Mar 23 2021

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The Juke Joint

Burning Man 2021?

I just got word that Burning Man may actually happen this year. While I have a TON of thoughts on this, I want to focus this post on what the new Mutant Vehicle I am building is going to be.

As much of the world, I was shocked and saddened by the murder of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and too many other Black people. A few years before their killings I chose to give up eating meat after watching a police officer brutalize a 14-year old black girl in a bikini after a middle school graduation swim party.

My thinking was: That officer clearly thought he was doing the right thing. The “civilized” world does not. What am I doing that I think is right but much of the rest of the world does not? Over 1 billion people don’t eat meat. I wanted to know if I could give up eating meat, not because I thought it was wrong, but because others did. I wanted to see if I could “learn” that eating meat was wrong and in the process… learn to be more “civilized”. I wanted to know if White people who do not think they are brutalizing Black people can learn how to not brutalize Black people.

Burning Man is overwhelmingly White and is EXTREMELY difficult for Black people to comfortably attend. Extremely. Some of us make it, but all of the Black people I have discussed this issue with have experienced intense moments of unease due to White people acting foolish because we are in what they think of as “their” space. While I have not spoken to more than a small fraction of Black Burners about this, it saddens me greatly that ALL of us have had negative experiences involving White people being racist.

And still I love going. I love the people who go and the experiences we create together.

I have been thinking a lot this year about Black Spaces. I want my mutant vehicle to be an instantly recognizable Black Space that will be welcoming to Black people in particular. I would like the art to welcome all people who may be feeling unwelcome due to something central to who they are – but my focus is specifically on Black Burners.

I have landed on the

Juke Joint

Key points are:

1) It is a quintessential African-American invention
2) Outskirts of town
3) Welcoming to all who show up
4) Focused on fun – not money or wealth
5) Music
6) Food and drink are always present

I am specifically trying to get away from:

1) The White gaze
2) White approval
3) White beauty norms
4) “Perfection” and the “right way” to do things
5) Success as defined by capitalism

The rest of Burning Man is all about those things. I feel like so much of the city defaults to White norms and White sensibilites. It seems like the entire event is thrown for the benefit of White people from around the world. I want to create a piece of art that is specifically for Black people to feel good when they see it and are drawn to interact with it. My focus is on creating a safe space for Black people.

Most of the art by, for and about White people does not explicitly exclude Back people. Nothing I create will in any way work to exclude anyone. If you are kind and nice, you are welcome. Just be respectful and know that The Juke Joint is about Black Joy. The Juke Joint is a celebration of Black people finding happiness in the midst of the White Racial Terror – from the worst of it just after slavery when Black people first created Juke Joints, all the way through Burning Man where a new Juke Joint will roam and offer the weary traveler – especially Black Burners – a respite.

(The Color Purple is super problematic for me, but Spielberg’s stagecraft is fantastic.)

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