit. In so doing there is a creation of division. It’s a backhanded way to say “oh well the POC can’t get here on their own, they are incapable, let US do it for them, we don’t do this for anyone else, but we will for them…”. I think the better approach, as Marlon suggests, is inviting people as the individual Burner. Constantly, when I am at restaurants, or gatherings I invite people to come to Burning Man, White, Black, Asian, Latino… I hope that we understand forcing our numbers of POC to attend is quite unnatural, it is not organic. In the name of radical, I don’t think we should ever be unnatural. I would encourage that we open our mouth; provide the opportunity by verbalizing a welcome, an invite. We have to respect where people are in their lives and what challenges exist that prevent them from going – so help them where you can. Mentor. Invite POC artists to join and display their art on Playa.

    Camps + Burner Symposium
    At the Burner Symposium a few years back, a gentleman informed me that his camp wont accept anyone unless said individual already knows someone in the camp. Thus, if your circle of friends are of the same shade, well then… I think a bit of risk has to occur with camps that may get caught in their traditions.

    My Family + Friends
    I’ve invited every POC I know to the Burn. Not a soul has come yet (except my beautician, and she and her husband came for a couple of years). And while my “peeps” enjoy my photos, for some there is an aversion to the experience for multiple personal reasons. I’m okay with that. And I will keep inviting them. The “playa calls”…. right?

    Self Identity
    I hear Marlon’s personal experience at feeling accepted in the USA. I do not relate, although I can attest to some very common and similar experiences that are negative and often coined “Black experiences”. I accept that the negatives are birthed out of ignorance, an individual of ANY SHADE that just has not evolved from poor thinking habits (feelings of superiority, feelings of victimization etc..) and thus is trapped in behaviors tied to that thinking. It’s not about me, it’s their own brain – not my fault and I’m not interested in being their victim, so I stay away from places (my hometown) where such prevalence of ignorance is reinforced and rewarded – those are what I call ignorant communities.

    White Privilege is the new way to say, White Power?
    I am personally quite bothered by this McIntosh term, “White Privilege” as it appears to present itself as the new socially acceptable way to say, “White Power”. There is Black Privilege, you know and Asian privilege and Latino privilege…so it’s the term is naturally, nonsense (although a white woman was upset with me for saying this, but it’s true…Verrazano, Captain Cook, Michael Rockefeller…the WP did not work for them).

    And I know my perspective is less socially acceptable, but I’m a gal who likes to get at the roots of things and for me it’s to call our systems as systems supported by ignorant people not the color of their skin. Respectfully, I loved being at Burning Man and being a burner, a burner not attached to “Black” but simply the experiment of BRC. I was a citizen only, not a colored citizen. The default world and its bitterness about the shades of us hadn’t made it in.

    Thank you for allowing me to comment. I think I could go on and on. I know I don’t match a lot of the mainstream thoughts, or yours Marlon, but I respect where you share and I understand. I just wanted to share my view.

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  • Uncle Vern says:

    Thanks Marlon and Saphia, for two very different—but complimentary comments about getting to the Burn and your experiences therein. There are hundreds of different “Black” angles to being at burning man. Each is valid and different, but with subtle overlaps in experiences. I’m just happy to read two more. I wrote “Play and Possibility: Organic Racial Contact at Burning Man” with the Census Team for the Burning Man Journal (June 2016) and I definitely feel that inviting folks is best done one at a time. I love that both authors are radically self-expressing on this page. We love the Burn. And just like our love for our country, we understand that she can be better. Getting there starts with conversation. But don’t mistake our critical views as blame or a reason to feel guilty or defensive. This is new work for many of us who have battled for social inclusion. If you ask US to think radically, this is what you get — some views that are as delicious— and confronting as Marlon’s. And Saphira’s. Looking forward to burning with them both. On a personal note, I’ve been meeting with fellow academics in Chico, California, right next door to Paradise, California—home to the massive Camp Fire. I’ve pushed the local groups to consider making Paradise more inclusive. The town in the foothills has an awful reputation. At BRC, our experimental question is: How can we make a good thing even better? I think BRC citizens have a greater capacity to listen and grow than does the default USA. That gives me hope moving forward.

