G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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I’d like to add a little bit to Steve Sailer’s post on the dearth of black Burning Man attendees. Starting with Steve’s comments:
I’d be interested in how much of a Northern European v. Southern European divide there is in who attends. The whole hippie thing seems Northern European to me. My cousin, for example, is a regular at Burning Man. He takes after his outdoorsy Swiss German mother, who regrets being too old to give it a try. His sisters take more after their Italian father, and wouldn’t be caught dead there.
This will be the first time in five years that I haven’t attended the Telluride Blues and Brews festival in Colorado. A blues festival in the mountains carries an even stranger dynamic than the 50,000 person pee-pee pow-wow north of Reno. In Telluride (and probably most blues festivals), the crowd is 90% white while the musicians are 60% black. In fact, I can remember the four black attendees I’ve seen over the years I’ve gone to the festival (two of them have been there every year I’ve gone). Besides attendees, there are usually a couple of black guys dispensing beer from Ghostbuster-looking backpacks.
To address Sailer’s question, there is a noticeable celebration of Irish roots at the Blues festival. I’m a quarter Irish and redheaded myself. Lots of “Kiss Me I’m Irish” paraphernalia and sunscreen at the festival as well. Other than Irish, Jewish people are the only other discernible ethnic cohort.
At The Burning Blog, Caveat Magister tries to figure out why Burning Man is a white thing (only 13% of attendees consider themselves non-white whereas the general population is much more diverse; and this despite the fact that crowd is largely from diverse metro areas). The Root article which Sailer cites does mention the socioeconomic differences, and I’d also mention different cultural attitudes towards outdoor nature-focused activities. Magister’s explanations in bold:
Burning Man requires a sense of security that is not common in American minority communities.
“White people expect that they’re going to be okay,” I was told. “Black people think that they need to be prepared for something extremely bad to happen. That means differences in behavior.”
I understand what he’s driving at here, but it doesn’t explain why black people are more likely to attend the bars and clubs that end up in the news because of violence and why white people typically avoid “ghetto clubs” and ghettos themselves. No, it’s cultural. The sense of uncertain security is a symptom of the deeper issue which is blacks’ lack of familiarity (and therefore comfort and therefore desire to interact) which large white groups. It’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it’s just natural.
The sexual mores of minority cultures tend to be significantly more conservative than those of Burners
“Black men, in particular, are not going to feel comfortable in a sexually charged, public environment with flirty white women and overhyped, anarchic white guys,” he told me. “If somebody’s white girlfriend starts being affectionate with me in public, I’m immediately on my guard and watching him to see if he took offence, and checking the eyes of every white male around to see if he got pissed. They may be super liberal at Burning Man, but there are racist liberals too, they just hide it better.”
I’m not sure that blacks who choose not to attend Burning Man are even aware of the rampant nudity before casting it aside as “something crazy white people do”. I do enjoy the focus on the hypocrisy of liberals though. Since we could expect them to surround themselves with blacks on purpose more often, they must experience a greater absolute number of racist thoughts than would your typical conservative.
It would be difficult to get acceptance from one’s family and community
This eventually leads to a self-selection phenomenon: minorities don’t go to Burning Man because they don’t go to Burning Man.
Yes, blacks tend to not want to go because other blacks aren’t there. Think deeply about the assumption here. Magister is basically arguing that blacks should like the same things as whites. But why should they? Is Burning Man such a cultural milestone that more blacks have to attend it? I expect Magister’s article to be the first in a coming wave of introspective pieces on the inherent racism of Burning Man. It all seems so desperate. Like a child complaining that another kid won’t play with them. “Why won’t you play with me?”
A different history with counter-culture movements
“To me, Burning Man is a flower-power thing,” I was told by a minority non-burner. “That comes from white history. In the 60s blacks did civil rights, whites did flower-power. So Burning Man seems like freedom to you, but nothing about Burning Man seems like freedom to us.” This is obviously an overgeneralization, but one with a lot of truth to it.
I agree with this as one of the reasons that blacks aren’t motivated to attend BM. Whites – moreso the young and liberals – search for struggle. The same people who idealize Burning Man have probably also idealized Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac at some point. They want to bust out, explore, reconnect with their animal selves. They’re at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Blacks, in general, aren’t looking to fill this same “void”.
David Grazian, author of a book on the Chicago blues scene, shared his thoughts on why middle class blacks ventured away from the Blues:
The blues fell out of favor with middle-class blacks in the late 1950s and early 1960s because it was considered “gutbucket,” “low-class” music that recalled the countrified terrain of Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, and other southern spaces that their families had left behind. Also, since the blues has always been characterized as the music of poor people, it therefore did not resonate with upwardly mobile black audiences the way that more contemporary urban soul, rhythm and blues, and jazz music could.
Down for the struggle because it’s only temporary, yes. I sometimes display this SWPL tendency. I went to that Blues festival – that’s SWPL. There is a desire to connect with the animalistic drum beat resonating from deep inside. But if you’re asking “why aren’t black people at Burning Man” or “why don’t black people attend blues festivals”, you’re basically asking blacks to pat you on the back and say “go ahead, it’s fine; you’re doing all right.” And if they show up in droves then you’re really doing something good. Of course, if it became “too black” we all know that many of those beckoning diversity would mysteriously begin staying home.
Burning Man is also dystopian. The name of the shindig says a lot. It’s in the desert and reminds one of Mad Max. Whites’ fascination with it is the same as their greater fascination (along with Asians) of end-of-times scenarios; massive destruction; nuclear proliferation. We might as well ask why blacks aren’t into these themes, or World of Warcraft, or Renaissance Fairs, or Lord of the Rings conferences.
If you want to attend crazy white person festivals, there is a difference between attending one that outwardly opposes minority attendance and one that just happens to not attract minorities.