Every once and a while, there’s a perfect moment to dig down deep and expose a splinter. My language uses medical metaphors, because I am a MAD doctor…
And a “little bit crazy” due to my ongoing dance with a schizophrenogenic culture (go look it up).
The founder of Burning Man is the man quoted on that title line of this piece.
This is what wikopedia has to say, about Burning man:
“Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles: “radical” inclusion, self-reliance, and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leaving no trace.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burning_Man
The Guardian article (from which I took the quote from Harvey) goes on this way:
“According to the most recent Black Rock city census, compiled yearly by a team of academic demographers and anthropologists to determine the makeup of the festival:
87% of burners identified as white; 6% identified as Hispanic, 6% as Asian, and 2% as Native Americans (figures rounded)
– on the latter of whose ancestral lands the event occurs. The smallest demographic of burners – 1.3% – identified as black.
Why might so few Black folks make it out to Black Rock? Well, Mr. Harvey, let me speak for myself.
I love camping. But Burning Man isn’t about “camping”.
I attended my one and only Burning Man when it was about 10,000 people in a desert environment. I followed all the directions on how to attend and have a good time. I portaged in enough water. I had a great tent, and good camping support, in the partner I had traveled with. I brought no money; I was excited about the idea of barter, and brought an “alternative to cash option’ that was perfect for the desert.
They didn’t melt, but they were chocolate. And, I figured ahead of time that I had a good idea, because already traveled in communities of Wyld and Edgy Bohemian-Sourcing Alternative Minded Cultural Edge-walkers, and chocolate is always a treasure!
My partner got dehydrated and overheated within the first few hours of our arrival. Being the very selfish human that I was back then, i chose to wander the festival alone, rather than nurse him in our tent and lose out on the first night of our (only registered for the weekend) 3 days of fun. never had I seen such free and varied expression of ART. “Capital “A” kind, and small “a” kind. I have always had a great interest in cultural anthropology, and this was a fascinating community.
But, Who were The Burners?
1. Essentially, they were young. They were wanderers into a desert environment, and were playing at the edges of something…spiritual? art? “More Would Be Revealed…”
2. They loved fire, and were using the element as a huge metaphor for personal empowerment, and transformation.
3. Their form of “free expression” (back in the 10,000 people attending days) included a HUGE amount of cussing/cursing/”fuck you!” speak. On the local radio stations. In face to face communication.
4. Their form of free expression in their bodies was all about BDSM piercings/cuttings/ and pain.
5. And, they were overwhelmingly WHITE. And from privilege. I’ll define privilege with a world perspective, meaning, “had a roof over their heads/went home to a refrigerator to put their food in/and a closet for their clothes”**
I SAW them.
But, I don’t believe that THEY saw me back then. I have always been a Black person hanging out with a lot of crazy (like me) white folks. No biggie. Just means that I have learned to pay attention and to notice things.
Like the fact that– before the “Big Burn” there were white guys driving around drinking cans of beers and getting pretty reckless in their cars. And that– as The Big Ritual– got closer– an entire community of religious/ spiritual people were holding SPACE for the ceremony. Really. kind of clumped up together, hari krishnas, and rabbis and monks.
The Big Burn Was very peaceful that year.
THAT year. Unlike this year
But when I wandered The Playa– expanded into an open heart by MY particular magic medicines (NOT alcohol), I moved as far away from the center of action as possible, when the band playing around the collapsed fire after The Big Burn broke into “Dixie”:
Something that makes a Black woman like me– who LOVES camping– go “Hmmmm…
For Your Information (since we are all about the “teaching moments, right?), here’s what a neutral source (wikopedia) has to say about “Dixie”
“The song presented the point of view, common to minstrelsy at the time, that slavery was overall a positive institution…”Dixie” made the case, more strongly than any previous minstrel tune had, that slaves belonged in bondage. This was accomplished through the song’s protagonist, who, in comic black dialect, implies that despite his freedom, he is homesick for the plantation of his birth” (bolding mine)
Look. It. Up.
So my one and only experience of Burning Man was wonder-filled. And “artsy”. And full of free expression.
And, also a place where I needed to maintain vigilance regarding my welcome. Vigilance, as a Black woman in the space.
Vigilance, regarding who was around me and what they might do next (that year, one of the workshop was on “How to Make a Molotov Cocktail).
So, Larry, just for the record… I didn’t ever come back, primarily because your fucking festival got bigger and bigger, and more and more expensive, and more and more elitist (based on those 10 principles you SAID you believe in) AND has an “element of unexamined ‘freedom of expression’ ” that could tip– at any moment– into white mob/lynching/blood lust/dangerous to women and any minorities behavior, especially on Sunday after the Ceremony.
Burning Man– as a vision of “Utopian Society” at it’s essence– hasn’t got a CLUE how to actually build that vision across any lines…
And Burning Man is just an extreme example of a phenomenon that leaves me getting a little more crazy with each passing day of Life in AmeriKKKa.
Just like the Occupy Movement. Which seems to have ended with a whimper, just as it got the “aha” about this class/race thing.
And, my Rainbow Tribe. That found it’s way to LGBT tolerance/celebration ahead of establishing the BBC Camp (originated at the Green Mountain Vermont National– anyone know how it went in Oregon, this year?)
And, like my pagan communities. Who seem to be getting the hang of it, finally.
And, like my ecstatic dance communities, who sit in the present moment at an apocalyptic opportunity. Where veils can be lifted from eyes that have chosen not to peer into the Dark Too Much.
All are counter-culture communities originally “fueled” (translate funded) by wealthy whites of privilege. Mainly male. When women ARE involved, we are often putting in the labor, because we DON’T have the money, honey.
So Larry, some Blacks don’t like camping, I am sure. Your over $300,00/year attendees don’t like camping– they bring all the amenities of The Urban Silicon Valley Life with them. But they aren’t risking a Bad Scene due to “free expression” clashing with racial awareness; FUCK TOLERANCE– we are just talking common sense, and self awareness.
Speaking my truth to power, as someone who will never again go to Burning Man. And, on behalf of a brother I want to be safe AND WELCOMED at future events.
** that simple question, asked in the Awaken the Dreamer social consciousness raising program, makes the AmeriKKKan who answers aware that they are beating out 87% of the world’s population, with that answer.