I saw the question in the title of this post regularly just a few weeks ago. This was after trying to engage Michigan birding groups on social media about the ramifications of racism directed toward non-white birders. While I certainly will take a shot at answering the question, I first should give some background on this topic and why it’s so important.
Last month, a man bird watching in Central Park, New York City was racially harassed during a confrontation. The man, Christian Cooper, happened to be black. In response, a group of prominent black birders and conservationists planned, promoted and carried out a week long string of activities called #BlackBirdersWeek. The week was a success and was supported by some of the largest birding and conservation organizations in the U.S. such as Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
One of the week’s participants, noted ornithologist, scientist and black birder J. Drew Lanham suggested, “…I think the big moves now, really are quite frankly, for white people to talk to white people and to say, ‘We can’t tolerate this’.”
His words struck a chord and while there was some resistance on social media to #BlackBirdersWeek, I continued to see many more Michigan birders express their support. These individuals were primarily white allies looking to get involved.
I decided to connect with my state chapter, Michigan Audubon, and see what opportunities might be in the works. As a multicultural marketing professional with an emphasis on serving Latinx communities, I thought I might have something to offer.
I was pleased to learn that #BlackBirdersWeek was certainly on the radar at Michigan Audubon and that initiatives related to diversity and inclusion were already in the planning stages.
This past week, Heather Good, executive director at Michigan Audubon, released an article restating the organization’s support of #BlackBirdersWeek, explaining what was learned from the activities and outlining next steps for strategies in equity.
Check out the article here: https://www.michiganaudubon.org/reflecting-on-blackbirdersweek/
Full disclosure, I had a hand in helping out with the article and am quoted in it, so I’m a bit biased. Regardless, hats off to the staff and board at Michigan Audubon for taking a leadership stance. I hope there will be turnkey initiatives in the near future for birders both of non-whilte and allied communities to get involved.
Back to the question in the title.
The question, in and of itself, may miss the point of birding and why bird and conservation organizations like Audubon exist. Yes, they have much to do with birds and certainly have done significant work to help in their conservation. But at the core, these organizations are about people. Specifically, people who care about birds.
The issue, however, is when bird caring people among us have their passions impeded because of their ethnicity and the color of their skin. Unfortunately, as #BlackBirdersWeek made clear, Mr. Cooper’s experience in Central Park was not an isolated incident. We heard stories from fellow bird enthusiasts explaining how they have had their birding experiences compromised because of everything from microaggressions to outright harassment.
For many, birding is an escape, a way to shake off the stresses of everyday life. I subscribe to a similar doctrine. Birds, watching and photographing them, have been one of my passions, as I’ve written about previously: https://flymikulich.com/2020/01/09/why-birds/
However, when this escape, this passion, this excitement for birds cannot be enjoyed by all individuals equally, there is a problem. The burden of responsibility to make our world of birds and conservation more inclusive lies not only with non-whitle communities but primarily with white allies and supporters.
But don’t simply take my word for it. Check out the two main video conversations for #BlackBirdersWeek here and here.
And take a moment and meet some of the young and talented individuals that put #BlackBirdersWeek together here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/03/us/black-birders-week-black-in-stem-christian-cooper-scn-trnd/index.html