2020 Diversity + Radical Inclusion Town Hall: What We Heard and What We’re Doing

Written on behalf of the R.I.D.E. Stewardship Group

Last October, Burning Man Project held our very first Diversity & Radical Inclusion Town Hall. We were thrilled to see over 500 people join the call, and 33 Burners shared their experiences as Black, Indigenous or a Person of Color (BIPOC) in Black Rock City. We’re grateful for their honesty and vulnerability. We’re here now to share what we heard from the town hall, and what we plan to do moving forward, including another town hall in the works for this Spring.

But first, let’s talk about why we held this forum and why Radical Inclusion, diversity, and equity are critically important topics in the Burning Man community right now. Several events from 2020 forced the United States and many communities worldwide to reckon with different legacies of racism. Last year also brought to the forefront the need for Burning Man Project and our communities to think creatively about how we can take new approaches to this timely work. We are all impacted by racism. We need to take a close look at how it shows up in Burner spaces, and we must work collectively to address it.

Burning Man’s late beloved founder Larry Harvey said, “Well it seems to me, that all real communities grow out of a shared confrontation with survival. Communities are not produced by sentiment or mere goodwill. They grow out of a shared struggle. Our situation in the desert is an incubator for community.” Survival in the Black Rock Desert is one way we grow together. Coming together to recognize, absorb, and appreciate the experiences of BIPOC Burners is another avenue through which we can collectively build the community we want to see.

Holding this town hall meeting was one way for us to hear the stories of BIPOC Burners, though we know similar conversations are happening in other circles. People are taking the initiative to learn and reflect about the diversity (or lack thereof) within their theme camps, their art and mutant vehicle crews, their Regional communities, and their personal circles of friends and family. As we heard during the town hall, these conversations can be nerve-wracking and difficult, but they pare important parts of our effort to be truly radically inclusive.

What else did we hear during the Diversity & Radical Inclusion Town Hall? Here are some key themes:

  • More BIPOC, more connection. BIPOC Burners want to connect with other BIPOC Burners and bring more BIPOC communities into the Burn. Diversifying our playa family needs to start off-playa through our extended network of camps, artists, and installations.
  • BIPOC Burners are Burners. BIPOC Burners have the same right to be treated simply as individuals and human beings. Sometimes that requires seeing, acknowledging, and honoring someone’s racial identity, but BIPOC Burners ultimately are entitled to the same respect given to any member of the Burner community.
  • People of color are not a monolith. While there are shared identities, not every person of color has experienced the same things, nor will they have the same perspective on race and racism. Identity and inclusivity exist on a spectrum, and race isn’t at the forefront of each person of color’s experience. 
  • Shedding the armor of the default world can be more loaded for BIPOC Burners. Most people experience a reprogramming of default world sensibilities and norms in Black Rock City. For people who identify as BIPOC, that reprogramming can be more complex given the added layer of protection they’ve built to manage the racism and sometimes harsh realities of the default world.
  • Exclusion can take many forms.  We must be aware of how our actions and choices can be unintentionally racist or lead to exclusion. Radical inclusion requires a close examination of our physical and social spaces, and an intentional effort to make them welcoming to others who may be unfamiliar with them.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We can’t simply rely on BIPOC Burners to provide a playbook for how to move these conversations forward. It is on non-BIPOC individuals and groups to do the work to make their groups/camps/projects and BRC itself more inclusive. 

The stories and perspectives moved us and inspired us to deepen our commitment to Radical Inclusion, diversity, and equity over the last four months. 

What actions have we taken or are we going to take?

