Mostly White People or Just a Lot of Playa Dust?

Share your views on the policies, philosophies, and spirit of Burning Man.

dead horse

Postby tepepinda » Wed Sep 10, 2003 1:01 pm

i don't want to reiterate the thousands of old eP postings either, so I'll just make some brief points on this subject for the benefit of those who weren't here at the time...

There's already lots of diversity at BM, but it's internal, not external. I've never been to any other place where the usual social barriers around things like class, education, wealth, age, gender, etc are less in evidence. Default world social relations are turned on their heads as different skills become more relevant (who cares if you can make a spreadsheet? I need someone who can fix this generator RIGHT NOW!). there's nowhere i know where people can as easily connect across the social barriers we're beset with the rest of the time.

Race is just one of those constructed barriers. It's often a shorthand for class or wealth or culture or something else, but it has acquired a potency in American culture because of certain elements in our history that i'm sure you're all aware of.

But there are places where it's not like this -- entire countries where the idea of race is completely different, or irrelevant. We often make the mistake of thinking that "racial" differentiation is somehow natural. It's not. We created it and we can get rid of it.

And guess what? at Black Rock City we have. It's just not a racist city, period. Nobody is keeping anyone else out or making them feel uncomfortable on the basis of skin color. If someone is uncomfortable attending an event where everyone looks different from them solely for that reason, then that issue resides within the one person, not all the people already at the event.

There are clearly large barriers to anyone going to BRC, and it's good thing too -- just imagine what it would be like if it were held at CalEx and cost $25 to get in. But there are no barriers specific to people of color that have been erected by BM, its organizers, or its participants.

How would BM be enriched by more people of different skin colors? It really all depends on who those people are. The culture at BRC is no more "white" than it is "american" or anything else. It's a subculture, or a metaculture, or paraculture within which those categorizations are irrelevant. When a "black" person comes to the playa, that color is far far far far less important than the inspirations, skills, intentions, and ideas that person carries within.

It's our job to find the people all over the world who have these internal elements that would make them BRC citizens and encourage them to join us. Skin color just dosen't matter.
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Re: Mostly White People or Just a Lot of Playa Dust?

Postby Hoopes » Wed Sep 10, 2003 8:08 pm

twist wrote:It's also interesting to see you categorize all the white folk as tight-asses while the people of color who would attend do not have this distinction. As if people of color go to celebrate their culture while white folk go to appropriate and create their own exclusive party time.


I didn't categorize "all the white folk" this way. You hit the nail on the head by noting that there are some folks who seize upon Burning Man as an opportunity to be themselves, or to at least free themselves of the constraints under which many of us are forced to live. It would be wonderful if everyone who wanted to could shed their clothes on a hot day or wear outrageous costumes to work, but it just doesn't work well for everyone in the "real" world outside of BRC.

twist wrote:Where did the white folks get this idea in the first place, then? By reading some National Geographics and deciding on what pagan ritual to copy and use for their own ends?


Yes, but it's not just the white folks who do this. A National Geographic article about Haile Selassie was an essential element in the creation of Rastafarian mythos. Observations of sadhus and other Hindus played a key role in the emergence of Goa culture, just as visits by Allen Ginsberg and others to India in the 1960s introduced tie-dye, beads, South Asian music, etc. to the San Francisco scene. Djembes and their rhythms come from Africa, just as the blues grew out of camp hollers and chain-gang songs. That is not to imply that Scottish drums and bagpipes are any less hip. The creation of culture has always been a process of imitation and appropriation. Dreadlocks, piercings, and the like have entered Anglo-American culture through diverse routes in which they are often shed of their specific meanings. They follow clear trends, in which they're appropriated mostly as symbols of social, economic, and information networks that simultaneously feed basic needs for aesthetic experiences.

There are many things about Burning Man that vaguely echo South Asian events like the 10-day Ganesh Festival (which ended yesterday and had millions of participants). I suspect Burning Man can be disorienting to Hindus who encounter representations (in art, costume, etc.) of Shiva, Parvati, Vishnu, and other gods in contexts that strip them of their original meaning. Imagine walking the streets of Bangladesh and finding people wearing T-shirts decorated with images of Jesus because it's "cool" and "Western"--without knowing anything about the meaning behind these images. One of the benefits of interacting with people from different cultures is that meanings can be taught at a layer deeper than aesthetically pleasing symbols and motifs.

twist wrote:I'd guess that the inertia of the event has kept it a mostly white thing. Economics being what they are might explain why more white guys can make it out there every year.


