“The birds don’t care what color you are.”

It’s not rocket science. A person of color has just as much right to go birding as anyone else.

A different post today in light of this particularly horrible time for Black Americans. While vastly more Black Americans are dying from Covid (broadly due to the many tentacles of institutionalized racism), they’re also being murdered by White civilians and police officers. This, of course, is an enraging “par for the course.” I’m speaking of the U. S. in particular, but I’m not letting Canada off the “institutionalized racism” hook here (we have our own brand, largely centered on Indigenous peoples).

Even the seemingly innocuous pastime of birding is infected with racism. This is not new. But it’s new that it’s mainstream news. A Black birder named Christian Cooper recently experienced some particularly horrible racism in Central Park, NY. Following the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery in GA, and now George Floyd in MN, when I first heard about this Black birder in New York, I feared the worst. Yeah, I actually worried that he had been killed because I heard something happened involving a Black person in the U.S. That’s a shitty default setting, but I imagine you have the same one. Fortunately, he is fine. And he’s reported that he’s back out birding.

Just a few of the many articles covering this incident and its aftermath:
“The Realities of Being a Black Birdwatcher” (CNN)
“The Bird Watcher, That Incident and His Feelings on the Woman’s Fate” (NYT)

Since birding is a primarily white and male hobby, there are many descriptions of what it’s like be a birder and a person of color:
“Birding While Black”
-Or a short video.

Christian Cooper’s words on public spaces:
“I’m just not 100% sure people of color understand how public land works. It does not belong to white people. Never has, never will. It belongs to the citizens of the United States of America. So if you want to go to Joshua Tree, if you want to go to a forest in North Carolina, you totally have a right to do that, and you should not let anyone deter you from doing those kinds of things.”

If you’re White, like me, I hope you’ll also be interested in these articles on how to be an anti-racist “accomplice.” We can all do better!
“I’m White and I’m Outraged by Ahmaud Arbery’s Murder. Now What?”

Please also check out the recent post about wrote about racism, diversity, and inclusion in birding, written by our local RBA coordinator, great birder, friend of mine, and person of colour . Thanks, Mel!

“We should be out here. The birds belong to all of us… The birds don’t care what color you are.” – Christian Cooper

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Norman L Bleier

    Our ship put into Vancouver. This was in the late 1960’s. I was aboard for my senior Midshipman cruise. A shipmate and I were on a date with two local women who we met at a social at the US embassy. As they drove us to our destination they expressed their indignation over the way we treat blacks in the United States. We passed an indigenous man trying to hitch a ride. Almost mid-sentence they began to bad mouth him in language we understood very well. When my buddy and I called them on this, one said, “You have to understand, this is different.”

    1. Jim Palmer

      Oh wow. Thanks for sharing that, Norman. It is indeed pretty bad here. Our media does not cover it well either, so it’s easier for people to look away. It’s staggering to me that those women couldn’t see the similarities.

  2. Melissa

    Thank you for this post and speaking out against racism and birding. As I’ve told you since we’ve been friends for years I’ve experienced a lot of hate and yes the birds don’t care what colour we are and thank God for that. Also thank God for supportive friends like you who speak out against this grave injustice.

    1. Jim Palmer

      Thanks for reading this, Mel. I’m glad you feel supported to some extent! And thank you for your write up on your blog. I’ve put a link to it above. Hopefully, other people will take the time to support Black birders. I’ve made a note about June 5th! =)

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