  • Future town halls: We heard the strong desire to keep this conversation going. We are planning to host similar town halls at least twice each year. In fact, the next one is being planned for this Spring. Sign up here if you’d like to be alerted when we have more details.
  • Community engagement: We are building ways for the wider Burning Man community to bring their ideas, energy, collaboration, engagement in conversations with each other around Radical Inclusion, diversity, and equity. If you wish to be involved and stewards of this effort, please fill out this form and share your ideas. 
  • Training and assessments: With the help of Burners and other anti-racism experts, Burning Man Project has developed several trainings for our staff to learn, review, and discuss over the coming months. These build upon existing organizational offerings around unconscious bias and are designed to fit into a wider learning platform as we continue to develop this body of work. 
  • Representation of BIPOC in communications: We are actively finding ways to bring more voices of color to our blog, newsletters, social media channels, and more. We are also adding more incredible interviews with BIPOC Burners to our Burning Man Journal Diversity & Radical Inclusion Series.
  • Roadmap: Both as an organization and as a community, Burning Man Project is committed to a multi-faceted approach that elevates voices, expands representation, and digs into the ongoing work of being anti-racist and radically inclusive. A detailed outline of our plans can be read on the R.I.D.E. webpage and will be updated as more initiatives take shape.
  • Black Rock City 2021: Fingers are still crossed for Black Rock City 2021 of course, and we’re looking at how to increase access and lower barriers for BIPOC to participate. This includes greater outreach to and partnership with BIPOC artists and organizations that align with the 10 Principles. If you have specific suggestions for people and groups we should contact, please email us at diversity@burningman.org.
  • Recruiting volunteers: We know that expertise and energy exist within our community around how to do R.I.D.E. work, and we are forming a volunteer team to help move our goals forward. If you’re interested in joining, please email us at diversity@burningman.org.

We all carry a personal history that is woven by our families’ histories, cultures, and origins, and we bring these parts of ourselves into Burner spaces and to Black Rock City. These stories, identities, and experiences are what make us individually textured and collectively rich. Just as we know there are almost infinite ways to experience Burning Man, the town hall was only a snippet of the many experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color. We want to hear even more stories and invite others to join in.

What our principle of Radical Inclusion means and what we do about it as we move forward as a community is more critical than ever.

If you didn’t catch the town hall yourself, you can watch it here:


Cover image by Jamen Percy

About the author: Bryant Tan

Level, Burning Man Project's Placement Manager, started burning in 2009 and joined the Placement Team in 2014 after several years as a theme camp lead for Dilated Peoples Eye Spa. The Placement Team is a vibrant volunteer crew responsible for reviewing, mapping, flagging, and placing theme camps and other groups in Black Rock City. Prior to joining Burning Man Project's year-round staff, he worked for the City and County of San Francisco. He also worked for several community-based organizations in youth and community development, transportation planning, affordable housing development, program design and evaluation, public finance, and Asian Pacific Islander and LGBTQ communities. In his free time, Level enjoys playing Sim City and Tetris, doing anti-oppression work, hiking around the Bay Area, and serves as an Urban Planning Representative on the SF Entertainment Commission. He holds a Masters in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received his B.A. in Ethnic Studies from UCLA.

45 Comments on “2020 Diversity + Radical Inclusion Town Hall: What We Heard and What We’re Doing

  • Tim says:

    Diversity is the most important thing. If we can’t have appropriate distribution of various races within BRC then there’s really no reason to continue the event. Diversity is our strength. Without it was crumble to dust and blow away. We need to start recruiting in the inner cities and along the border with Mexico. We need to do this now or we won’t survive.

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    • Buena Chica says:

      I am not a number. I do not wish to be ‘recruited’ just to build the illusion that our Burning Man community is well rounded. *If you really seek diversity, observe how YOUR OWN life may be enrished by having diverse friends/coworkers/collegues YEAR ROUND and not only on Playa. **The reason there are not more minorities on Playa, it’s simply because people do not have rich diversity in their own personal lives. ((P.S. I am neither inner city nor border girl, I am the Latino neighbor that you may not have ever reached out to!)) You really do not need to go that far to be inclusive.

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    • tony says:

      But Is diversity the most important thing? I thought the party was….

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  • Gold Bee says:

    Great to see the Town Hall was successful. Indeed, we are a diverse culture just as organisms, plants and animals are created with various kingdoms, classifications and so on. Even Cannabis is very diverse. There is THC and there is CBD.

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  • Africa says:

    As a white person who was born in South Africa, I realized as a child that there was something wrong when people lacked access to areas or services based on their skin color. And then when real apartheid disappeared, and economic apartheid remained, I realized that access is more an indication of wealth than color.

