If you’re Black in America, something as innocent as bird-watching can cause suspicion. A social media campaign is celebrating African Americans taking back that space. It’s called Black Birders Week.
Social media feeds everywhere this week have been filled with hashtags such as #BirdingWhileBlack, #BlackInNature and #AskABlackBirder — a different one every day to show Black people taking back their place in nature. It’s also highlighting many young naturalists who already are.
The campaign comes in response to the racist incident that took place last week in Manhattan’s Central Park, where a white woman called the cops on Christian Cooper, emphasizing feeling threatened by an African American. Cooper’s video of the moment went viral. He was out bird-watching.
“To see this happen to him — we definitely want to make sure that we stand by him and we show that his experience is not limited,” said Joey Manson, a Black birder and director of the Audubon Center in Seattle’s Seward Park. The center is located in one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country and works to serve that community and make conservation more welcoming to Black people and other people of color.
Because the profiling that inspired Black Birders Week is everywhere. Manson says it pervades all kinds of everyday public interactions.
“This is something that happens when you go to the supermarket. This is something that happens when you go to the department store — when you go get your driver's license renewed,” he said. “So it’s not just an issue of being able to go birding or go to natural spaces. This is an issue of, for many people, day-to-day life, if you’re an African American person.”
So for Manson, this campaign is one way to strike back.
“It’s part defiance. It’s saying I refuse to let anyone define what activities I can do and where I can do them.”
He says everyone is welcome, but he especially hopes African Americans will turn out and share their bird-watching experiences, even if it’s their first time. Friday is the last day of the campaign, but Manson believes it will become an annual event.