Larry Harvey on Burning Man's diversity gap: 'Black folks don't like to camp as much as white folks'

I recall seeing this brought up before, maybe back when I used to subscribe to Backpacker magazine. Burning Man is a far different thing than “camping” (it might be better to ask what percentage of those who call themselves “performance artists” are black), but as for actual “camping”, be it in a KOA campground with game room, convenience store and showers, or on the Appalachian Trail miles from the nearest paved road with a 30lb. pack on your back and a weeks worth of food, blacks aren’t as common as whites. I don’t know why. It must be a cultural/sociological thing, nobody is excluding them.

That said, the way he phrased it sounds kind of crass.


More importantly, haven’t these people heard of global warming?

It’s too bad, too. They are indeed welcome.

Take for example the fishing community–there is ample racism (and classism) there, but black americans seem perfectly well represented on the banks.


this reminds me of a trip I took in China (Inner Mongolila to be exact) years ago. It was a horse trek. There were only a couple of nights on the trip when we camped out. Our Chinese guides were totally puzzled by this. And they got rather freaked out when a bunch of us didn’t bother to sleep in our tents (which they’d pitched mere inches from each other) and spread our sleeping bags out on the plain under the stars. The entire idea of camping was an alien concept to them and totally outside of their cultural experience. It’s my totally unscientific opinion that the majority of people in any culture aren’t interested in venturing very far outside of their particular cultural experience.


I totally loved camping as a youth, and never once since I’ve learned of Burning Man has it been financially or socially viable for me, despite my great interest in the cultural experiment.

I expect most folks of working-class roots and modest means to be investing their leisure dollars much closer to home. Like, on upgrading their home so they can have better family get-togethers with a remodeled kitchen or living room.


This I have to agree with. I am from an inner city white neighborhood, and the last thing I want to do is camp out, as It is not rooted in white inner city culture either. As long as Burning Man is not actively trying to keep anyone out, I do not find his remarks offensive. I do not expect Burning man to put up some cabins with running water and sanitary facilities just so I would be more inclined to visit, as these changes would alter the Burning man experience for all those that do love it. If you remove the race issue, you can see that not every event has to be designed to be every thing to everybody.

When I used to jump on the subway and head to the Blue Horizon to watch boxing, I was never concerned that Southern and Midwestern whites were underrepresented in the audience.The crowd was mostly made up of people from Kensington, and North Philadelphia where boxing was a part of our culture.


Waywaywaywaywawawayyyyyyyyyyy wait a minute. Burning man is “camping”?


Exclusion is a social phenomenon. It’s different from prohibition, when there’s an explicit rule saying “No X Allowed”. There are different kinds and degrees of exclusion.

Nobody actively stopped you from sitting at the cool kids table, but you definitely didn’t feel like you were welcome there. There’s no rule prohibiting me from attending the fanciest opera in town, but given that I don’t have the appropriate clothes or know the etiquette (or even know anyone I could consult about it), it would probably just be an awkward and unfulfilling experience, so I’ll skip it.

You can state that someone is welcome, but if the cultural subtext says otherwise, many will not actually feel welcome.


Sure, but then if you put the race issue back in, what you’re actually saying is “Burning Man is a white event, and they shouldn’t make changes to make non-white people more inclined to participate, because that would alter the Burning Man experience for all the white people who love it.”


Good topic. “It’s difficult to see beyond your own culture”/ Lakelady says humans “aren’t interested in venturing very far of…cultural experience”, is more to the point. As one raised through indigenous culture in Oklahoma we have seen the dissolution of camping culture among Native peoples since the 1970’s when participants were laughed at for having hotel rooms. Poor whites such as Woody Guthrie also saw a similar dissolution. Brandon Harris points out that many people long ago were “roughing it in the wild just for a chance to be free.” Rock climbers, etc play in protected areas, not in places with no water for miles or game or natural shelter, as many survived in prior to The Encroachment. If you have a nice place to go back to you will be much more comfortable.


That’s fine that you would not enjoy it, but as I stated above in my last post if suburban whites wished to go into an traditionally AA community, and watch the fights, they were welcome. As for your Opera example while I lived in Kensington I also had a yearly subscription to the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music. Inner city does not always mean poor, but if you did not have the disposable income to go to the Academy you could still see them at the Mann Music Center which was an open air venue and jeans were the norm especially in the lawn area.

I once went to a baseball card show with a friend, and was never more bored in my life. No one there made me feel unwelcome, but they had a shared interest I did not.

1 Like

sorry - this is my BB account:)

Well, it is stereotypically said that Jews do not like to camp. At least, no one in my family did (I experimented in college, but that was as far as it went). So it must be true, right? Note that the quoted statistics include zero Jews.

Actually, I think there should be an alternative event, held in the woods of upstate New York, in January, to be called Freezing Man.


What’s problematic?

I"m not even trying to be snarky. I really don’t understand what’s problematic here.


NASCAR is a Southern white event that most of us Northern whites don’t really get. I am welcome to attend any NASCAR event, and I have, and I can attest the crowds were very friendly. But is it really NASCAR’s job to make their sport more interesting to Northerners.

To the British posters here, I do not know if you realize that that the Premier League is pretty big here in the Northeast US. My son is trying to figure out how he can watch the Man U game since Saturday is his college move in day. That being said it would really help us over here if you would please add a playoff, and stop calling it a table rather than standings.


There are. All the colleges up there have winter carnivals, etc. and many of the towns.

Clearly this guy has never been to the south, where plenty of black folks still live in agrarian communities and spend plenty of time outdoors. He seems to be mistaking the experiences of one group of people he knows, who live in a particular space and extrapolating that out to the entire African American community.

“In my neighbourhood,” he added, “the thing to do was to get a good-looking car, and people would sit on stoops, and you’d stop your car in the middle of the street and you’d start talking. That was society. And that involved a lot of display, a lot of dress, a lot of attention to style. But the idea of getting down in the dirt? Not particularly popular.”

So perhaps the black folks he knows aren’t into camping, but neither are many white urban dwellers. In fact, I’d suggest that the act of camping or other outdoor activities, are more likely to be engaged in by two groups - those who grow up in rural areas, and those who idealize rural areas, and have the financial means to travel long distances to go camping, hiking, etc.

It’s not that hard to not project. It’s really not.


Considering how black folk are treated by LEOs and the like, I’d not want to go camping either!

1 Like

To say the dislike of camping is what’s keeping some people away from Black Rock City, is almost like saying you don’t want to go to new York City because you don’t like encountering panhandlers.

Of course we could talk about the noise pollutoon, the snooty glamping hipsters, the eye watering admission costs, the carbon footprint… but by then it wouldn’t sound like fun anymore. Maybe black people don’t typically enjoy what burners seem to like, but for God’s sake, don’t let that interrupt anyone’s sense of entitlement!

1 Like

Then that’s sad.

(And I also am not being snarky, or sarcastic, or whatever.)

And what’s sadder, many others here – especially here on BB — don’t get it either.

And sadder still-- there are plenty who do get it, but pretend they don’t.

Problematic’ might be too strong. Personally, I think this topic is ‘[academically] interesting’.