Yes, of course this is true. However, that "inertia" has now continued since 1986, with few signs of significant change.

twist wrote:I would love to see more camps like Asian Princess camp or Bollywood camp. It would bring a healthy diversity to the playa.


We are 100% in agreement on this. This humor of this year's Piss Clear fashion issue and the "What's In/What's Out" lists make it apparent that, despite the ethic of "radical self-expression", it is remains all too easy to stereotype burners. Why is this so? Burning Man is a fantastically wonderful and amazing event, but it could stand even more diversity that it gets.

twist wrote:It would be a lot better than a bunch of white-guilters pointing fingers at all the other goofy white people.


Whoa, there! Who's actually pointing fingers? Just because I said I was "bothered" doesn't mean I'm laying the blame (or a guilt trip) on anyone. It's the same kind of "bothered" feeling that I get when I see a blank wall that should be covered with a beautiful mural. Can't I point to it and say, "Gee, wouldn't that be a great place to paint in LOTS of different colors?"

If it is true that Black Rock City is one of the few cities on earth where there is actually NO racial or ethnic strife, that is an accomplishment worthy of even more celebration than it receives.
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Postby Kinetic » Wed Sep 10, 2003 8:20 pm

I don't see what all the fuss is about skin color anyway. On the playa and especially after a good dust storm (like Sunday) we're all playa white or playa gray anyway so it doesn't matter. And outside the playa I don't care that much either. About the only time I pay attention to skin color is when I run into some of the African American teenagers who are in the adolescent rebellion / attitude phase and they give me some flak, and even then I find ways to usually overcome that. Beyond that one aspect, I don't give a damn what color someone's skin is. I've even dated a Somali woman who I found to be one of the most fascinating people I've ever met.

I wish the old e-playa threads were up as this subject is like that proverbial dead horse that still has people lining up to whip it thinking it will get them somewhere.
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Re: dead horse

Postby Hoopes » Wed Sep 10, 2003 8:24 pm

Sadly, the issue of race in America is far from being a dead horse. It will be a long time before we can escape our history, even if we can pretend--for several days in a remote Nevada desert--that it doesn't really exist.

I agree with tepepinda on everything but the following statement:

tepepinda wrote:The culture at BRC is no more "white" than it is "american" or anything else.


Check out the Flying the American Flag thread if you have doubts about Burning Man's identity.

I suspect that Burning Man is something that is profoundly American and as such will provide rich fodder for theses in American Studies and PBS documentaries for many years to come. I don't know if there is a Burning Man collection at the Smithsonian yet, but check back in 60 years. There will be.
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Postby Kinetic » Wed Sep 10, 2003 8:26 pm

Hoopes, I noticed you were in Lawrence...it's good to see some Midwest burners for a change.
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this horse is still twitching...

Postby tepepinda » Wed Sep 10, 2003 10:14 pm

Hoopes wrote:
I agree with tepepinda on everything but the following statement:

tepepinda wrote:The culture at BRC is no more "white" than it is "american" or anything else.


Check out the Flying the American Flag thread if you have doubts about Burning Man's identity.

I suspect that Burning Man is something that is profoundly American and as such will provide rich fodder for theses in American Studies and PBS documentaries for many years to come. I don't know if there is a Burning Man collection at the Smithsonian yet, but check back in 60 years. There will be.


There very well may be a celebration of Burningman in American culture in the future, but that doesn't make the event profoundly American now. I read the flag thread quite the opposite way from you, Hoopes. I see confusion, and a debate over whether or not the flag has any legitimate bearing on BRC.

There are, clearly, a lot of American cultural elements on the playa -- that's a natural consequence of having 25K yanks in one place -- but the core, defining aspects of the BM culture are at least global and at best universal.

The greatest evidence that this is in operation comes when you meet a first-timer who is also a first-timer to the US. <b>People just get it</b>, regardless of their nationality or cultural conditioning, because at its heart, Burningman celebrates universal values using globalized cultural referants.
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Postby antron » Wed Sep 10, 2003 10:36 pm

all you dusty mostly white people look alike
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Re: this horse is still twitching...

Postby Hoopes » Wed Sep 10, 2003 11:17 pm

tepepinda wrote:The greatest evidence that this is in operation comes when you meet a first-timer who is also a first-timer to the US. <b>People just get it</b>, regardless of their nationality or cultural conditioning, because at its heart, Burningman celebrates universal values using globalized cultural referants.


