Burning Man is a festival described as an experiment in community and art that takes place at Black Rock City in Nevada. First held in 1986, the annual event is said to be influenced by 10 main principles, one of which is “radical inclusion,” but based on the consistent lack of brown faces seen at the festival many have come to the conclusion that the inclusion of Black people might just be a bit too radical for the bunch.
What does Burning Man founder Larry Harvey have to say about this? Nonsense! In fact, in an interview with The Guardian he offered a very reasonable explanation for the lack of Black attendees (called burners): “I don’t think black folks like to camp as much as white folks.”
Well, he might have a point there. As for this observation though — “Remember a group that was enslaved and made to work. Slavishly, you know in the fields. This goes all the way back to the Caribbean scene, when the average life of a slave in the fields was very short. And, so, there’s that background, that agrarian poverty associated with things. Maybe your first move isn’t to go camping. Seriously” — eh, we don’t know.
According to the most recent Black Rock city census, which is complied yearly to determine the makeup of the festival, 87% of burners identified as white; 6% Hispanic, 6% Asian, 2% Native American, and just 1.3% black. Is that a problem? According to Harvey, maybe. Is that a problem he needs to fix? Negative.
“This has never been, imagined by us, as a utopian society,” he argued. “I’ll believe in utopia when I meet my first perfect person, and this community is made up of 70,000 imperfect persons.
“That being the case, I think it’s a little much to expect the organization to solve the problem of racial parity. We do see a fast-increasing influx of Asians, black folks. I actually see black folks out here, unlike some of our liberal critics.”
Harvey, who lives in the historically black Fillmore neighborhood in San Francisco, sees black folks at home too. He told The Guardian:
“My family is half black. I see black people! And they’re here…My wife is from Jamaica. My ex-wife. My stepchildren – and then there’s my son. So, it’s a biracial family.
“In my neighborhood, the thing to do was to get a good-looking car, and people would sit on stoops, and you’d stop your car in the middle of the street and you’d start talking. That was society. And that involved a lot of display, a lot of dress, a lot of attention to style. But the idea of getting down in the dirt? Not particularly popular.”
In the early days of Burning Man, a black burner was said to have felt isolated due to the lack of diversity. This was a claim Harvey took pretty seriously, saying “I know how she felt. My son is biracial, if that term makes any sense, but he’s considered black because it’s a touch of the brush [which] brands you black anywhere. So I’ve encountered that, in reactions to my family.”
As far as any moves to make sure no other black burners feel the same way, Harvey said he’s done his part, “I have contributed. Because, my stepson and my stepdaughter and my ex-wife are here.”
So should we expect more black burners at next year’s festival or nah?