    It just happes that the wealthy in North Amercia are mostly white, in large part because wealth has been accumulated on that backs of those that have color.

    We will not be inclusive until we address this.

    Take AfrikaBurn, the biggest regional in the world outside of Burning Man, that takes place in South Africa – where white people only account for 9% of the population. Yet, the population of Tankwa Town (Black Rock City equivalent) is (at least) 90% white. AfrikaBurn’s website says they are very much opposed to a “tokenized” approach… yet the representation at their Burn is still only a token.

    If AfrikaBurn is having this much difficulty in representing BIPOC people in a country where it is white people that are really in the margins, then it shows hows that it would be even more easy to tokenize similar events here in North America.

    AfrikaBurn is granting tickets not only to BIPOC people, but are also granting at least some assistance with travel ad camping equipment – since to most BIPOC people in South Africa, these costs would making attend the event prohibitive. At least AfricaBurn is making some efforts – you can read more about them on their website. Although… I don’t know whether it was a good idea to title that page “Contextualizing Radical Inclusion” – because it sounds like they are defensively trying to explain why the event is so whiteywhitewhite. https://www.afrikaburn.com/latest-news/contextualising-the-radical-inclusion-principle

    But really, if Afrika Burn is serious, wouldn’t they be better off insisting that 50% of attendees be non-white? Or better yet, that white Burners be PERSONALLY responsible for inviting and bringing and funding non-white Burners – so they are truly part of the community – instead of a token few?

    Until Burning Man bucks the default world and makes it a cultural expectation that low, medium and high income individuals are integrated in roles and camps on the playa, I believe these BIPOC initiatives will remain token gestures.

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    • RadicalSelfReliance says:

      Any comment about racial inclusion that leans into “we need to make monetary concessions for minorities” is racist. Assuming BIPOC aren’t coming to Burning Man because they are poor? Get out with that racist sh*t.

      For an event that is based all around spontaneous community and radical self reliance principles, any sort of forced diversity via token concessions is the antithesis of the events core.

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  • Maria Juanarez-Jose says:

    We finally got rid of the voter ID laws that disenfranchise People of Color. We can do the same thing at Burning Man to make it more inclusive. Why wouldn’t we do this. Participating is effectively how we vote. For People of Color, ID are a barrier to voting and they are also a barrier to attending Burning Man. This is a significant reason for the lack of diversity at the event and we must abolish ID’ing participants prior to entry.

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  • Alex says:

    I tried to fill out form to be notified about future town hall however it says I am not allowed to access form. Is there another way to sign up?

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  • Yendis says:

    Acknowledging we seem way short on BIPOC, though never occurred to me that there was ever an issue with Radical Inclusion…of anyone. Naive it would seem. I must tune in to hear how our landscape can be made more attractive to these groups, although that, in and of itself, seems to create uncomfortable overtones for me. Just labeling BIPOC creates a stigma bc I don’t see why we must label at all! Burning Man is the human race, indivisible in all its glory. Kinda seems moot to even be a topic.
    Respectfully and sorry

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  • david singer says:

    Title: What We’re Doing

    Article: We’re not doing anything.

    The number of Black people on playa has gone from 0.9% in 2013 to 1.1% in 2019. It’s gonna take more than a new guest writer and a twice a year town hall to fix this problem.

    If you actually want to change BRC why don’t you do something radical and give 10% of the tickets to BIPOC for a year.

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    • Dave P. says:

      +1000 on this comment.

      tickets and placement are the org’s two most valuable resources. we will know it is a real attempt at diversity and inclusion when the solution involves one or both of those things.

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    • Level says:

      Hi David. Thank you for your clear call that our targets need to be 10%… if not higher. The last burn in 2019 was the last time we could do any metrics before our most recent call to action, so hopefully we’ll be able to an increase in the number of Black, Indigineous, and other People of Color this year and in years after.

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      • Lois says:

        Hopefully the Org will issue free tickets and other supplemental services on the playa to all non-white attendees. They should also consider reimbursing their transportation costs, since those costs are disproportionately higher for non-whites.

