Black bird watchers draw attention to racial issues out... |
Facebook Twitter RSS
Thursday December 3rd, 2020 12:53AM

Black bird watchers draw attention to racial issues outdoors

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

Jason Ward fell in love with birds at age 14 when he spotted a peregrine falcon outside the 凯发k8地址homeless shelter where he was staying with his family.

The now 33-year-old Atlanta bird lover parlayed that passion into a YouTube series last year. One of the guests on his first episode of “Birds of North America” was Christian Cooper, a Black bird watcher who was targeted in New York City’s Central Park by a white woman after he told her to leash her dog.

A video capturing the encounter showed the woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), retaliate by calling the police and clearly referencing his race to raise the threat level.

Ward, who is Black, said the video, even now, is “jarring” to watch. Butting heads with dog owners is common among birders but he'd never seen it take such a turn.

“Especially knowing Christian and how confident he is, hearing his nervousness and trembling, it shed light on how dangerous that situation could have been,” Ward said.

It didn't culminate in any arrests, and Amy Cooper later issued an apology. But it has brought attention to how the great outdoors can be far from great for Black people. Worries about discrimination, racial profiling and even subtle aggression keep some away. Furthermore, those fears can perpetuate the stereotype that hiking, camping and bird watching are “white” activities.

Christian Cooper's encounter, which happened on May 25, the same day as George Floyd's death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, has been cited in nationwide protests against systemic racism and white privilege.

For Black people, the incident was not surprising, said Carolyn Finney, of “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors."

“Systemic racism doesn’t stop at the park gates,” Finney said. “I’ve backpacked all over the world. ... There are places in this country I would never go on my own. It is my loss. I just don’t trust the public.”

Birding can take participants to parks, woods and suburban streets. Depending on the setting, Ward said he adjusts his demeanor so he doesn't seem threatening. He makes sure his face isn't covered even if it's cold. He always has his binoculars in plain sight rather than pulling them out of his bag.

“Just simple stuff like that I have to pay attention to that other people might say, 'What? Come on dude! They're just binoculars,'" Ward said. “If someone easily recognizes them as binoculars, it's still a case in which I have to prove that I'm actually looking for birds occasionally.”

Mike Parr, president of the American Bird Conservancy, is white but his three sons are half-Black. His youngest, who is 12, has gotten into birding. Cooper's experience is now in the back of his mind.

"We personally haven’t come across anything like that, but as a parent, I am concerned about things that could happen to him. Birding isn’t all that well understood by people," Parr said.

Keith Russell, 63, an urban conservation program manager for the National Audubon Society's Philadelphia-based chapter, said as a Black person, he has his guard up if he's searching for birds with binoculars near 凯发k8地址homes. But he's never felt unsafe among fellow birders and hopes Cooper's close call doesn't scare off others.

“I think it’s very very important to be clear for anyone who might not understand this and take a superficial view of this. ... It’s not dangerous to be a birder if you’re a person of color," Russell said. But, he added: “There have been historical problems with access.”

He thinks for some Black families, past discrimination and segregation at parks and other recreation sites may have set them on a path away from nature. That lack of connection to the outdoors then continues with the next generation.

“It can take a while to make that internal culture go away. I think it’s definitely starting to,” Russell said.

The misconception that most Black people aren't outdoorsy may get bolstered by history books. Finney, the , said too often the history of U.S. conservation centers on white figures like naturalist John Muir. Meanwhile, less attention is paid to the hundreds of Black soldiers who protected national parks after the Civil War.

The same goes for Hispanic communities. Many are unaware that Hispanics have connections with public lands going back generations, said Liz Archuleta, a county board supervisor in Flagstaff, Arizona, and co-founder of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors.

“My mother tells stories about how at least twice a month on a Saturday, the entire Hispanic pioneer community of Flagstaff used to get together and go through the forest and have picnics,” Archuleta said. “It's foreign to me when people say we have to get Hispanics to enjoy the outdoors more.”

The shift in support toward Black Lives Matter after Floyd's death has every corporation and nonprofit re-evaluating how they can elevate Black and brown voices.

In the bird-watching world, there's already been an effort in recent years to do that. The National Audubon Society, which was established in 1905 to preserve birds and their habitat, has 1.8 million members. Approximately 198,000 identify as people of color.; only 45,000 identify as Black or African American.

“Obviously, that’s not reflective of where the U.S. population is,” said Rebeccah Sanders, senior vice president of the organization's state programs.

The group is trying to recruit more minorities. Staff training now includes ways to intervene if someone is mistreated because of race or another trait. In the last year, they have set up chapters at dozens of colleges, including historically Black ones. They also filled almost half of nearly 100 internships and fellowships with people of diverse backgrounds.

“As our staff and our membership base become more representative, it changes who you are,” Sanders said. “Those perspectives make us ask different questions and change some of our decisions.”

Environmental organizations are making universal statements that the outdoors belong to everyone but, Finney said, they have to address that it's simply not the same for Black communities.

“The National Park Service and others want to engage diverse communities and often are bringing kids in," Finney said. “How is some Black teenager going to feel about their ability to feel safe and welcome?”

Since Christian Cooper's video, several Black professionals have reached out to Ward via social media to inquire about birding.

“‘We're definitely getting feedback from a lot of people who are saying 'You know what? I definitely want to get a pair of binoculars now,'” Ward said. "'I thought this was boring and for people who didn't look like me.'"

