The Central Park Effect

The Rio Grande Valley is one of the great birding places in the U.S. Think Roger Tory Peterson’s “South Texas Specialities” in the back of his Eastern/Central field guide. It’s also the fraught border between two intimately connected nations. A few years ago, before Trump’s even more white supremacist approach to anti-immigration politics than the Presidents before him, I went on an organized birding tour there. There were five of us in the van. Although two of the party were English, we fit a rather privileged demographic. Just yards from the American side of the river, we were surrounded by four-wheelers from Border Patrol more than once. But: White guys? Bird nerds? Ok, ok, carry on.

Birding, or any form of naturalizing in the wild, presents different kinds of hazards to different kinds of people. Anyone alone should be very aware of their surroundings, of course. Women in our violently misogynistic nation especially so. A whole other spectrum of dangers are presented to non-whites in the field.

You have probably heard about Christian Cooper’s run-in an unleashed dog owner in the Ramble in Central Park.

Here are some rules for “birding while black” drawn up by the biologist J. Drew Lanham. Lanham has also written in more depth on the topic.

There are two lessons in recent events. Armed white men can occupy government buildings as the law enforcement “community” remains calm, but it’s tear gas and rubber bullets for citizens protesting a murder by a Minneapolis cop who has been involved in three other “officer-involved shootings” and has a dozen other complaints for abuse and violence logged against him. “Officer-involved shooting” is a term of Orwellian obfuscation invented by the LAPD, an organization with a history of brutality.

1. The peaceful response to these heavily armed white men, literally threatening violence for political ends (i.e. terrorism), suggests that many members of law enforcement, a bastion of white supremacy (see, for instance, the Minneapolis Police Department), would actively join a putsch. The police riots since reinforce the notion.

2. The police-riot violent response to those protesting extrajudicial executions show us that centuries of white violence against people of color won’t stop as long as the majority of white people continue to support it.

“Black people have tried, again and again, to end the horror of police brutality against us. We march, we protest, we educate, we vote. We teach our children a special set of rules. We produce art and literature and music documenting our pain. We start organizations and movements. And yet we can’t achieve structural change in policing because a majority of white America always sets its will against us. White people in our own communities, our alleged ‘friends and neighbors,’ consistently vote and act in ways that empower the police and ignore their brutality against us.” Elie Mystal in The Nation.

2 Responses to “The Central Park Effect”


  1. 1 Sherry Felix June 1, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    I know Cristian Cooper, such a nice man. I agree with the protests but not the violence.


  1. 1 Apres Migration | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on June 2, 2020 at 7:00 am

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