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    • Aaron Dally says:

      I don’t even know what to say about this. You want to assign 10% of tickets to people with a qualified melanin count. Would you also like to assign a certain percentage to LGBTQ? And what about people with physical disformities? The mentally handicapped? What about Marxists? People from Estonia? Do you get what I’m saying? Who gets to be the grand decider regarding the percentages in this vision of perfect distribution you seem to have.

      Burning Man is about a lot of things but I sure hope it doesn’t become about engineered demographics to paint a facade so the ultra woke can feel like they’ve done something.

      Sincerely,
      Your local Mexican/German/Male/Heterosexual
      (Since it’s your world and I’m just living in it, may my kind be allocated at least .5%?)

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      • Chinta says:

        Friend, PoC definitely want to go to Burning Man but obviously feel like they can’t. Why? That’s the question you should be asking instead offensively listing other marginalized people you think also shouldn’t go. Btw the term you were looking for specifically was Disabled people not “people with physical deformities” or “The mentally handicapped”.

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    • Chris X says:

      100% on this comment! Yes, gift tickets to Black, Latinx, and other brown folks. This brown person approves having had the past opportunity to attend BM :)

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  • Buena Chica says:

    I decided not to even try to be a speaker at this forum……. after 9years+Covidyear Burning and working with different Playa and Headquarter groups it STiLL feels the same: I’m the token colored Burner while any promotion seemed to always be based on nepotism.

    Will anything come out of the Town Hall beyond this report? Is R.I.D.E. just one more ‘ceremonial’ committee? Or are YOU truly finally going to care for long time volunteers Burners who have long felt dissillusioned and discarded.

    I have said from my very first Burn do not bother about bringing more minorities until you take care of the ones who are already here.

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  • Leonhard Moertl says:

    Dear community, I can only speak for myself and from my perspective the whole project is about creating a space of creativity for a community that is sharing and trying to balance the same set of principles – and keeping this little space of tolerance open -at least for a short precious while. Diversity is the only natural source to fuel the process. And welcoming all kind of people that are delighted to bring them as a whole int the BM space of creativity in a peaceful manner is the only way. Creatives regardless of their ……. would take to long to list ….should be further invited to contribute and stick to the principles.

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  • j says:

    Thanks to Crystal Fleming and lived experience, I’ve come to realize that a focus on Diversity & Inclusion is how to get Brown and Black people into possibly well-intentioned but still very unsafe, white supremacist spaces.

    Active commitments to anti-racist and equitable frameworks are meant to make the space safe BEFORE the “Diversity” even arrives.

    https://twitter.com/alwaystheself/status/1364419042828779522?s=21

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  • Yer Mahm says:

    We need the monied elite OUT. If this is not your agenda, you are focusing on the wrong thing. I’ve heard all about these “art mixers” with no artists at them…

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  • Jose says:

    As a person of color and 9+ years at burning man, I have never experienced this on playa, I feel loved by all people (except the wealthy elite that block their camps). Radical inclusion is not racial inclusion, to include someone specifically because of race is just as racist as excluding them because of it. No one is denied a ticket based on the color of their skin. There is equality of opportunity and measuring the success of that equality by equality of outcome is manipulative.

    Altering the founding rules because of a handful of people that have higher affinity for seeing themselves as a victim will certainly not achieve any goals.

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    • the new normal says:

      Thank you Jose. I was looking thru the comments, slowly loosing faith in humanity until I found your comment. I hope to meet you on the playa one day! I was brought up that color does not matter and now the left is telling me it does… What a messed up time we live in… The real problem is the money distribution we have. But of course the rich do not want the others to realize it.

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      • LJR says:

        Saying “I don’t see color” is just another form of white-washing the problem. In a vacuum, that statement would work. But in a world where systematic racism exists, we cannot “I don’t see color” our way out of it.

        Just because another Burner of Color doesn’t experience racism doesn’t invalidate the experiences many Black burners have told to their campmates, to the org, and here in this very town hall. Your fellow burners are coming to you and asking for your support, and you just want to say “Racism isn’t on the playa”. I urge you to listen to what they are saying.

