A message from the Emergence Core on social justice and racism.
The culture, and the Ten Principles of Burning Man arose from the Black Rock Desert organically, from a mashup of artists, anarchists, the Playa, and, well, a big burn. Stemming from its anarchist roots, as the event matured, Burning Man has historically taken a strong position to not take a position on social and political issues. Burning Man does not endorse a political party or candidate. It does not endorse any religion, or lifestyle. It does not campaign to “save the whales”. In fact, it has been said that “Burning Man is pointless.”
It has been Burning Man’s expressed position that they do this on purpose. That is, to take a position on something would be to the exclusion of some people, and a violation of the principle of Radical Inclusion. In recent years there are some soft exceptions, but it is still part of the event’s general philosophy. (You can find the Burning Man Project’s Radical Inclusion, Diversity, & Equity (R.I.D.E.) Anti-Racism Pledge here.)
Since one of the Ten Principles is “Radical Inclusion”, on the surface one might think that the issue of racism is covered. However, Burning Man, and Emergence (which is not sanctioned by nor affiliated with the Burning Man organization), exist in a country that is still steeped with racism, and still demonstrates the effects of systemic racism. The problem with systemic racism is this – it can continue on its own with no further intervention required. “Racism can exist in a room where nobody is a racist,” as explained by Chenjerai Kumanyika in the podcast “Seeing White.” In order to create a racially just society, proactive measures must be taken. It is for this reason that Emergence denounces racism, including individual, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic racism.
As Burners, we turn to the Ten Principles to guide us. Four principles offer valuable wisdom applicable to the task at hand: Radical Inclusion, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, and Participation.
Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burn culture and community thrives because we welcome and celebrate diversity. We approach racial justice, not just as something that should be done out of fairness and equity, but from the understanding that we are all richer when our community reflects and embraces a wide range of experiences, talents, and perspectives.
Civic Responsibility: We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Civic responsibility means a commitment to the common good. Exploiting and oppressing any group is inconsistent with the common good; thus, racial justice is an essential part of civic responsibility.
Burns are a time and place where we free ourselves from the constraining narratives and exploitation of the default culture of domination based on control backed up by guilt, fear, and force. Burns are a temporary experiment in utopia. We, as community members who organize Emergence, aspire to protect this quality of Burn culture while co-creating an event and community that welcomes and supports participation by all people.
Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
We have a personal and collective responsibility for dismantling racism. This comes through education, conversation, and action. We seek to make Emergence a safe space for these efforts. We ask all Emergers to enrich our culture and be a catalyst for change at Emergence and beyond.
Communal Effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We are far more effective at co-creating when we work and play with others. In the context of creating a racially just Emergence, we encourage community members to collaborate on camps, art, projects and experiences that support participation by people of color.
With these principles as our guide, we are committed to creating a racially just Emergence by addressing all forms of racism. individual and systemic racism. Individual and interpersonal racism is expressed in behavior. Incidents of racism at Emergence will not be tolerated, and should be brought to the attention of any lead or Ranger at the event, or online to the Conduct Committee at any time.
Systemic and institutional racism is found in policy. We encourage the community to contact us if any of the policy or structure of Emergence contributes to systemic racism. In addition, Emergence has implemented specific policies to help dismantle racism. Examples of this include: Emergence is committed to requiring that the Board, all leads, and co-leads complete diversity, inclusion and equity training. The Board jointly participated in “Seeing White”, a 14-part podcast on Racism, and followed up each of the 14 lessons with 2 hours of joint conversation by all members of the board with support from Pulse members. We continue to look for ways to proactively support the efforts of community members to make Emergence radically inclusive of people of color. We encourage people of color to join Emergence organizational efforts at all levels. We also continue all the policies found here.
Please feel encouraged to email us at info@EmergenceBurn.org with suggestions for ways we can co-create a racially just and diverse Emergence.
Seeing White, a 14 episode podcast on Scene on Radio
We Will Not Cancel Us: And Other Dreams of Transformative Justice, adrienne maree brown
The Scene that Became Cities: What Burning Man Philosophy Can Teach Us about Building Better Communities, Caveat Magister
Burning Man Diversity and Inclusion Town Hall, October 2020
Burning Man’s Relationship to Politics in a Time of Activism, February 8, 2017 by Caveat Magister
Why does Burning Man seem so much like a political movement?, October 10, 2013 by Caveat Magister
Toward an New Vision of Beloved Community, Shirley Strong