Denouncing racism; Celebrating #BlackBirdersWeek

June 5th, 2020

Dear Colleagues, Friends, Biodiversity Biologists,

I have been committed to promoting equality and diversity in science and society in general for many years. My personality leads me to do this in a rather quiet way, focusing on calmly promoting diversity through hiring, student admissions, inclusive teaching, and occasionally participating in marches or protests. The recent events in the USA, with the profoundly racist Federal administration, widespread police brutality against non-violent protesters, and the abundant evidence of widespread and possibly worsening racism, have convinced me that this quiet approach is no longer appropriate (full confession: it never was). I am now striving not only to be non-racist but to more importantly be actively and vocally anti-racist (as well as anti-sexist, etc.).

As a biologist, birder, and biodiversity scientist, I now recognize that I have had an advantage due to my skin color as well as my gender: I have been able to travel widely across Canada, the USA, and many other countries without fear that I would be judged as suspicious due solely to my physical appearance. This is not the case for many many people, and I feel it is the responsibility of those of us with that privilege to recognize this fact and work to change it. I also recognize that I have much to learn about the experiences that other people have had. Hence, one thing I have been focusing on in the last week is listening carefully.

We often have discussions and initiatives within academia about promoting diversity in our hiring, student recruitment, and teaching. These are all important efforts that I fully support, and they should continue. I think the past week of protests in the USA and elsewhere have raised the importance of working even more broadly. Many of us are attracted into careers in biology due to early experiences out in nature. If many people do not have the same ability to go out into nature due to their skin color or gender, that is something that we need to recognize and work to change.

Many of us have watched in horror during the past week at some of the events in the USA, and we have wondered how we individually can improve things (both internationally and within Canada and Vancouver, for we of course have related issues here). For me, it has been a wonderful experience to follow an amazing and self-organized group of biologists organized under the Twitter hashtags #BirdingWhileBlack, #BlackBirdersWeek, and under the name @BlackAFinSTEM. For a short introduction to the motivation behind this group, please see this video by Corina Newsome. This group is effecting real change by educating the world about these problems while also doing so in a way that celebrates diversity, inclusivity, positivity, and amazing stories of birds and other biodiversity. I applaud their efforts, and I am doing my best to listen carefully and do my part in amplifying their important message. I encourage you to check them out.

Yesterday, this inspiring group organized two discussion groups that make for equally sobering and inspiring viewing. It breaks my heart to hear of their experiences dealing with racism and how they have to avoid many areas that white birders don’t hesitate to go to. But my overall feeling listening to this group is one of inspiration: to approach life with courage, to embrace your own identity, to stand up for what you believe in, to display good humour and an open heart, and (perhaps most importantly 😉 ) to love birds! I think we all can learn much from these wise people.

These discussions were recorded and are available here:

If they are difficult to find on that link, try these:

Session 1:

Session 2:

And for those of you who care nothing about birds (hopefully none of you ;), this is all related to a broader movement under the #BlackInNature hashtag.