Black Birdwatchers Face Racism Too

The day that George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a white woman called the police on an African American man birdwatching in New York’s Central Park.”I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” the woman is heard in a video of the incident posted on Twitter that went viral.Oh, when Karens take a walk with their dogs off leash in the famous Bramble in NY’s Central Park, where it is clearly posted on signs that dogs MUST be leashed at all times, and someone like my brother (an avid birder) politely asks her to put her dog on the leash. pic.twitter.com/3YnzuATsDm
— Melody Cooper (@melodyMcooper) May 25, 2020In the outrage that followed, the woman was fired from her job.But the incident could have gone another way, said Tykee James.”As a black man in America, I know that that kind of discrimination is an easy route to police interaction that could end fatally,” he said.James is a birder himself, and a government affairs coordinator at the National Audubon Society, the nation’s leading bird conservation and advocacy group.As demonstrations against police violence draw thousands to the streets of cities across the United States, James and a group of African American scientists, naturalists and birdwatchers have taken to social media to launch another protest against systemic racism.It’s called #BlackBirdersWeek.’Not for us’With tweets, livestreams and Q&As, the group aims to change the perception that black people are not “outdoorsy” types.”For far too long, black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor exploration activities such as birding are not for us,” Georgia Southern University biology graduate student Corina Newsome said in a Twitter video launching the event.MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT!!!!!
We at @BlackAFinSTEM are starting the inagural #BlackBirdersWeek to celebrate Black Birders and nature explorers, beginning 5/31!!!!!
Follow the whole group of us here: https://t.co/I23zoT3fFh
Take a look at the thread for the schedule of events! pic.twitter.com/yDsAtwR8te
— Corina Newsome (@hood_naturalist) Black Birders Week is not just for birders. Earyn McGee poses with a Yarrow’s spiny lizard. (Photo courtesy of Earyn McGee/Noel Hamideh)”That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome,'” she said.Her love of lizards and the outdoors has persisted. Each Wednesday, she shares lizard facts and photos on her Twitter account, @Afro_Herper, under the hashtag, #FindThatLizard. She may not be a birder, but she is co-organizing Black Birders Week as an African American naturalist.At Howard, she said, “it wasn’t unusual for black people to be interested in science and wildlife.” But going to scientific conferences, she said, she could not help noticing, “the only black people I see, really, are the people who came with me from my university.””It’s really isolating and lonely,” she said. “You worry about, ‘Do I even deserve to be here, or do I belong?'”It’s the same on television, she added.”If you look on Discovery Channel or Animal Planet, most of what you see is white males. … You don’t really get to see a whole lot of stories from black people.”The outpouring of support on social media for Black Birders Week has been great, McGee said, but “we just hope that the support doesn’t stop at Twitter posts.”  
 


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