“A free bird…dares to claim the sky”

A few comments on our current cultural moment, through the lens of birding.

It’s been great to see all of the recent support for Black birders, following #BlackBirdersWeek! Indeed, there has been quite a jump in birding popularity in general during the COVID-19 pandemic. And with Christian Cooper shining a light on racism against Black birders, many (White) people have awoken to this serious issue.

Audubon published a good article: “5 Key Lessons to Take Home from the First #BlackBirdersWeek.” And here’s a very short piece on some of what this has meant for Black birders. It notes, “For the African American community, birds have represented an allegory for freedom and hope.”

Joshua Walker also argues that it’s critically important that Black people should take up space outdoors. The rest of us have to help to make it safe to do so.

Reading a few compelling articles or sharing a few quippy Instaquotes isn’t going to change anything. Neither are “Blackout days” that, let’s be honest, just give most White people a day off, instead of taking the day to productively lift up Black voices inside or outside the birding world. As Chad Sanders recently put it in NYT: “I don’t need ‘love’ texts from my White friends. I need them to fight anti-blackness.

We all have to protest, donate (money, time, effort), and talk to others about anti-racism. In other words, do something. If the last few weeks have shown us one thing, it’s that being a good, caring member of any community requires action, not complacence.

A lot of the recent focus has been on the U.S. But Canadians need to take a hard look too. If you’re like me and statistics will help you to see clearly some of the problems in our own country, check out Canada’s Black Population: Education, Labour, and Resilience from stats Canada.

As a long-time educator, I found this chart particularly heartbreaking
As a long-time educator, I found this chart (one of many in the report) particularly heartbreaking

If you want to learn about how to be an anti-racist accomplice and not simply an ally, check out WhiteAccomplices.org. Need to talk about it with someone who knows what it’s like? You can at least do so virtually with an episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

The first episode of “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” with Emmanuel Acho

And if you’re not sure what to do to help in Canada, I’ve included some favourite charities below that focus on Black Canadian and/or Indigenous rights, health, education, and advocacy in general (just a few of many). There’s a donate option on every page.

Black Legal Action Centre

Black Health Alliance

Harriet Tubman Community Organization

Black Mental Health Matters

Black Youth Helpline

Black Women in Motion

Women’s Health in Women’s Hands

Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society


Legacy of Hope Foundation

Canadian Roots Exchange

Other Indigenous charities in Canada

Please share other charities in the comments, and say what you’re going to do to fight racism where you live!

And finally: I dare you not to be moved by Maya Angelou reading her famous poem, “Caged Bird.”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Melissa

    great post and yes we need to actually stand up and do real change not just talk. we must be anti racist. we have to call out racism, we need to put blacks and indigenous in positions of leadership. in the birding world they need to be represented on records committees and boards and lead field trips. we need to reach out and be more welcoming to BIPOC. Most importantly we have to acknowledge that systemic racism is a real problem right here in CANADA. Denial is the seed of racism, we can no longer sit by and be passive and say this is a US problem.

    also i love that poem by Maya Angelou she is a true inspiration to me

    1. Jim Palmer

      Hear hear! Well said, Mel!
      I’m not very familiar with Angelou’s work, but this particular poem is so moving and heartbreaking at once.

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