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

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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:

  • 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?

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

This content was originally published here.

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