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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com.
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