Jacqueline L. Scott is a doctoral student in social justice education at the University of Toronto. This story originally appeared on The conversation.
Bird watching is open to everyone. Unless you are black.
This is the message Christian Cooper received while watching birds in New York's Central Park last week. When Cooper asked a white woman to obey the signs regarding dogs on a leash, she called the police, saying that her life was threatened by an African American man. Christian Cooper filmed the meeting, which his sister posted. It went viral, resulting in the dismissal of the woman.
There are different ways to see the encounter in the park.
One of the most popular nature-based activities in Canada is bird watching. About a quarter of adults spend time observing, feeding or photographing birds. Bird watching is popular because it is inexpensive and can be done close to home. It appeals to both women and men. It’s a lovely way to teach kids about nature.
Bird watching is also a racialized hobby, where whiteness and white privilege work together to keep it non-black. This means that bird watchers are white, can belong to white bird watching clubs and go bird watching walks in wooded areas which are considered white space. If they are lucky, they may meet a black bird once in a decade.
As i was #birding I thought about #ChristianCooper. It’s hard to be #BlackOutdoors when whites challenge our right to be in space. Racism is in #preservation and #EnvironmentalEd the fields. # bird watching #UrbanWildlife pic.twitter.com/aBn1LZh7gq
– Jacqueline L. Scott, Black Outdoors (@ BlackOutdoors1) May 27, 2020
I am a black ornithologist, and I am also a researcher whose work focuses on how race shapes conservation, environmentalism and outdoor recreation. These fields are extremely white and stand out for their lack of diversity.
Rules for black bird watchers
Bird watcher Drew Lanham has drafted nine rules for black bird watchers, including: "Bird not in a hooded sweater." Already. "In a recent update, he added," The truckers aren't slaughtered for jogging in the neighborhoods, right? "These tips refer to Trayvon Martin, a teenager black Florida man killed while wearing a hoodie, and Ahmaud Arbery, a black Georgia man killed while running.
Racism in birdwatching is not a new phenomenon. The founder of modern bird conservation, John James Audubon, is rightly praised for his magnificent books Birds of america. However, slavery paid for its bird watching activities: Audubon was born in Haiti and was the heir to a sugar cane plantation.
Upon his arrival in the United States in 1803, he remained linked to slavery by buying and selling slaves. In fact, Audubon painted birds during a visit to Canada in 1833, the same year that slavery was abolished in Canada and the rest of the British Empire.
📷 Taken near the sub-Antarctic base of Marion Island. pic.twitter.com/ktRtAIcL2U
– Sandra Boitumelo Phoma (@Sandra_Phoma) June 1, 2020
In response, black outdoor activists and enthusiasts established #BlackBirdersWeek as a celebration of social media. According to a statement by former US President Barack Obama, this should not be the new standard, where blacks are harassed in public spaces by whites or the police, including bird watching in a park.
I started to watch birds looking out the window. I saw a crimson lightning bolt and rushed over to check it out. I thought the poor bird was spray painted in bright red, like a farce by graffiti artists working on a nearby mural. Next, I spotted another pair of crimson wings. The cardinals sparked my love of bird watching. I keep this moment, this memory of joy, when I think of the color and the observation of the birds of other blacks.