I'm not ready to accept this. For example, I heard about a significant domestic dispute that occurred this year when a person's South Asian husband--who had not been adequately briefed on the nature of the event--found it highly objectionable. He eventually calmed down, but he was one person who did not just "get it". Open nudity and frank sexuality, for example, are hardly universal values. These have a different meaning for Americans because of our Puritan heritage and its lingering effects on the larger society within which we exist. The intersections of issues of race and sexuality are still highly charged in American society, which is why "race" remains pertinent.

If people "just get it", how do you explain that even veteran burners still insist on engaging in barter and even under-the-table commerce when these are supposed to be strictly forbidden? I sincerely doubt that the majority of burners really understand what is meant by a gift economy.

Most "globalized cultural referents" are the result of globalization, which is itself HIGHLY problematic. It is Americans who are largely responsible for certain elements of culture becoming "globalized" in the first place.
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even the whip has turned to dust

Postby greenman » Thu Sep 11, 2003 12:27 am

There is not even a single strand of DNA left for beating on this issue,it's DDDDDDEAAAAAAD,give it up. Yep! it's mostly white,enough said. Jump on another soapbox to practice your drama/debate club........... :?

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horse? what horse?

Postby tepepinda » Thu Sep 11, 2003 9:07 am

Hoopes wrote:For example, I heard about a significant domestic dispute that occurred this year when a person's South Asian husband--who had not been adequately briefed on the nature of the event--found it highly objectionable. He eventually calmed down, but he was one person who did not just "get it".


OK; let me clarify. I mean that the kinds of people who are attracted to the playa, wherever they may be from, just get it, regardless of whether they are American or not. It sounds like this poor fellow was unprepared for what he found, but that does not mean that his ill-preparedness arose from his South Asian-ness. There were a number of people of Indian extraction in our camp (including me, FWIW), and one of those people was getting married on the playa. Her mother caught wind of this plan, so her parents, who are very culturally Indian, decided they just HAD to go to their daughter's wedding. In fact, they decided to surprise her. So they just got tickets and showed up at BRC in time for the wedding.

At first, they were shell-shocked, to be sure, but as the days passed, they eased into life at BRC and, soon, <b>they just got it</b>.

It's clear that burningman's not for everyone, but being american is not at all a prerequisite to getting it. In fact, I can think of a number of my american aquaintances who would crumble into apoplexy were they to find themselves on the playa.

Hoopes wrote:Open nudity and frank sexuality, for example, are hardly universal values.


They're hardly American values, either. They're not even really values...they're customs. What I mean by universal values are the peace & love & brotherhood we-are-all-one kind of stuff that underlies the culture of BRC. Those are so universal as to be encoded in many of the world's major religions. They are values people spend much of their lives paying lip service to -- which is why it's so immediately gratifying to find a place where you can freely and safely live those values. It's a great relief.


Hoopes wrote:Most "globalized cultural referents" are the result of globalization, which is itself HIGHLY problematic. It is Americans who are largely responsible for certain elements of culture becoming "globalized" in the first place.


Yes, it's a huge problem, but it does also have the silver lining of allowing people to come together across the boundaries of nationhood. A great example, whatever you may think of its artistic merits, is the global sound of electronic music. With little more than a cheap computer, a phone line, and some stolen software, anyone in the world can participate in its creation, development, and dissemination. Its creation is spread all over the world, including less developed nations -- it emanates from everywhere at once. When you hear that music on the playa, you are plugged into a channel of the noosphere that acknowledges no national boundaries or divisions.
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red paint or green paint?

Postby Fencing man » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:18 pm

When you say ethnic, do you mean "green painted people" or "red painted people"? I much prefer the green painted people. But I have lots of red
painted friends. 8)
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Postby blyslv » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:25 pm

Kinetic wrote:About the only time I pay attention to skin color is when I run into some of the African American teenagers who are in the adolescent rebellion / attitude phase and they give me some flak, and even then I find ways to usually overcome that.


So one night just before Halloween I was walking down the street. I saw a large group of black teenagers and I thought "I should cross the street." But then that whiney, liberal voiceover in my head said "No that would be racist." So I didn't. When I was about 3 feet away from one, he wound up with all his might and threw an egg in my face. It hit me in the eye, breaking my glasses frame and leaving little bits of shell to pick out of my face. If I hadn't been wearing glasses, maybe I would've lost an eye.

Teenagers scare the shit out of me.
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It all depends on your perspective

Postby tbone » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:28 pm

It all depends on your perspective. I grew up in a small town in Southern Oregon.