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      • Yal'anna says:

        We only need to look at group pictures of camps on the playa. They’re often 100% white. There is no way that systemic racism is not a part of their selection process in determining who is allowed in their groups. Even if they can’t admit that they are the racists that they’re opposing, it’s our job to re-educate them so they can see what is so obvious to others. Passing a diversity training course should be mandatory before being issued a ticket to Burning Man.

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    • Black Rock Smitty says:

      Not all of us claim to be victims. I’ve had every racial, police, social, scenario, stereotype, and transgression a black man in America can experience & I don’t call myself a victim. Many of us are just pointing out the unfairness & injustice that many ( not all ) of us have faced. It’s sad enough that even with video confirmation, verbal statements, eye witness testimony that many still don’t believe any of the transgressions & were still “ claiming victim “ as opposed to actually having been a victim in many eyes.

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    • Chinta says:

      It seems like you missed the part in the article where the writer mentioned People of Color not being a monolith. Just because you feel comfortable and safe doesn’t mean everyone does. Also racism is about being victimized by an oppressive system. I can’t decide I’m not a victim of racism and then it goes away. It’s still there whether I call myself a victim or not. Would you prefer ppl say they’re a survivor of racism? I guess I’m not sure what you want from other PoC.

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  • Randy says:

    I’m trying to make black friends. But I black woman told me it’s racist to make friends with someone just because they’re black. So how am I supposed to make black friends? I’m not racist, they’re just hard to find. A Mexican would be good, but I live up north.

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  • Melany says:

    Totally , we need the Mexicans back!!!!!!
    They have contributed with a Mayan Party Warrior art car, and they have the best lasers on the playa., with loads of live artists.

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  • Wingman says:

    It’s all about the $$ guys! There are probably very few people of color that can afford not only the ever-inflating ticket prices, but time off from work! That’s one glaring issue I see mentioned.

    Another issue is how volunteers and *some* paid staff are treated. I drew a paycheck from BMORG during a period of time when some volunteers were not being fed during the event. I was also put on notice that “If I didn’t like how things were being done, there were probably 100 or more people that would LOVE to have my job!” The Auto shop was on-call throughout the event and until clean-up was completed. We sometimes worked 12-14 hour days and were told in no uncertain terms never to put in for more than 40 hours a week if we wanted to keep our job! Unless and until THESE issues have been addressed? I’m gonna have a hard time believing ANYTHING coming from BMORG

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  • Dennis says:

    We are all human beings. If you have to differentiate us by color, you are part of the problem. That’s the way I was raised. If you’re truly seeking to have a diverse community, you must include every race. How could you possibly divide artwork, attendance and participation by race? “Sorry, I know your art piece is wonderful, but we need more from a different ethnic background.” “I know you’d like to help build the city, but we need more diversity helping out.” “I think it’s great that you want to be a greater again, but we need your position to include more BIPOC in the rotation.” Now I read people saying there is a need to divide ticket sales by race? Certainly you must see futility in that. How could you possibly do something like that without excluding others? Radical Inclusion, or Radical Exclusion. If anyone wants to come, they’re free to get in line with everyone else. To give pre-sale status to an under-represented group is just insane. “I identify as BIPOC, can I get my pre-sale ticket?” Where does it end?

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    • Yal'anna says:

      >If you have to differentiate us by color, you are part of the problem.
      That’s the old narrative. We now need to acknowledge race and embrace our differences to be more inclusive. Race, gender, and orientation are the main metrics on how we value people.

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  • Charles Tucker says:

    I suspect, for a long time, most Burners got there because someone talked to them about their experience. That is how I got there. If we want to include others who are not white, we need to talk about BM with others who are not white. And, I think to sell BM, it is fair to say, as a Community, it is less prejudiced than almost anywhere they are from. Racial “quotas” are hard to make “fair” let alone run – just look at the problems Elizabeth Warren had with Trump, what percentage Native American or Black will count you in? Or is it just appearance? Who will be able to judge that? Or do we do DNA testing? Just rely on old fashioned word of mouth, but be sure to mention that it is a lottery, and even you, yoursef, might not make it in.

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  • Alyssa says:

    I can tell from some of these “I don’t see color” exactly why BIPOC don’t feel comfortable attending. I’m a 7 year burner and one of a handful of Black volunteers in my department. Departments need more diversity.

