Burning Man Founder Addresses Lack Of Diversity By Saying: 'Black Folks Don't Like To Camp'
The Debrief: Festival founder, Larry Harvey, says 'historic reasons' like slavery are responsible for Burning Man's mostly white population
In an interview with The Guardian the founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey, has countered criticism about the lack of racial diversity at the festival. His reasons for the issue are somewhat controversial: he doesn’t think ‘black folks like to camp as much as white folks.’
Harvey established the iconic festival with some mates in 1986, and it continues to be held every year in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Around 70,000 ‘Burners’ travel from all over the world to attend the utopian festival in the middle of nowhere, where you’re guaranteed no phone signal. A ticket to Burning Man costs $390 and a vehicle pass is $50, that’s over $400 before you’ve even filled up the tank.
It's not a cheap festival to attend, but it’s famous for its rejection of commercialism. There are no corporate sponsors. There’s also no branding and, most importantly, no money changing hands anywhere on site. Burners must bring supplies to exchange with one another instead of purchasing things like food or booze once they get there.
In 2005 Harvey himself wrote ‘the 10 principles of Burning Man’ as ‘a reflection of the community’s ethos.’ Number one on the list is ‘radical inclusion’ which stipulates that there are ‘no perquisites for participation in our community.’
However, according to the most recent Black Rock city census, which is put together each year after the festival, 87% of burners identified as white, 6% defined as Hispanic, 6% as Asian and 2% as Native American. The smallest demographic of attendees – 1.3% – identified as black, meaning that the festival’s ‘radically inclusive’ vision is nearly 90% white.
You can’t ignore the fact that the population of the festival is disproportionately white in comparison to both that of Nevada and the United States as a whole, where 13.2% of people identify as African American (that’s over 41.7 million people).
Just in case his initial remarks weren’t problematic enough, in his interview with the Guardian Harvey was firm. ‘We’re not going to set racial quotas’, he said, ‘I think it’s a little much to expect the organisation to solve the problem of racial parity. We do see a fast-increasing influx of Asians, black folks.’
His analysis of the lack of diversity was simple yet certainly contentious. Harvey believes that ‘historic reasons’ are to blame for Burning Man’s diversity problem, which he atrributes to the fact that ‘black folks’ don't like camping. ‘Remember a group that was enslaved and made to work? Slavishly, you know, in the fields,’ he said, adding ‘My family is half black.’ He acknowledged that he has ‘been criticised’ in the past for his comments about race and camping... which seems, er, unsurprising.
He went on to say, ‘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.’
Harvey said that he doesn’t intend to offend people with his comments, which came shortly before this year’s festival came to an end on Sunday night following the ritual burning of a wooden temple. ‘I hope I haven’t said anything too incendiary’, he said.
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