___ Tang reported from Phoenix and is a member of The Associated Press Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, Top General short headlines, AP World News, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Black bird watchers draw attention to racial issues outdoors
A video of a white woman targeting an African American bird watcher in New York's Central Park has drawn attention to how the great outdoors can be far from great for Black people
2:20PM ( 13 minutes ago )
Mourners bid farewell to Rayshard Brooks at historic church
Rayshard Brooks is being remembered at the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached
2:14PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Bill Cosby appeal will test scope of #MeToo prosecutions
In a key test of #MeToo prosecutions, Pennsylvania’s highest court will review the trial decision to let five other accusers testify at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial
1:44PM ( 50 minutes ago )
U.S. News
Twitter gives workers day off to vote in national elections
Twitter says it will give its U.S. employees Election Day off going forward and employees around the world a paid day off to vote in national elections
2:09PM ( 25 minutes ago )
Powerful earthquake shakes southern, central Mexico
 A powerful earthquake centered near the southern Mexico resort of Huatulco has killed at least one person, swayed buildings in Mexico City and sent thousands fleeing into the streets
2:01PM ( 33 minutes ago )
After Tulsa, Trump heads to virus hotspot Arizona and border
President Donald Trump faces a fresh test of his ability to draw a crowd during a pandemic when he visits Arizona on Tuesday after his sparsely attended weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma
1:57PM ( 37 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Despite green pledges, Amazon’s carbon footprint grew 15%
Amazon said Tuesday that its carbon footprint rose 15% last year, even as it launched initiatives to reduce its harm on the environment
1:12PM ( 1 hour ago )
Fey asks to pull '30 Rock' episodes that featured blackface
‘30 Rock’ co-creator and star Tina Fey has asked that four episodes of the comedy be pulled from circulation because they featured performers in blackface
1:00PM ( 1 hour ago )
1 city, 1 voting place: Kentucky braces for lines in primary
Those worried about voting problems this year are now focused on Kentucky
12:58PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Detained in isolation, migrant families fear catching virus
The isolation of at least three families at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention center in Dilley, Texas, has raised new fears of the coronavirus spreading through the facility
10:43AM ( 3 hours ago )
The Latest: Mpls union leader says members scapegoated
Minneapolis police union president Bob Kroll called the bystander video of the death of George Floyd “horrific” while cautioning the public not to rush to judgment
10:22AM ( 4 hours ago )
Budgets put limits on social distancing options for schools
Many schools find themselves overwhelmed by the potential expenses that would come with operating under pandemic-induced social distancing guidelines
10:05AM ( 4 hours ago )
Top U.S. News short headlines
Obama returns to the campaign trail with Biden fundraiser
Barack Obama will make his return to the presidential campaign trail Tuesday night with a grassroots fundraiser for Joe Biden
11:48AM ( 2 hours ago )
Mail-in deluge tests elections in Kentucky, New York
Overwhelmed Kentucky and New York officials face a deluge of mail-in votes that are likely to delay results for days after Tuesday's congressional primaries
11:11AM ( 3 hours ago )
German region in new lockdown after slaughterhouse outbreak
The governor of Germany’s most populous state has announced week-long lockdown measures in a region that has seen a large increase in COVID-19 cases linked to a slaughterhouse
10:43AM ( 3 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
The Latest: FDA chief denies feeling pressure on virus drugs
The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tells House lawmakers he hasn’t felt any political pressure from the Trump administration to make decisions related to therapies for COVID-19
1:09PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Arizona sets new daily record with 3,591 cases
Arizona reported a new daily record of nearly 3,600 additional coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the state continued to set records for the number of people hospitalized, in intensive care and on ventilators for COVID-19
12:51PM ( 1 hour ago )
The Latest: Fauci cites racism for toll on Black people
The leading infectious disease specialist in the United States has told lawmakers that institutional racism plays a role in the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on African Americans
12:44PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP World News
Correction: Election 2020-Voting Problems story
In a story June 22, 2020, about the possibility of voting difficulties in Kentucky's primaries, The Associated Press erroneously reported that metro Atlanta voters had waits of up to 10 hours to cast their ballots during Georgia's June 9 primaries
12:32PM ( 2 hours ago )
Savannah mayor: Masks should be mandatory in public places
The number of people hospitalized in Georgia because of COVID-19 has risen to 1,000, erasing a month’s worth of progress in the state
5:15PM ( 21 hours ago )
Atlanta's Ebenezer prepares for Rayshard Brooks viewing
Mourners are lining up to pay their respects to Rayshard Brooks in a public viewing at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta
2:33PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Online - Georgia News
AP Online Headlines - Georgia News
Mourners bid farewell to Rayshard Brooks at historic church
Rayshard Brooks is being remembered at the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached
2:14PM ( 20 minutes ago )
Bill Cosby appeal will test scope of #MeToo prosecutions
In a key test of #MeToo prosecutions, Pennsylvania’s highest court will review the trial decision to let five other accusers testify at Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial
1:44PM ( 50 minutes ago )
Rayshard Brooks' funeral to be held at King's former church
Rayshard Brooks is to be remembered at the Atlanta church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached
12:55PM ( 1 hour ago )
Bill Cosby granted appeal in Pennsylvania sex assault case
Comedian Bill Cosby has won the right to fight his 2018 sexual assault conviction before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
12:31PM ( 2 hours ago )
South Carolina beaches fill, but COVID-19 takes no vacation
People are flocking to South Carolina's beaches for vacation after being cooped up by COVID-19 for months
11:31AM ( 3 hours ago )