Dear White Burners

erin Douglas
Jun 12, 2020 · 5 min read

Dear White Burners,

Trying to explain what it is like being Black in America to the extent where you truly understand is like trying to explain Burning Man to a Non Burner- realizing no matter how detailed you get they’ll never get it; its impossible.

Photo by Erin Douglas

The difference is, someone can always go to Burning Man but you can never step into my brown skin for the true experience. In fact, you’d probably never want to. This type of experience you most likely could not handle.

I remember being a young girl, in the back of my moms car, riding down a street in Baltimore we commonly took to get my favorite food, Maryland crabs. This street was lined with crab shops. The sweet smell of old bay forever in the air. Looking out the window I’d see what I always saw, people of all kinds, but what stood out were the boarded up homes, people who seemed to have a hard life, and the men and women on corners, veins full of poison.

But it wasn’t just Black people, it was White people too. That’s what I always saw. White people looking and doing the same as everyone else. But that day (at 7 years old), something clicked. Why was it that the only people I ever saw on the news depicted in this negative light, had melanated skin like mine? It was confusing. What I saw with my own eyes didn’t align with what the news/media was telling me. They were trying to convince me that only Black people were “bad like this, did these negative acts, talked like that, looked like that”. But I knew otherwise. I had proof. However; you, your parents, your grandparents probably did believe them. I was always told White lives mattered, even if it was indirectly. We know that. You know that. What you have been taught, just like me, is that Black lives have never mattered and they will depict us in any way so that you will believe it to your core with no proof except what they tell and show you.

This is the danger of a single narrative. It’s why I started Black Burner Project; to share the narrative of POC who show up in this space fully and open and radically, but often go unseen.

This is why our stories matter. It is why we say Black Lives Matter; because you, non person of color, for so long have left us out of all the lives that have mattered. “All” lives can’t matter unless you include Black lives mattering too.

I am grateful for the experiences I have had at Burning Man. It is like no other. I am grateful that because of Burning Man, I found purpose with my passion. This project has meant so many things to me, but it’s never been just about Burning Man. This project is for People of Color because we need it, but it is for White Burners too, because you need it. You need to see us, you need to get used to us so you don’t look at us in awe, like aliens who have come down just to visit.

If you as a non person of color have met any of the people of color I have been so honored to meet through this project, you are one lucky and blessed human. You are lucky that they were bold enough to step into a space that on the surface is not inviting. You are lucky that they did not judge you for who you usually may be in the default world. You are Lucky that they still love and accept you. Lucky that in those moments even forgive you. You are lucky for the magic they bring to the playa. You are lucky because they are beautiful humans worth knowing, worth seeing, worth befriending, worth being mute for and listening to, and worth trying to understand.

Black Burner Project is about the importance of radical inclusion, diversity and community. It is about sharing our stories and creating a space where we can be seen. But We had to do that. I ask as a Burner for you to stand up and do that too. Ride with your Burners, all Burners! Burning Man is a space for some of us to go who live exhausting, socially unequal, traumatizing lives 358 days of the year outside of Burning Man. Will you continue to bring the default to the playa or are you determined to bring more of the playa to the default world?

What you can do is some deep Burning Man soul work like you’ve never done before to understand where you play a role in this, even if you don’t think you do. Ask how you too can prevent this outcome. It’s gonna take some uncomfortable work. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, things will come up you didn’t know existed within. Yes, you will have to face some real hard truths, about yourself, family, friends and this country. But, like Burning Man, facing truths, challenges and self work all for the outcome of the better is part of the Burner journey. So why won’t you? We are a part of this community and we should be — we are Humans. However, have you ever wondered if we’ve truly felt seen or included the same? Have you gone back to the default with a new understanding of race, privilege, injustice and action steps to take so you truly bring your lessons from the playa and its essence back home to be an example other people can learn from? You play a major role in making a difference! Know that the pain you are witnessing is real. Know that it is valid.

This community is large, creative, kind, and powerful. Don’t leave it up to us, we should be able to lean on you. Don’t leave us out in these dusty moments alone, here too. And if you don’t understand it all, all you have to do is be willing to.

I hope you are ready and open to continue these discussions but more important ready to take radical action not just now, but always.

Love and Light,

Erin

Black Burner Project

Beyond Burning Man

Dispatches on impact and innovation from Black Rock City and beyond.