Birding went viral last week in New York’s Central Park, when a white woman called the police, falsely claiming that a Black man with binoculars was threatening her life. That man turned out to be a well-known NYC birder named Christian Cooper, whose joy for birding can be seen in the delightful documentary movie Birders: The Central Park Effect. The woman’s behavior was despicable, a paradigmatic example of American racism. And it showed us (once again) that Black folks are subject to ugly behavior everywhere they go, including on walks in nature.
As a white birder, I live the flip-side: white privilege. I do a bunch of my birding solo, and have hopped over fences right past no trespassing signs, and walked around residential neighborhoods I didn’t live in (always with binoculars) many times. I don’t expect to have my presence questioned – though I understand why men peering through binoculars into the trees in a residential area might be confused for perverts peering into second-story bedroom windows. The rare times when my presence is questioned, I don’t worry for a second that the encounter will go bad, and it never has. I’m harmless, and more importantly, people view me as harmless.
Spurred by the Central Park incident, and hoping to prompt honest conversations, highlight the diversity amongst naturalists that already exists and promote more in the white-dominated world of birding, a group has designated this week as Black Birders Week. There’s a great article about it here. There are events on Twitter all week. Follow the hashtag #BlackBirdersWeek and #BlackInNature.
Going forward, let’s all do what we can to promote nature and birding as a diverse and welcoming space. Any nerd can be a birder, and the more the better.