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  • tony says:

    Quite honestly, I don’t care who attends Burning Man..sorry. Most people have so much on their plates right now this seems incredibly frivolous. ” Who get to Party in the Desert for a WEEK’ Are you kidding me, Sit Down

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  • Hotboi69 says:

    Conversations like this are so pointless and just reek of rich white people trying to look woke. The problem isn’t Burning Man not being a welcome space for minorities. It’s that we live in a country where every single system of power is stacked against minorities, who are too busy trying not to die to worry about going to a party in a desert.

    Donate to a food pantry or something. Conversations like this just make everyone look out of touch.

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  • Aaron Dally says:

    Has it been considered that psychedelia and edm music, two very big aspects of Burning Man, are not particularly popular among all cultural/ethnic groups. I’m Hispanic, and while a lot of my family members respect the Burning Man culture when given good information, they have zero interest in commiting significant amounts of time, money, and creativity to participate.
    Trying to shape demographics is a terrible idea. Be careful how much you try to prune the plant or you might affect its growth, a growth that is governed by influences far greater than the expectations of society. Not a single one of us knows where this vehicle called Burning Man is going so let’s keep that in mind when putting our hands on the wheel. The most any of us can do is approach issues and each other with an open mind and open heart. There is no necessity for a crusade in that. Regional communities will reflect what is needed for BRC.

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    • Chinta says:

      People of Color are not a monolith. There are PoC that enjoy psychedelia and edm music. Also trying to let PoC know they will be safe and welcomed at Burning Man isn’t shaping demographics. Whenever a community is mostly white it’s rarely because no PoC want to join and participate in said community. It’s usually because they don’t feel welcome. As a Hispanic person you shouldn’t be speaking for other people of color especially not Black and Ingenious communities who experience life much different from you.

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  • Funkstradamus says:

    I’m so sick of this narrative being pushed everywhere. Lack of racial diversity in a group is not automatic, bulletproof evidence of discrimination. It’s both infuriating and sad that the knee-jerk reaction to ‘too many white people’ is that racism is afoot, clearly! That’s the ONLY explanation, no need to explore the issue further! Such a myopic, over-simplified and banal diagnosis of a complex question. And it’s the same one given every..single..time from the social justice cadre. Unfortunate that BMOrg is being infected, like so many others, by this noxious and regressive ideology. The road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. I’ve no problem with the concept of diversity–it makes communities strong, gives a collective sense of participation, allows for a tapestry of views and experiences to weave together and interact. My problem is with curated diversity–to shoehorn in people that look different specifically to avoid the appearance of racism, whether or not racism is actually a factor. God forbid. Look how multicultural we are! See?
    Structures are made of people. So in order for structural racism to exist, the people that create and maintain the structure must be racist, no? Do we really believe that the instigators of proto-BM culture, bohemian artists and societal outcasts in SF born of the counterculture movement, were all racists? Or that they were creating a racial utopia in the desert of Nevada to get away from all those icky black and brown people? Please. Bring some thought and nuance to the discussion. Can more outreach be done to ensure everyone feels BM is a welcoming, inviting, accessible place? Sure. Will it result in a marked change in racial demographics long-term? Maybe.

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    • Funkstradamus says:

      I made this snap judgment comment before realizing the townhall was recorded. It came off as needlessly aggressive and ignorant. I watched the whole thing, and was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of experiences and viewpoints (not a single narrative as I expected). I encourage everyone to watch it in full. Being guilty myself of uninformed reactivity and essentializing, I felt pretty dumb. Dousing a fire with gasoline isn’t helping, as a Burner should know. I took time to research other perspectives and get a broader understanding. This further confirmed my belief that telling each other our stories, truthfully and in good faith, and listening, is the best way to begin addressing a lot of society’s ills. I’ve since written an open letter to the community and Org that I plan on publishing soon. Thank you Level and R.I.D.E. for keeping this forum open to all, and not filtering, censoring or curating the discussion based on political or ideological disposition.

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  • Francis Beacon says:

    After 30 damn years, Burning Man finally speaks up about this ? Damn ridiculous.

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