From my childhood point of view, Burning Man is very diverse in terms of skin color, ethnicity, national origin.

I've lived in other places, so I'm used to seeing and working with lots of non-whites, and live in a Japanese & Hispanic neighborhood now. However, I don't think it's odd to return to my parents' house and see very few non-whites for a week.

As far as Burning Man goes, it's open to all and I see no need to recruit new people of any sort simply because I think it's plenty large enough.
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Re: dead horse

Postby blyslv » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:29 pm

Hoopes wrote:Check out the Flying the American Flag thread if you have doubts about Burning Man's identity.


Do you think the eplaya is representative of the "average" burner?

Imagine walking the streets of Bangladesh and finding people wearing T-shirts decorated with images of Jesus because it's "cool" and "Western"--without knowing anything about the meaning behind these images.


Been there, done that in Kinshasha, Brazzaville and Libreville. It is bizarre, but more a function of economics then anyting else. What is really strange however is walking into a nightclub that has some kick'en highlife or pop coming out. The DJ would see a couple of white people and put on some old Madonna or even more jarring, 70s disco in order to make us feel more welcome. It made us feel like we stood out even more then usual, but was very funny.
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Re: this horse is still twitching...

Postby blyslv » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:37 pm

Hoopes wrote:[

If people "just get it", how do you explain that even veteran burners still insist on engaging in barter and even under-the-table commerce when these are supposed to be strictly forbidden? I sincerely doubt that the majority of burners really understand what is meant by a gift economy.

Most "globalized cultural referents" are the result of globalization, which is itself HIGHLY problematic. It is Americans who are largely responsible for certain elements of culture becoming "globalized" in the first place.


I've always thought of it as "gift/barter" economy. It is up to the person how to approach it. For instance at my bar you had to "do something" with gender. Period. All we wanted was a little energy and then we'd give you as much juice and/or booze as you wanted. An other intallation demanded a trinket with a BM symbol on it to get on the bridge and "do" the installation. At first it was off-putting, but I like the idea more and more. Bartering put you into a space that most Americans (or indeed anyone raised in a cash economy) are not used to, it makes you think about value and it helps remove a sense of entitlement. As usual YMMV.
-----------------------------------

In my travels, I saw no Americans holding a gun to anyones head forcing them to consume American culture. American culture is global because it feels good, in the way that a large order of chicken mcnuggets feels good. Unhealthy and expensive, but the initial rush is considered worth it.

Course these days when an American holds a gun to some hapless foriegner's head, it is likely to result in death.
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Re: It all depends on your perspective

Postby blyslv » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:39 pm

tbone wrote:IJapanese & Hispanic neighborhood now. .


There's gotta be some great restaurants!
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Try this...

Postby theshaman » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:43 pm

Ever tried INVITING people of different ethnic orgins to camp with you? I did, after seeing lack of brothers and sisters last year. Glad to say that the NucFam had some color this year! (even though we had a authentic redneck Porch as one of our centerpieces!)

Made me look at the ethnic diversity of my circle of friends...
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Re: this horse is still twitching...

Postby PJ » Thu Sep 11, 2003 4:47 pm

blyslv wrote:...these days when an American holds a gun to some hapless foriegner's head, it is likely to result in death.


True enough, but it's rarely a gun-to-the-head anymore. That's messy and possibly hazardous. Aircraft orbiting beyond AA range carrying precisely-targeted munitions are the preferred hapless foreigner elimination means nowadays.
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Re: It all depends on your perspective

Postby tbone » Thu Sep 11, 2003 6:57 pm

blyslv wrote:
tbone wrote:Japanese & Hispanic neighborhood now. .


There's gotta be some great restaurants!


Oh god yes. I love Japanese and Mexican food (as well as most other). My girlfriend is veg, so we don't eat much Mexican together, but we both love Japanese. In fact, I'm headed out to the store to get some sashimi grade salmon and tuna - right about now.
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Re: Try this...

Postby tbone » Thu Sep 11, 2003 7:03 pm

theshaman wrote:Ever tried INVITING people of different ethnic orgins to camp with you? I did, after seeing lack of brothers and sisters last year.


No. The people who are asked to camp with us are people who we've known for a long time and trust completely. Most of my white friends aren't invited (and honestly, they probably wouldn't like it).

I'm self employed and don't go to AA, school, church or any other place to meet new people. Most of my social circle involves Gigsville which is self selecting, and mostly white.

