Black and Birdwatching

That's Me in the Blue and Black Jacket With Students , Louisiana Coast Marshland, March 2005

I once birdwatched. In 2004, when I lived in New Orleans, I saw so many waterfowl in the springtime. One day, I spotted a bird with white feathers, yellow toes, and a black beak at Audubon Park in uptown New Orleans. A small part of the park, had a bit of marsh filled with birds, if I remember correctly. The Mississippi River wasn’t too far away either–probably less than a mile–another draw for birds. So it made sense that I spotted this waterfowl uptown. So ok, the bird had me intrigued: it was pretty.

I quickly ordered a laminated chart of southeastern birds and a bird guide. I learned that it was a Snowy Egret!

Snowy Egret

I kept the guides in my car so when I saw a bird that caught my eye while driving around southern Louisiana, I could identify it. Who knows where my guides ended up when I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta. I tried rooting around some closets to find them. No luck.

I had completely forgotten about my brief interest in birds until I picked up John C. Robinson’s  Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. Although the book is for everyone, Robinson does focus on African Americans. Many people often ask why African Americans do not enjoy the great outdoors, why they don’t embrace nature. Robinson gets more specific detailing why people of color, including African Americans, are not birders or birdwatchers.

He offers several reasons:

  1. Rejection of black culture: If blacks appreciate the outdoors, what is perceived as a white activity, then they are rejecting their own people and values (Robinson, 47)
  2. Lack of participation: If blacks do not see other blacks at birding clubs or organization, they generally won’t join (Robinson, 47)
  3. High cost: If blacks spend money on equipment like binoculars and hiking gear then who will buy the baby’s shoes and pay junior’s school fees? (Robinson, 51)
  4. Limitation of time: Blacks have little time for leisure activities because they are hustling to cover basic expenses like the electric bill  (Robinson, 52)
  5. Company and training: They cannot find company to go birding, nor is there anyone to teach them this outdoor activity (Robinson, 52)

Robinson also alludes to fear of wild places. And I would add a form of racism on the trail when whites stare at blacks who actually make it outside is a deterrent. And perhaps some would say birds were meant for plucking, cooking, and eating not watching.

Photo from early 1900s.

I say give it a try. Hey, I identified a Snowy Egret all on my own steam.

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