Calling Out Cultural Appropriation In a Burning Man Group Will Get You Called a Racist
“Don’t bring the ghetto to La Playa”
Trigger Warning: Racist As Fuck
By: Mo Lynn
An uneventful morning for me usually begins like this: 1. Wake up. 2.Contemplate how long I can hold my bladder before I have to get out of bed. 3. Check Facebook. 4. Try to go back to sleep before bladder fails and forces me to get up. Earlier this week, step 4 got intercepted because Facebook is a horrible, horrible time warp that will make you forget about all the things you’re supposed to be doing while adulting (work-what is that!?)
During a particular morning scroll earlier this week, I came across a post from a Burning Man group I am a member of. If you’re unfamiliar with Burning Man, it’s an annual event where people head to Black Rock Desert in Nevada to stay at a temporarily constructed community to celebrate art, culture and self-expression. The original Burning Man began in 1986 in the Bay Area at Baker Beach by Larry Harvey and Jerry James. According to Burning Man’s official website, Burners can be found on six continents, and in more than 50 countries.
Living in the Bay Area, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of going to BM, especially as some of my friends have gone and returned with glowing reviews, a new outlook on life and said it provided them time to check out of the mundane rituals of life while temporarily living on ‘The Playa’. As much as I’ve wanted to go to BM in the past, I’d never been able to justify the cost, which starts at about $390. 00. While I was ready pay the price for this year, I lost my placeholder in line (for better or worse–we’ll get to the latter in a bit).
I probably joined this particular BM group a year or two ago as my interest in becoming a burner grew. I’ve posted occasionally, shared articles a few times and engaged with some other folks–all pleasant exchanges. On the outside looking in, I’ve seen BM as a safe space of like-minded individuals who, at some capacity, understand the intersections of race, class, sexism and gender. In retrospect, this may have been a bit naive, considering the fact that 87% of burners are white according to their own census, creating for a pretty homogeneous group of people. Harvey attributed to the lack of people of color-particularly Black people of color which make up 1.3% of burners, due to the fact that “black folks don’t like to camp as much as white folks.”
So, on this particularly uneventful morning, after seeing some BM posts, I decided to post an article from Wear Your Voice to the group titled 11 of the Most Culturally Appropriated South Asian Accessories, and What they Really Mean with the caption “Be mindful burners”. Let me preface this by calling out my own cultural appropriation in the past. As I said to a burner who took screenshots of a photo of me taken in 2013 where I was completely appropriating a bindi and bangles-I was that girl who would rock the bindi out dancing, without knowledge of the culture, intent or purpose of what I was wearing, I just thought it looked cute on me. I wore a mangalsutra, a South Asian wedding necklace as a choker without realizing what it was until someone who is South Asian informed me about its meaning . The intent of the article, the intent of my post was not to shame anyone. We all do things that may be hurtful or seem problematic unintentionally. These things become problematic after we’re informed and yet continue to perpetuate things that are harmful and problematic for our own pleasures at the expense of another.
While some folks in the thread say it was for ‘self-promotion’, burners have a history of cultural appropriation (within the broader lens of colonialization and white privilege). Sure, I want our articles to do well, and sure I want them to have a wide reach and get more visibility, but my intent of sharing it was specific to what I wanted to convey to the group. My original post with a share of the article was deleted due to ‘self-promoting and solicitation’ and a new thread was created (for full disclosure, it was my bad for now knowing all of the group rules, as admins later pointed out that any form of solicitation is unacceptable, for whatever reason–although I later saw someone post something for a company he worked for without admins deleting it). What ensued was a verbal attack and barrage of racist comments and images, screenshot below.
A few notes:
1.Christopher, the admin who deleted my original post is an African American man. Members who participated in the thread tried to invalidate my comments with the ‘but he’s black and disagrees with you, so you’re wrong and fuck off’. It is not uncommon for people of the same group to disagree with one another. Also, Christopher, a Black cisgender man invalidating a Black woman’s comments is not something new. Misogyny in the Black community is common, as it is in any other. For people to tell me to shut up and ‘stay in my lane’ is misogynist. Agree to disagree, but when folks start calling me a cunt and admins don’t check them for it, that’s misogyny and sexism on both ends. I was told that I wanted to be ‘coddled’ for telling admins to check the folks who are posting KKK images and photos of mummified black bodies…O.K…
2. Black people can perpetuate acts of racial prejudice and uphold white superiority.
3.Women can reinforce misogyny.
4. The fact that Christopher sided with a group that he identifies as his sub-culture over his identity of Blackness is not surprising, especially when the sub-culture he exists in is pretty much colorblind and unapologetically perpetrates acts of racism ( as one member commented #onerace #theHUEmanexperience). What was interesting throughout my exchange with Christopher was that he took more issue with my INTENT rather than the fact that I violated group rules. He defended white superiority and colonialization to the point he was colorblind to the racist comments and statements within the group that were even directed towards him (what does an African American hat look like, and where could I get one?”. That said, I’ll still fight for his liberation, whether he resists it or not, because I unconditionally and unapologetically love my Black people.
5. Admins DID NOT view what I perceived to be racist comments as racist. As of writing this, a full 24 hours + later, racist and sexist comments are still up. I asked Christopher “Are you going to use your admin hat to mod these racists posts in the thread, or are you just checking for me?” Christopher responded saying he did not see any post that was racist.Because Christopher did not view any of these comments as acts of racism, other members of the group, the majority of them being white, continued to invalidate me again by calling me a sensitive ‘social justice warrior’ and saying as an outsider, I do not know the ‘snark of burner culture’. Does that snark come with racism? Commenters cited the 10 Principles of Burning Man, particularly ‘Radical Self-expression’ to justify said comments.
6 .I stopped engaging in the original post after the last thread posted below. Apparently, there were more toxic comments than the ones below, but admins deleted before I could see. As well, the comments I screenshot from the admin post are not all of the comments in the thread. There were over 450 comments last time I checked, and I did not have the emotional energy to sift through every one.
7. While I was involved in the thread, outside of Dani and Alix there was little to no checking on these white folks who called me a ‘dumb cunt’ shared images of mummified black faces or KKK and Nazi images. I was also told to check my ‘attitude’ and not bring the ghetto to the playa. In the second thread, outside of disagreement, I was not rude, calling anyone out their name or sharing ignorant ass memes. Yet, I was being ‘ghetto’ Hmm, wonder where they got that assumption?
Follow up thread from original post by Admin
Featured Image: Flickr urser Mick Jeffries via Creative Commons
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