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Now bird names are racist?! Absurd, bird-brained claim only undermines the fight against genuine discrimination

Michael McCaffrey
Michael McCaffrey

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Michael McCaffrey is a writer and cultural critic who lives in Los Angeles. His work can be read at RT, Counterpunch and at his website mpmacting.com/blog. He is also the host of the popular cinema podcast Looking California and Feeling Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter @MPMActingCo

Now bird names are racist?! Absurd, bird-brained claim only undermines the fight against genuine discrimination
Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the MSM dodos are once again pushing a ridiculous racism narrative by suggesting ornithology is prejudiced. They’re doing more harm than good to the fight against injustice.

Everything is racist…including birds. I learned that fact by reading an article in the Washington Post titled ‘The racist legacy many birds carry’ by Darryl Fears.

The headline makes it seem as though racism is like avian flu, and is spread either by racist birds or birds carrying the racism bug. As dumb as that sounds, it isn’t nearly as idiotic as what the actual article contains.

The aptly named author Mr. Fears lays an egg in his insidiously insipid investigation into racism in bird watching and how many birds “bear the names of men who fought for the Southern cause, stole skulls from Indian graves for pseudoscientific studies that were later debunked, and bought and sold Black people. Some of these men stoked violence and participated in it without consequence.”

It’s difficult to read that quote without rolling your eyes so hard you give yourself a seizure, and it’s even harder to read the whole article without wanting a murder of crows to peck your eyes out. 

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The article claims that birds being named after people who did awful things in history shows that “as with the wider field of conservation, racism and colonialism are in ornithology’s DNA.” 

Most normal people don’t know and don’t care that the Townsend’s warbler and Townsend’s solitaire are named after John Kirk Townsend who dug up indigenous skulls to study them, and “prove the inferiority of Indigenous people.” Or that Wallace’s owlet is named after Alfred Russel Wallace who in the 1800s used the ‘n-word’. Or that James Sligo Jameson (of the Jameson whiskey family) purchased a girl in Africa in 1888 and watched as she was killed by ‘cannibals’. Or that John James Audubon, the patron not-so-saint of conservation and bird-watching, was a slave owner in the 1800s.

Normal people don’t care about how birds got their names as it’s completely irrelevant to enjoying bird-watching. They don’t interpret names as celebrations of awful – or good – people but simply as a way to identify different birds. 

Of course, in our current racial hysteria every narrative besides race is ruthlessly pushed out of the nest and left to die of under-exposure. For instance, in the article black ornithologist Corina Newsome says that after she was hired by Georgia Audubon and wore the organization’s work shirt she felt “like I was wearing the name of an oppressor, the name of someone who enslaved my ancestors.”

Regarding Newsome, the article also states that “On urban and rural trails, she quickly lifts her binoculars when she sees White people do a double-take. In a scorching Georgia marsh where she slogs through muck to study a seaside sparrow, she shifts heavy equipment to the side of her body that faces the roadway so suspicious White motorists ‘won’t think I’m doing something illegal and make trouble for me.’”

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Another ‘ornithologist of color’ Alex Troutman says he “goes out of his way to smile and wave at every white passerby when he’s in a marsh or field ‘to appear as least threatening as possible.’”

Look, prejudice exists across all racial and ethnic lines, but Newsome and Troutman’s tales are more akin to the subjective ramblings of delusional paranoiacs conjuring boogey men of racial violence and oppression where none exists, rather than a serious recounting of racist incidents by thoughtful people.

The article goes on to attempt to explain the root of the racist/colonialist problem in ornithology with this fantastically flaccid paragraph. “Europeans named birds as though they were human possessions, but American Indians regard them differently. The red-tail hawk in some languages is uwes’ la’ oski, a word that translates to ‘lovesick,’ because one of its calls sounded like a person who lost a partner.” 

How exactly naming a bird by its identifying mark – like a red-tail – is a sign of European possessiveness or racism remains a mystery, although curiously the changing of the name of the ‘McCown’s longspur’ to the ‘thick-billed longspur’ due to John Porter McCown’s confederate past is deemed a victory against racist bird names.

The most interesting pieces of information in this asinine article come after its conclusion. In his bio, it states that Fears has a Pulitzer prize, which is a shock considering he writes so poorly I wouldn’t trust him to correctly and coherently compile a grocery list. 

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Also revealed is a hysterical correction which reads “An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the location of an 1855 expedition by Alfred Russel Wallace as Africa; it was the Malay Archipelago. In addition, some historians believe that the mother and baby Wallace wrote about in demeaning human terms during his trip were orangutans.”

Confusing Africa with the Malay Archipelago and humans with orangutans seems super-racist to me. Unfortunately, Mr. Fears doesn’t have any birds named after him that we can rename, but he has a Pulitzer and a job at the Washington Post, so maybe those can be rescinded?

Ultimately, those manufacturing tenuous claims of racism in bird names and bird-watching are as ridiculous as movie-goers who would watch Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ and conclude it’s a civil rights movie about black crows rightfully pecking to death a bunch of privileged white people over the injustice of Jim Crow laws.

The reality regarding the buffoonery of these manufactured bird-based racism claims is that if you want to undermine the fight against legitimate racism by coming across as an absurd, insane and inane loon, then a preposterous, pretentious and beyond parodic cause like “racism in ornithology” is a truly terrific way to do it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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