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‘Birding While Black’ Incident in N.Y.’s Central Park Brings Black Bird Wildlife Enthusiasts Out of Shadows

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The organizers of Black Birders Week 2021. Photos from top, column 1: Georgia Silvera Seamans; Kellie Quiñones; Chris Cooper. 2: Ronnie Almonte; Deja Perkins; Ela-Sita Carpenter; Chelsea Connor. 3: Danielle Belleny; Tyler Jones; Yesenia Arroyo. 4: Earyn McGee; Akilah Lewis; Dara Wilson; Brianna Amingwa. 5: Sheridan Alford; Joseph Saunders. 6: Ayanna Browne; Rhamier Shaka Balagoon; Nicole Jackson

By Tamara Shiloh

Birdwatching is the observation of live birds in their natural habitat.

It’s a popular pastime and scientific sport developed almost entirely in the 20th century and made possible largely by the development of optical aids, particularly binoculars, which enabled people to see and study wild birds, without harming them, according to Britannica.

Many typically think of birding as a homogenous hobby, thus hearing the word “birdwatcher” rarely evokes images of Blacks enjoying the outdoors.

“For far too long, Black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor exploration activities are not for us,” Corina Newsome, who studies Seaside Sparrows, said in a video posted on Twitter. “Whether it be the way the media chooses to present who is the ‘outdoorsy’ type, or the racism Black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. Well, we’ve decided to change that narrative.”

In 2020, Newsome, along with a group of Black birders comprised of scientists, nature lovers, and friends came together to organize the first annual Black Birders Week, a social media celebration hosted by the Black AF In STEM Collective.

The birders group served as a springboard to shape a more diverse future for birding, conservation, and the natural sciences.

The third annual Black Birders Week ran from May 29-June 4 this year, according to https://www.blackafinstem.com, with the theme ‘Soaring to Greater Heights.”

Goals set for the Black Birders Week and the Twitter group are to:

  • Counter the narrative that outdoors is not the place for Black people;
  • Educate the birding and broader outdoor-loving community about the challenges Black birders specifically face; and
  • Encourage increased diversity in birding and conservation.

According to Newsome, Black birders encounter “overt hatred and racism in the field and are too often the only Black person, or person of color, in a group of bird or nature enthusiasts.”

Its formation came on the heels of the May 25, 2020, incident in New York City’s Central Park when Amy Cooper, later dubbed “Central Park Karen,” claimed she exhausted “all options” before she called 911 on Christian Cooper (no relation), a Black birdwatcher.

Christian Cooper has been an avid birdwatcher since age 10 and will soon host his own show, “Extraordinary Birder,” on National Geographic, according to NPR. He will take viewers into the “wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds.”

Cooper told the New York Times that he loves “spreading the gospel of birding. [I’m looking forward to encouraging people] to stop and watch and listen and really start appreciating the absolutely spectacular creatures that we have among us.”

Black Birders Week co-organizer Earyn McGee conducts research near the US-Mexico border. Her concern is encountering U.S. Border Patrol officers while searching for lizards.

“We all have this shared experience where we have to worry about going into the field,” McGee said. “Prejudice might drive police or private property owners to be suspicious of or antagonistic toward Black scientists doing field work in normal clothes, putting them in danger.”

To learn more about the study of birding, read John C. Robinson’s “Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.”

Image: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/landtrust/black-birders-week/

The post ‘Birding While Black’ Incident in N.Y.’s Central Park Brings Black Bird Wildlife Enthusiasts Out of Shadows first appeared on Post News Group. This article originally appeared in Post News Group.

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