For my experience, I'd trade forced diversity in my camp for close, close friends.
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Re: It all depends on your perspective

Postby PJ » Thu Sep 11, 2003 7:29 pm

tbone wrote:...My girlfriend is veg, so we don't eat much Mexican together...


Doesn't she know that you don't have to eat the Mexicans? Just the food they prepare for you.

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Re: It all depends on your perspective

Postby tbone » Thu Sep 11, 2003 7:53 pm

PJ wrote:Doesn't she know that you don't have to eat the Mexicans? Just the food they prepare for you.


I take it you've never been subjected to veg Mexican food? Horrible.
Usually it's cheese enchiladas which means cheese rolled in tortillas, covered with cheese, broiled then covered with cheese sauce and salt. They frequently have hidden lard too.

I tend to eat in authentic taco stands, which offer nothing veg, and are just a bit of meat, salsa, cilantro, onion and lime folded into two small tortillas. We've found a few "gringo-mex" places that have a decent vegi burrito but not in this neighborhood (yet).

If you should ever bless LA with your bad self, I'll offer a tour of the most hardcore dive taco stands I know. Nothing over $1, and it's the best Mexican food. Ever.
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tons of diversity

Postby joshr » Thu Sep 11, 2003 8:02 pm

Geez! who didn't notice tons of diversity on the playa... maybe it's predominently white, but I'm starting to thing that so many people were blinded by the nudity that they didn't necessarily pay attention to the nationalities they were looking at :)

out of my 3 friends we had jewish, japanese/hawaiian, and one caucasionish dude... And there was diversity everywhere we went, when there wasn't a dust storm causing everyone to throw on masks.

I personally talked to girls of all persuasions 8)
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Postby antron » Thu Sep 11, 2003 9:08 pm

just a lot of mostly white dust on playa people
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Mabe it was just my camp...

Postby Angry Butterfly » Thu Sep 11, 2003 11:10 pm

I am VERY white, and one day at my camp while applying yet another coat of spf 50 (Bastards dont sell 90 anymore!) complaining about my lack of melanin, a Melanin blessed campmate, pointed at me and gave his best "Nelson" (from the simpsons) Laugh "HA HA!" And then jumed up and down exclaiming with his beautiful accent, " I have ALWAYS WANTED TO DO THAT!" :P we had a lot of diversity in our neck of the woods!
I took the road less traveled, and now I would like to go back and find the paved one.
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Re: More of everything

Postby DVD Burner » Thu May 27, 2004 12:39 pm

Steven bradford wrote:I notice more people who weren't "white" this year, but I noticed even more that there seemed to be a lot more live music this year, plus an even greater diversity of recorded music.

I'm glad that so many people who are musically inclined chose to bring that to the playa for me to enjoy this year, as it's something I really can't do. (Though I did help with our art car's music selection by adding in some unusual yet fitting selections.)


so is there gonna be more real instruments and live instrumental music?

Action girl created a thread but there seems to not be a conclusion to what was started there.

( I'm doing my best to put attention to her point. it really would be nice to have instumental musician music.) :wink:
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Re: More of everything

Postby Bob » Sat May 29, 2004 1:18 am

DVD Burner wrote:( I'm doing my best to put attention to her point. it really would be nice to have instumental musician music.)


And you're just the right person to audition the talent?
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Re: More of everything

Postby DVD Burner » Sat May 29, 2004 1:20 am

Bob wrote:
DVD Burner wrote:( I'm doing my best to put attention to her point. it really would be nice to have instumental musician music.)


And you're just the right person to audition the talent?


I just finished reading what you posted. :lol:
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Postby c0q_m1x3r » Sun May 30, 2004 12:13 am

IRT to the thread's originating post:

Racism works both ways. Saying that there aren't enough blacks, hispanics, etc., is tantamount to saying that there are too many of them. As opposed to complaining about the lack of ethnic diversity, why don't you appreciate the people as individuals or as parts of the species, as opposed to viewing them in the light their color (or lack thereof)?

I would much rather go to Burning Man and interact with twenty-five thousand humans than go to Burning Man and interact with nineteen thousand, three hundred and eighty-six whites, two thousand and twelve blacks, eleven hundred and twenty-nine American Indians, eight hundred and seventy-four hispanics, six hundred and forty-nine Asians, five-hundred and fifty-three Pacific Islanders, three hundred and ninety-six Arabs, and one brotha in a lime green suit.
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Postby Bob » Sun May 30, 2004 4:27 am

Whenever I get a lay in the sun, it's always a tantamount.
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