I’m With the Birds–And the Humans Who Love Them

I’m a bird nerd. There, I’ve said it. Now you know. Birds see me coming with my binoculars, confer with their friends and take off. I’m totally okay with them laughing at me behind my back. It comes with the territory.

Birds and humans have something very important in common: we see color. However, whereas birds rely on their color vision to choose mates, find food and scan for predators, whether or not we’re conscious of it, humans use it to make snap judgments about other humans. We’ve been conditioned to do so almost since the day we were born.

We receive messages about the meaning of skin color from our families, our friends, our teachers, movies and TV shows, magazines, newspapers, advertising, you name it. We’re immersed in this conditioning. It is quite literally impossible to be unaffected by it.

That being said, we can work on recognizing it when it happens and redirect the resultant thoughts and behaviors we may have.  Example: you’re walking in a park with your (unleashed) dog. A Black man with binoculars asks you to leash your dog, citing park regulations. Should you:

A) apologize and immediately leash your dog, wish the man a enjoyable day and continue on your walk, or

B) go all Mount St. Helens on this guy’s ass and call 911, screaming that an African-American man is threatening your life, while you simultaneously strangle your still-not-leashed dog and demand the man stop recording your antics.

Seems like a no-brainer. I would choose option A, but some women, like Amy Cooper, use their White lady fairy dust for evil rather than good and unfortunately, inexplicably choose option B.

Don’t be that White person. Be the one who sees color, acknowledges that Every. Single. One. of us is different, appreciates and embraces that diversity, and knows that all of our lives are vastly better because of it.

Photo credit Jeffrey Ward/Bird Collective

White bread

I am the captain of my ship–as well as the author of today’s note from 1979 or 1980.  And, as you’ll see, in 9th grade I was already on my way to becoming a master of race relations and cultural sensitivity.  (My former boss and friend, Kirk Koepsel, once told me, “Sarcasm doesn’t translate into writing.”  I have always hoped this isn’t true, but if it is, please know I was just now being sarcastic.)

I grew up on the east coast–elementary school in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area and intermediate and high school in a D.C. suburb–so, consequently, my formative years were blessed with a fair amount of racial and cultural diversity.  I had White friends, Black friends, and every shade of brown in between.  There were plenty of Latino, Indian, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern kids at Herndon Intermediate and Herndon High School.  In 9th grade, I had an Iranian friend whom I asked to teach me some Persian (Farsi) words and phrases.  Sadly, all I can remember today is halet chetore, which means “How are you?”

However, my closest friends were White, and, if I think about it, I can only remember being at their homes, knowing their families and spending most of my one-on-one time with them.  Time spent with friends of color was always in school, or at school-related social events–rarely individually, and never at home.

What many of my peers probably don’t remember is that I attended our senior prom with my friend K., a Black football player whose family had moved to Herndon from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).  I am ashamed to confess that I told my parents I was going with a different (read “White”) friend because I didn’t think they would approve.  K. and I wore matching tuxedos, and double-dated with the mutual friend and his girlfriend, who deigned to join the three of us in our dapper finery and wore a dress instead.

It’s particularly fascinating to reflect on the scenario briefly referred to in my note–of which I have absolutely no recollection–at age 51, when I spend half of each workday in a community college diversity center.  I’m far from being the most culturally fluent person in the room, but in the past couple years, my horizons have expanded enormously thanks to my job.  My Latino boss–with whom I have almost daily conversations about some aspect of cultural competency–has brought both Tim Wise and Robin DiAngelo to our school to speak on White privilege.  I’ve read several of their books, I participated in a year-long Inclusion & Cultural Fluency leadership training series, and I’m learning to speak Spanish because my inability to communicate with so many folks has been driving me crazy for a long time.

In other words, I’ve made a personal choice to improve my cultural competency and increase my understanding of White privilege.  This is a priority I will work on throughout the rest of my life, whether or not I continue to pursue a career in higher ed.  I may not remember why the Korean boy made me nervous, nor why I thought I needed to “feel sorry for him,” but from the perspective of more than thirty years later, I now know to challenge myself when I have thoughts like these.


hey chic!

How’s life?  mine’s just boreamundo.  actually it’s pretty gross.  my life is in a rut.  it’s been there for the longest time.  but i’m planning on having a heap o’ fun this weekend.  Friday night I’m going to a party, Saturday night I’m going skating, now I have to find sompin’ to do sunday.

i told C. about ya not being allowed to go to Roanoke.  She’s really upset.  I think we could try and talk your parents back into letting you go.

I sit with this Vietnamese Korean guy in Bio & M. isn’t here.  He carries a Korean-American dictionary around with him.  I feel sorry for him but he makes me nervous.

This class is sorry.  I wish I could’ve gotten into Mr. S. 2nd period, because I’m pretty sure that’s where A. is now.

Mr. S. sez they need pitchers on the softball teams ‘round here.

Later!

Love moi