Black birders matter
The mostly white birding community, myself included, has received quite an education in the last few months about the experiences birders of color have in nature. After birder Christian Cooper’s video in May of a racist action by a white woman in Central Park went viral, a group of 30 Black birders, scientists, and naturalists launched Black Birders Week, a social media campaign aimed at telling Black birders’ stories.
On Facebook Live events hosted by Audubon, Cooper said he wouldn’t feel comfortable birding in Texas, and other Black birders mentioned other southern states where they won’t go birding. Jason Ward of the YouTube series Birds of North America described being followed by a police SUV in an Atlanta park until he raised his binoculars “looking at nothing” to prove his purpose in the park. How many white birders have had similar experiences?
Other Black birders on the panels said they felt unwelcome at birding festivals, on bird walks, and in certain birding Facebook groups. It is clear that the overwhelmingly white birding community has work to do. Some groups have stepped up quickly. The Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, for example, said it was working to diversify the organization and that its leaders were “ready to lean into the discomfort of understanding our role in how some people in our state feel disenfranchised and excluded and we pledge to work to change that.” And in mid-August, the Maryland Bird Conservation Partnership announced that it has established an annual scholarship for Black and Latinx birders of Maryland and Washington, D.C.
Let’s keep the momentum going. Our pastime is about getting people to appreciate nature in all its wonder, and we need to welcome and value everyone who wants to take part.
Matt Mendenhall, editor