Authored by Erik Thomas.
Much of the birding I’ve done in recent years has consisted of roadside bird counts. Some is for the Christmas Bird Count or the Spring Count, some is for the Lumber River Important Bird Area monitoring, some is for the Breeding Bird Survey, and some is so that I can fill in gaps in eBird’s coverage, ordinarily in rural areas. It’s not unusual for a local person to stop me and ask what I’m doing, to which I normally put on an “Aw, shucks” grin and say “Oh, I’m just doin’ a bird count!” Often, the other person will respond by telling me about a bird they’ve seen around their home—a Bald Eagle sighting is a favorite rejoinder. On a couple of occasions, someone has demanded to know why I was taking pictures of their property and I had to explain that I was using binoculars, not a camera.
Imagine, however, if I didn’t look phenotypically European—if instead I were African American or Middle Eastern. What sorts of responses might I encounter then? Would the local person be equally polite to me? Alternatively, how many of them would call the sheriff’s office to send a deputy out to investigate me? If that happened, would the officer speak cordially to me or, perhaps, use a less friendly voice? Would a landowner assume that, instead of a camera, I was pointing a firearm at their house? Fear can bring out the worst in people.
Minorities in this country, especially African Americans, frequently find themselves the objects of such fear. Consequently, they also find themselves the objects of the adverse responses to that fear, as a variety of recent events across the nation has demonstrated. Even in ostensibly friendly gatherings, minorities always carry around a nagging sense that white Anglos in the group are watching them, waiting for any false move that might reinforce a negative stereotype. They know that they’re seen as the “other.” A member of a minority can never shed the perception that he or she is different—not necessarily unwelcome, but someone who stands out conspicuously, unable to blend into the crowd. What person would want to experience that sensation on a constant basis? Is it any wonder that members of minorities ordinarily feel most comfortable in groups of their own ethnicity?
A barrier that looms so high for everyone, whether of a minority or of European extraction, is difficult to surmount. Overcoming it is not as simple as inviting a few token minority members to an event. We need to acknowledge that our environmental priorities, such as saving particular species and promoting green energy projects, may not coincide with minority concerns about a paucity of parks in their parts of town, about heavy polluters locating near their neighborhoods, or even about the prohibitive cost of good binoculars. It is necessary to meet people on equal terms, to understand their lives, and, importantly, to dispel the sense of otherness. Doing so must be part of the Wake Audubon Society’s mission from this point so that, in our diversifying community, we may expand and perpetuate our work on the three foundations of our chapter—environmental advocacy, conservation, and environmental education.
The Wake Audubon Society has created a committee on diversity and inclusion to address these issues. We are working with the National Audubon Society and Audubon North Carolina in this effort. Audubon North Carolina has created special Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion workshops for this purpose, and the Wake Audubon Society was one of three chapters chosen to participate. Our own planning will accelerate this fall. The National Audubon Society has formulated the following statement on equity, diversity, and inclusion:
The birds Audubon pledges to protect differ in color, size, behavior, geographical preference, and countless other ways. By honoring and celebrating the equally remarkable diversity of the human species, Audubon will bring new creativity, effectiveness and leadership to our work throughout the hemisphere.
If you’d like to learn more, see https://www.audubon.org/about/edi. Other informative websites include the following:
Rules for the Black Birdwatcher, With Drew Lanham https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4thb2zGuOnU
A City Girl’s First Time Birding https://nc.audubon.org/news/city-girl%E2%80%99s-first-time-birding
“Black Women Who Bird” Take the Spotlight to Make Their Presence Knownhttps://www.audubon.org/news/black-women-who-bird-take-spotlight-make-their-presence-known