There’s an extraordinary event taking place on social media right now: Black Birders Week.
Organized by #BlackAFinSTEM – a coalition of students and professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – Black Birders Week is showcasing the achievements, personalities, and passions of Black nature enthusiasts.
Importantly, Black Birders Week is also highlighting the fact that Black people should be able to enjoy the outdoors as readily as anyone else – without having to worry about being harassed or seen as ‘out of place.’ Another crucial point is that (especially White) academics, scientists, and conservationists need to do better jobs of diversifying their fields and creating inclusive cultures.
As this article by CNN’s AJ Willingham illustrates, diversity is the key to resilience: ecologically, genetically, professionally, and culturally.
For instance, when individuals with a wide array of lived experiences make up your workforce – and when all of those individuals have equal grounds on which to express themselves and be heard – then you’re better able to respond to challenges. In no field is this more important than conservation, where our problems are enormous and “wicked” (they don’t have easy solutions).
Despite the need for diversity in conservation, there are many barriers that make it harder for Black people to enter into and succeed in conservation careers.
One of those barriers is the lack of Black role models. Willingham’s article discusses this shortage of role models, or representation, at length. Essentially, when a field is full of people who don’t look like you or whom you can’t relate to, it’s not encouraging. As an example:
Black Birders Week is helping to provide the representation that Black nature enthusiasts need. This tweet from Jason Ward sums it up:
Black Birders Week is also countering the stereotype that Black people “aren’t interested in” or “don’t care about” nature – among others. Here’s a bizarre stereotype that Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty encountered, and how she overcame it:
There’s far more to discuss about Black Birders Week, the histories that have produced conservation’s lack of diversity, and more. If you want to educate yourself about these issues, the CNN article is a good place to start.
In addition, I found Dr. Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces to be immensely helpful, and I recommend it to you as well.
But, most of all, please spend some time browsing #BlackBirdersWeek on Twitter; nothing beats reading about the lived experiences of real people, as told by them.