When You Know Better, Do Better

Dec 14, 2020 | Kiwiburn

Thoughts on making Kiwiburn a more inclusive community

By Ann K Addley

Changing the World, One Burner at a Time

I want to talk about Inclusion, and not in a preachy way. Not in a do this or else way, but as a vehicle for cultural change in our communities. Let’s face it, the Burner world is full of rich, white, able-bodied humans and, for the most part, this is not reflective of our larger communities or our country.

Burners have the power to create the communities they want to be part of and they have precedent. Look at consent. Now I’m not saying we have solved assaults, far from it. There is, however, no doubt that the way we have chosen to deal with consent issues, as a community, through education and communication, has led to improvement in this area, 1000-fold over the last 10 years. We have the power to get better and it’s time we turn that force of change onto the subject of inclusion. We have everything to gain from creating supportive spaces for people with diverse backgrounds.

There are many communities that are underrepresented at Kiwiburn. Disabled people, neurodiverse, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), older and younger people, gender diverse, other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and those of diverse social-economic levels (to name a few).

These communities may not have the same opportunities to access Kiwiburn. They may find themselves in situations inside the event that make them feel alienated and unwelcome. We need to even the playing field and give everyone access to this thing that has been so influential in so many of our lives.

Photo Credit: Navigator

The Line Between Appreciation and Appropriation

Appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one person or society by members of another (typically by a more dominant society or people).

The line between appreciation and appropriation can be fine, but it is an important one. It is one that can make a huge portion of the New Zealand population feel more welcome at our events. When creating supportive spaces for BIPOC, it pays to consider the many small ways a person may see their culture being disrespected every day.

Learning from and being inspired by cultures other than your own can be a beautiful experience. There are two main factors that make this practice cross the line from appreciation to appropriation.

One is understanding the origins of a particular practice and its significance to the community it originated from. Sometimes a good appreciation process could be as simple as doing some research. Think about how you can communicate this acknowledgment or origins information to others who are interacting with your piece.

There are, however, times when it is just not appropriate to engage in certain practices. These are most often associated with religious or sacred practice, or a culturally important icon being used outside of its appropriate settings.

Some examples of this are: wearing Indigenous American war bonnet as a costume (part of a religious ceremony), or Maori feather cloaks (used to denote prestige and status of certain positions). Even if you know the history of these garments, unless you have been ordained, wearing these garments is disrespecting the culture and significance they hold to their people.

A good rule of thumb is if someone tells you something is offensive to them, believe them no matter your personal opinion. When using satire or political expression, make sure you are punching up. It’s ok to question the large ruling bodies and traditions, minority communities not so much.

Photo Credit: James Deane

Things to Consider when Planning for Kiwiburn

Moving forward, it would be lovely if we all took a moment to think about how our actions and choices affect others. There is plenty of space to radically express ourselves and push boundaries while also being kind and inclusive.

Here is a little checklist. I encourage you to have a think about your offering for the next Burn, your outfits, theme camp, art, or event. See if there’s something you could consider learning more about or presenting in an alternate way so as to include as many humans as possible.

Language – Written info is an easy fix. You can change your documentation to allow for gender expression and decolonise your language with a quick once over. Spoken language is harder but is still worth working on. You don’t need to be perfect. Over a period of time, you can evolve your language. We can help remind our friends of pronouns or outdated colloquialisms without it being a big deal.

Events/Space – Are you hosting a space or event? Is your space suitable for different types of people? Can people with limited mobility access it? Are there flashing lights, loud noises or something that might be a challenge for neurologically diverse humans? Now, I am not saying don’t do the thing full stop; however, considering different types of people while designing a project is definitely a plus. Maybe you just want to put a sign up outside warning of the flashing lights, sexual content, etc? This way other participants can choose for themselves whether they want to engage with your piece.

The same goes for events. Do you know the origins of the smudging ceremony you are offering? Is it appropriate for you to use white sage? (It’s currently being overharvested in the US due to the popularity of smudging in new age practices). While smoke cleansing is not specific to a certain culture, some aspects of the ceremony are. Could you use an alternate smudge stick and make attendees aware of where they could learn more about this ceremony off of the Paddock?

Decoration/infrastructure/costume – Appropriation is an area where Kiwiburn has a lot of making up to do; however, we can all be mindful of how our self-expression is affecting others. Is your costume referencing a culture or religious practice that’s not your own? Are you displaying art that heavily references another culture and, if so, have you done the research on its origins? How are you going to express this to other participants?

Maybe your camp has infrastructure such as a Tipi borrowed from another culture. Have you thought about the kind of events and decorations that are and are not appropriate to hold in it? Often can be as simple as educating other participants about the origins of a piece, other times you may need to mention to a friend or camp member that their costume probably isn’t appropriate. Again, this does not need to be a big deal, a simple, “Hey dude, we are trying to be more inclusive. We would appreciate it if you didn’t wear costumes representing other cultures,” could suffice. If you have these types of conversations in the planning stage, it negates later awkward conversations on site.

