Burning Man founder thinks slavery helps explain his festival's lack of diversity


Burning Man White People


Participants at Burning Man in 2007.

Larry Harvey, the founder of the annual Burning Man festival that is currently taking place in the Nevada desert, thinks he knows why there is not more diversity at the event. He shared his thoughts on this at a press conference during this year's festival.

"I see black people! And they're here. Though I got a lot of criticism for once saying, 'Well I don't think black people like to camp," Harvey said. "There are some historic reasons for that, especially in the United States."


Harvey elaborated on this comment in an interview with The Guardian's Steven Thrasher, which was published on Friday.

"Remember a group that was enslaved and made to work. Slavishly, you know in the fields. This goes all the way back to the Caribbean scene, when the average life of a slave in the fields was very short. And, so, there's that background, that agrarian poverty associated with things. Maybe your first move isn't to go camping. Seriously," Harvey explained.

Harvey also described a moment where he was criticized for sharing this view. He said it came when festival organizers spoke with a consultant who "was black, and lesbian, and she had a niche in the nonprofit world, because they're always trying to check off those boxes, in terms of quotas."


"At a certain point, she made a speech which was pro forma, which I didn't know was the speech she always made, about the racial question. I said 'Well, I don't think black folks like to camp as much as white folks!' And she said 'You son of a b----!'" Harvey recounted.

Thrasher pointed out that an annual Burning Man census showed the event is 87% white and just 1.3% black. He said this is especially interesting since "the first of the festival's 10 principles is 'racial inclusion.'"

Harvey noted his ex-wife and children are all African-American. He said he brought them to the festival and hopes it will cause others to follow.


"I have contributed. Because, my stepson and my stepdaughter and my ex-wife are here," said Harvey.

Though he said he wants the event to become more diverse, Harvey argued it is "a little much to expect the organization to solve the problem of racial parity" in the press conference.

At the end of his interview with Thrasher, Harvey expressed a wish that his comments won't offend anyone.


"I hope I haven't said anything too incendiary," he said.

Harvey also discussed concerns about Silicon Valley executives setting up luxury encampments at the event in the interview. You can read the full story here.