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Diversity and Burning Man’s Principle of Radical Inclusion

September 5, 2018

photo by Leori Gill of Black Rock Citizens gathered around the Man on Burn Night 2018

Just like any city in America, Black Rock City is made up of a wide range of people. Sometimes people are surprised to find that there are even families and children at Burning Man: in fact there are over 600 residents each year in KIdsville, the largest camp at Burning Man, and BRC is full of people of all genders, sexual orientations, and colors.


But while one of the 10 Principles is Radical Inclusion,  Black Rock City is remarkably white. And it does seem like there are more men than women and more people in their 20s than in your typical city of 70k.

To understand the population of Black Rock City, since 2002 a collaborative research project called the Black Rock Census seeks to learn more about the participants who make up Black Rock City via a random sample of Burners during the event and online survey responses after the Burn.

The census data shows that yes, there are a lot of folks in their 20s and 30s. It’s also a highly educated population with 40% having a BA and 30% making between 50k and 100k– hence the disposable income and the time to attend Burning Man. The census also bears out my observations that there’s more people who identify as male than female: about 60% male and 40% female.

In terms of ethnicity, in 2013, BRC was almost 83% white but in 2017, it was down a bit to 77%:

Filmmaker Gina Levy investigated being black at Burning Man in her film “In Pursuit of Happiness: Black at Burning Man” which didn’t get much attention when it came out in 2017. However, in the weeks preceeding Burning Man 2018, Gina’s video caught the attention of the New York Times which shared it in this story — which did get people’s attention.

So with only 1% or less of the population in Black Rock City African American, it is significant that one of my favorite institutions is Black Rock Roller Disco by African American David Miles, and that with only 40% female, it is also significant that one of my favorite BRC artists is both a woman and African American.

I met Elizabeth Mallory in 2014 when we were campmates and she created the incredible work pictured below. I actually didn’t even know it was hers when I took these photos. I was captivated by the expressions and the physicality of the work and enjoyed sharing camp with her in 2014.

In 2015 she created this work:

Here’s a detail of her 2016 installation at night:

In 2017 she created “The Bridge” which I saw at sun and moon set — and she joined me along with former campmates Rosel and sTeVe with the Mighty Zenith at the Elvis Wedding Chapel:

While I wasn’t at Burning Man in 2018, I love this photo of her artwork “The Garden of Relationships” created with great care by Teri Lou:


Isn’t this breath-taking?

Black Rock City certainly has more art than other cities as you can see in this video by long-time Burner Mark Day…. but is it as diverse?

Just like any city, Black Rock has financial diversity as well as ethnic diversity: it’s not all starving artists and half-dressed hippies, and it never has been. Silicon Valley and others have always contributed major bucks toward making That Thing Out in the Desert happen — and attended.


While many people do make huge sacrifices to bring their art to Black Rock City and spend inordinate amounts of time fundraising, the 1% are there too — and not always practicing the 10 Principles of Burning Man. Yes there are plenty of stories of tech moguls making grilled cheese sandwiches or conservatives like Grover Nordquist and Mark Sanford rubbing elbows with Burning Man founders in first camp, but most of the time the 1% hang out in their own private camps gorging on fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, and Dom Perignon Champagne as this article attests. (Who are the 1%? The richest 1 percent of Americans who now take home about 20 percent of total income, and own over 40 percent of the nation’s wealth.) Photo below from one such camp that kicked me out last year when I wandered in.

Don’t expect to sit on the nice couches or have someone make you a drink from the well stocked and locked bar, and you may or may not be able to get a seat in the private Cirque du Soleil style show where the camp funder pays wages as well as provides tickets and a commissary for the employees and the actors involved in the show…

The Man Burns Again in 360 days… more or less! Will you be there? I sure hope I will be!

What to do between now and then? Attend a Burning Man Decompression Party or regional event in SF or LA or near you! And maybe you’ll see the Mighty Zenith, Black Rock Roller Disco or an artwork by Elizabeth Mallory!

In Los Angeles, join us Sat. Oct. 13 in downtown LA; more details soon!

San Francisco Decompression 2018: Black Top City!

  • Date and Time: October 20 – October 21, 2018 @ 2:00 PM – 2:00 AM
  • Format: Event
  • Location:
    Potrero Power Station, 23rd St @ Illinois St, San Francisco
  • Cost: $20-25 in advance, $30 at the door, Kids 12 and under free!
  • Tickets: Buy tickets or RSVP


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