Accessibility – This is particularly important for interactive art pieces. You want as many people as possible to interact with your art, right? Can people access it without climbing stairs or crawling through a tunnel? Many people who may not appear disabled actually have limited mobility. Is your area child safe? Are there flashing lights, sudden noise, depictions of graphic violence or sex? All these considerations can be included with some thought during the design phase. Signage explaining what to expect and how to interact with a piece can make sure as many people as possible have a positive experience interacting with your art. For example, Theme Camps could provide things such as off the ground seating, water, and quiet spaces if their offerings are intense. These additions can then be utilised by both diverse humans and intoxicated participants.

Privilege – A fair amount of these suggestions stem from understanding our privilege. Something that may seem like one small thing not worth complaining about as far as you’re concerned may be the 100th micro-aggression someone else has experienced that day. Being considerate and willing to take feedback costs nothing, yet can create a slow, cultural shift towards becoming a more inclusive community.

Side Note:Spoon Theory’ is a metaphor designed to describe the experience of differently-abled humans. It can also be a useful way to talk about mental illness and racism. An issue may be tiny but it can often still be the last straw. No one is asking you to change your entire camp structure – it could be as simple as making a note for next year around acknowledging origins can make someone’s Burn experience significantly more positive.

Representation– Have a look around you, your camp, your event, etc. Is your group diverse? Why do you think that it is or is not? Often the barriers of entry can be set differently for different communities. Is there a way you can lower those barriers? Could you collaborate with other camps or groups to share ideas? Do you have a way to receive feedback and/or educate yourself? How would you feel walking into a room of people different from you who don’t necessarily understand or appear open to your personal challenges? Are there things you can do to make diverse humans feel welcome?

Feedback – Receiving or giving feedback doesn’t have to be a negative experience. We can create a culture of giving and receiving feedback so that we can share information without feelings getting hurt. Generally, there are two types of feedback written: complaint based and person-to-person. Does your camp know how they will respond to a written complaint? Having a clear plan before the fact can reduce the stress of solving the problem at the time. In terms of giving and receiving feedback in person, here are a few tips:

  • If you can provide feedback before a situation escalates, it will be less stressful. Don’t bottle things up.
  • Use a compliment sandwich. Say a good thing, a bad thing, and then another good thing to help people not feel attacked and to help them take on board your feedback.
  • If someone from a marginalised community tells you about their experience, believe them. You do not have to have witnessed it. You do not have to think it’s serious. If someone says it is, act accordingly.
  • If you are given feedback, say thank you and move on. You do not need to justify your actions; you don’t even need to agree or act on the information. All you need to do is listen and consider the implications. It is up to you what action you do or do not take. By not engaging in a debate (at least at the time) you can create a culture where feedback is not considered a personal attack. Just take it as a potential learning moment that you may in fact come to be grateful for.
Photo Credit: Georgie Judith Adams

When to ask – Marginalised communities do a lot of emotional labour, such as constantly educating others around their issues and challenges. What may seem like a simple question to you may have been the 30th time they have discussed it that day and that shit is exhausting. It is a fair ask that we educate ourselves as much as possible. Google may be able to answer your question, reading a book or article, or watching documentaries or programs – all are great ways you can learn more about the world you move through and be better able to create supportive spaces.

If you do have a friend or acquaintance you would like to ask questions of, it is always nice to start by asking if they have the capacity to answer a question right now.  Do not be insulted if they say that now is not a good time. Remember they all are the very people we are trying to support, so another time or another person may be more appropriate. You may also get information that makes you uncomfortable and that can be a good thing. Sometimes being uncomfortable is how we learn. Try and have empathy for the fact that these people are often made to feel uncomfortable in society and try to sit with the information for a while before reacting. Open dialog is a great resource for us all and it means taking baby steps towards being a more diverse community that values people with a wide range of experiences.

Resources to educate yourself

Here are a few links if you are interested in deepening your knowledge of how to welcome different communities. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of available info. How about making it a goal to learn one new thing about our wider community each Burn?

Photo Credit: Mingus Casey

Radical Inclusion: Why We Need It

No one wants to stifle your self-expression. Being a bit out there is what Burns are all about; however, for many communities who experience microaggressions and a world tailored for the majority culture, a Burn is not always a welcoming place.

We should aim to create a supportive environment where everyone has the opportunity to participate in Kiwiburn on an equal footing and, hey, kindness is never underrated. This is less about enforcing a set of rules and more about giving you, the community, information and a chance to consider how your decisions may be affecting other people. Kiwiburn would like to encourage cultural change and we, as a community together, create the reality we want to live in.

The road to making a more inclusive community is a long one and it is not easy (by any means). However, if we all commit to continual, small improvements, we will one day look back and be happy we invested in an inclusive future.

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