Musings as to Why Negroes Don’t Ornithologize

An Ode to Birding While Black


by J. Drew Lanham



I wonder why those black folks don’t bird.
They’ve (I mean we’ve) got eyes and ears too.
Don’t they (we)?
 
So surely they (I mean we) can see the scarlet
and black beauty of a Piranga olivacea,
hear the mellow murmurings
of a Mourning Dove.
 
Yeah they (I mean we) got those big ol’ broad noses too…
They (I mean we) could even probably sniff out the hiding spots,
smell up a skulking warbler or two—
a Mourning, MacGillivray’s—
or maybe a Connecticut!
 
I wonder why black folks don’t bird?
Maybe it’s something in that kinky-haired,
dark-skinned negroid genetic code.
I mean they (we) can run like the wind, right?
Could probably chase down all kinds of rarities—
Five-striped Sparrows, Elegant Trogons, and Greater Pewees
before first light.
 
I wonder why black folks don’t bird?
Maybe it’s something in their (I mean our) lazy ways,
not wanting to go to Madera or Bentsen Rio or the Sierra Cascades.
I mean, what interest could they possibly have in seeing the beauty
of a dawn break over the Santa Ritas, or in witnessing the sun sinking
behind a saguaro, Poor-Wills and Elf Owls welcoming the cold desert night?
 
I wonder why black folks don’t bird?
It’s probably all that loud rap music they (I mean we) listen to…
Maybe we (I mean they) couldn’t appreciate the ringing sweet song
of a Bachman’s Sparrow, Aimophila aestivalis in Pinus Palustris,
ringing as sweet and clear through the Georgia pines
as Ray Charles said they could.
 
I mean, sure, there are some—right? At least one or two?
I wouldn’t call them (I mean us) tokens, though.
Let’s see: There’s Dudley, Keith, Marla, Drew.
John, Douglas, and oh yeah, Rue…
There’s some colored’s birding,
but  there’s just a few!

Well, at least there’s enough for me (me?)
not have to use more than two hands—
wouldn’t want to break the birder quota
or the ornithological color ban!
 
Better keep ’em (I mean us) all out of the same hotspot.
Don’t let ’em all gather at Cape May or White Fish Point—
or God forbid the Everglades!
All those black people sweating in the heat…
We don’t want a riot over rarities now, do we?
 
Don’t let too many Negroes at the same spotting scope,
all crowded up like sardines in a can—or slaves on…
Whoops…Sorry…My bad…
 
Spread out—lest some disaster
blot them (I mean us) out
like Ivory-billed Woodpeckers
or Gunnison’s Sage Grouse.
 
I know, I know…
I know why black folks don’t watch birds!
Maybe they’re (I mean we’re) too busy not seeing the forest for the trees.
I mean, they did hang them (I mean us) from those things way back when …
Didn’t they?
 
And Miss Billie even said the crows
liked pickin’ at that “strange fruit.”
Hmmm…frugivory with an unsavory twist.
Maybe I’ll just stay out of the woods—
and buy myself a prejudice-proof suit.
 
Maybe they (I mean we) simply don’t have time
to be chasing birds around at unlikely hours
in places where they ain’t used to seeing faces like theirs (ours). 
They can’t cover up their color with birdy knowledge or with degrees,
even if they do know all the chips, trills and songs.
They’ll still get profiled by the man and—maybe worse—
get their black card repealed!
 
Pull over please—you’re birding while black!
A Miranda for a tanager: “You have the right to remain silent boy—” “Chip burrrr.”
 
Hey you! Black guy with the binoculars!
Why are you looking into middle-class-white-peoples’ houses?
With those big ol’ suspicious black people’s eyes—were you looking at my wife?
Oh…so sorry, you were just looking for the black-billed cuckoo?
Yeah, I just added that to my life list too.
 
Wait a minute I got it! Maybe…
Too many of those black hands
are too busy grasping prison cell bars—
couldn’t possibly find a pair of nice 10 by’s so occupied.
 
Or maybe it could be that white-supremacists
and White-headed Woodpeckers
both love Idaho just the same.
Or maybe it’s that Swainson’s Warblers
are in the states where the rebel flags still wave.
 
God-damn those black people!
I mean didn’t they just get black Jesus—I mean Barack?
Didn’t that just make everything all right?
He looks a lot like you all—and he’s even half white!
 
Shhhhh…
Next thing you know they’ll want black spotting scopes
and afro-hyphenated guides.
I bet they’ll scare away the best warblers
and they’ll never be on time!
 
Maybe they can have their own birds.
Give them avian reparations—the lesser known congener of Jim Crow
split out by the micro-managing AOU—just a few weeks ago.
My solution, dear twitching friends, is a most simple one:
Black birds for Black folks!
 
Fair and balanced birding, it’s the only way.
Be done with it now—separate and unequal.
Give ’em Icteridae!
Let them have Rusties and Brewer’s
and both meadowlark kinds.
The orioles and grackles and cowbirds should be enough
to keep those people quiet.
 
If they (I mean we)—
who do I mean?
could just be normal,
do black people things:
bounce a basketball, throw a football—
or maybe even sing.
 
Stay inside those color lines,
the ones we all prescribe.
It’s safe and it’s predictable,
truly the American way,
limiting my existence
by the brown skin on my face. 



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