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  • Captain Vic says:

    I don’t think the best measure of “radical inclusion” is to count up the number of participants in each category of interest (skin color, sexual identity, age, primary language, Etc.). In my opinion, the best measure of inclusion is whether people feel welcome and included.

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    • Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley says:

      I agree, CaptainVic. Numbers don’t necessarily reflect true signs of inclusion (or not). As a global community of 90 official Regional Events and over 280 Regional Contacts on six continents, this conversation needs to extend beyond wanting to get more “fill in the blank” people to come to Black Rock City. It’s about how we, Burners everywhere, can take what we’ve learned from our experiences and affect the world in a new, different way.

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    • Lone Wolf says:

      I agree it’s great that burners of color are treated well, that’s the inclusive property of burning man. The real question is how accessible is this experience to everyone? It’s an event of privilege, and those of us who are privileged to attend are mostly white due to racist systems in the United States. So we have to acknowledge that first, )though I am really glad that all burners of color seem to enjoy the fruits of the playa).

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  • What an excellent interview. Examining our white privilege in our lives and at Burning Man is essential.

    About a decade ago, Census Camp interviewed Burners of color and presented a summary of the results the next year. The number one comment that interviewees shared: “I didn’t know that white people could be so nice.”

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  • Jill Broussard says:

    I love seeing this article, and have considered this year (2019) being my last burn because of the lack of inclusivity and white privledge so prevalent on playa. Because of how we’ve treated our brothers and sisters of color we’ve taken away the wealth building they would have had that would have allowed them to have the financial access to burning man. The bulk of people attending have to shell out so much money to attend and have the “radical” experience that it becomes an experience of privilege, which as the author stated, is just a duplicate of every American city in our country. Many people don’t realize that by attending, we are all complicit in the same message that we are not equal, and never were. Hope there are more articles like this.

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  • Tits says:

    This article is so necessary.

    So much resonates.

    I’m lucky enough to be a part of an intentional community that collects on playa once a year.

    We are a camp and it all started with some highschool/university friends wanting to guarantee a way to all meet up each year.

    These people are switched on, social justice orientated mostly white people that share values of creating diversity and transformation and change in the world. What’s more is that a large proportion of them even work in social justice, social change fields.

    Imagine my luck 4 years ago as a newer member of this community finding such a wonderful group of likeminded humans.

    This year a friend of mine wanted to join our camp, this friend of mine knows a lot of our community and would automatically get through our stringent vouching process. I.e. must know at least one other member of our community but greater chance of acceptance, if you know more than 1 person.

    Problem is that this friend of mine is dating a person of colour and because no-one has met him and she would opnly camp with us if her partner can camp with us – neither can camp with us.

    Saphia hit the nail on the head. Because of our social structures our camp is incredibly white and we are all aware of this.

    I recognised this opportunity to spark a conversation of doing something radical – i.e. a move away from our application traditions to make space for a person of colour and make them feel accepted and welcome. Because YES SPACE WILL HAVE TO BE MADE. You will all need to step outside yoru comfort zone. Yes because a fucking radical gesture is needed to create change in separated societies.

    I was so excited to bring this thought to my friends, intelletuals, progressive, freedom fighters etc. I now write this helpless, sadened, this pedastalled community (albeit just the selcteion committee) met my suggestion with polite thanks and continued on by as if nothing had been said at all. I brought it up another two times. And Nothing like crickets in a fucking forest.

    A friend and I even met said boyfriend on Skype he was amazing would have been the most perfect addition to our community in so many countless ways… but no…

    What the hell people? If this community can’t get their assess out of their comfortable perches of white privelege and can’t put the values and principles they say they believe in to guide them everywhere then how the fuck are we going to do this?

    I believe in Burning Man and the potential for radical inclusion, radical space for everyone and everyone feeling radically beautiful always. I’m not going to give up but this is not a fight we’ll win over night…


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