Black People Bird: Our Strength and Stories

Read the full story at Audubon Louisiana.

A Black birder (@JasonWardNY), striving for representation in and around STEM fields, took it upon himself to virtually connect friends and like-minded colleagues into a conversation centered around science, nature, and social issues. The members of this group, all Black nature enthusiasts, initiated #BlackBirdersWeek to bring attention to the inherent racism still present in modern American outdoor spaces.

Some of us have just begun our birding journeys while others are seasoned pros, but we have all come together to promote a common goal – to change the narrative of Black people exploring the outdoors. Utilizing outdoor spaces is a normal part of life for some but unknown to most, it can take a significantly different form for those of us who are Black. We constantly have to practice our “speeches” for interactions with police officers and the public, think about the potential outcomes as a result of the gear we carry, and yes, even prepare for the racist interactions we face on a regular basis. The health benefits and the simple joy of disconnecting from technology by exploring nature are some of the easiest and best pastimes the world has to offer, but for Black people, it’s not quite that simple.

Picture this. You’re walking through your usual hiking trail, one you’ve hiked a hundred times, and one day you notice a couple of glances from other hikers. Nothing blatant, and no one says anything, so you move on and continue your hike. About ten minutes later, you get the feeling like someone is following you. What do you do? What goes through your mind? Does any of that change when you realize it’s a police officer?

This is what our nightmares are made of. We are alone, in a place without witnesses, carrying equipment that could be construed as being used for criminal activity, and about to have an encounter with law enforcement. If this situation did not immediately bring you feelings of severe apprehension and fear, that is a privilege.

As Black people who also enjoy the outdoors, we constantly ask ourselves how we can make our presence more acceptable. We monitor our outfits, equipment, study sites, and the times we visit outdoor locations, all in an effort to appear less “threatening.”

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