After racist park encounter, Chris Cooper takes us birding
June 18, 2020 5:04 PM   Subscribe

 
Oh this made me smile. The curiosity and the reverence in his face in this video! I recognize the excitement in that opening shot as he IDs the orchard oriole — I have definitely chased birds around a park with binoculars trying to get a positive ID (but I’ve yet to add this one to my life list). Reminds me too of the time my husband booked me a walk with a real birder like this guy as a Christmas present. It’s so great to see such wonderful nerdery up close.

And of course I’m so glad that the awful racial abuse he experienced there hasn’t turned him off the site. I found his centeredness in describing that encounter really inspiring, too. May we all be so strong in the face of injustice. Thanks for posting.
posted by eirias at 5:38 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]


When I was a kid and very sick my parents signed me up for Audubon so I could bird from my window. It was a real formative experience in my life and while I don't bird as an adult it's the sort of hobby that if someone divulges to me will only make me love them. They mention his history in comic books as a force for good but they don't mention that he's the reason the last two years of marvel swimsuit editions has Beefy Male Beefcakes. Or as the Cracked article says- we have Chris Cooper to thank for putting Dr. Strange in a thong!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 5:43 PM on June 18 [24 favorites]


I love watching people doing something they love to do. It is a blessing.
posted by schroedinger at 5:44 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]


Geeks are geeks and almost always harmless. Even black birding geeks in a public park...
posted by jim in austin at 6:00 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Is there anything more charming than someone nerding out this hard?
posted by scruss at 6:01 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]


I’ve been thinking of him every time I spot a cool bird in my local park. Of course, with my level of bird sophistication, it’s more like “wow, it’s a red one!” But everyone has to start somewhere.
posted by sallybrown at 6:07 PM on June 18 [10 favorites]


I knew Chris Cooper when I was in college -- we were in an interfaith discussion group -- and even at that age (when many people suck), he was just the greatest dude. I'm sort-of stoked that all of America has gotten to see that's he's an amazing dude. I'm still in touch with a handful of people from that group (determined mostly by who was using what internet services when, not "level of desire to keep in touch," because this was 20+ years ago), and everyone's been talking about it non-stop! (I forwarded them all this GMA link, they'll be super-excited.) I've resisted impinging on Chris's inbox b/c I know a million people must be doing that (he makes friends everywhere he goes), but I sent my love via mutual friends.

I didn't know about his comics stuff so that's been really delightful to learn about!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:21 PM on June 18 [32 favorites]


Geeks are geeks and almost always harmless.

I want to push back against this somewhat. Not in terms of Christian Cooper, who seems awesome. But I've been a birder for 12-ish years at this point, and I'm involved in it enough that I teach beginning birding classes in parks districts where I work and I currently identify birds for a living. I'm also Latina, poor, queer, and a woman. Birding has the same problems that ALL hobbies have, especially those that are predominately white and cis male and generally middle-class or higher in terms of income level. I have been treated like I'm an idiot for being a woman, I've been treated like I'm an idiot for using a field guide instead of knowing immediately what something was, for being young (I was in my 20's when I started), I've been looked at sideways for having old or used gear, for the way I dress, for not being white, for the way I bird (I'm self taught and learned via my camera rather than binos), the list goes on... There's a reason why chapters of the "Feminist Bird Club" are popping up all over the world and it's part of a larger issue with outdoor recreation, spaces, jobs, and natural/environmental sciences in general that has spawned groups like Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Unlikely Hikers, and many others. I love birding, but there's a reason I'm self-taught and have done it mostly as a solo excursion for the last 12 years. I'm happy there's so much push for change, but there's still a LONG way to go.
posted by primalux at 6:24 PM on June 18 [93 favorites]


If you have iOS you can get a really cool app called Seek. It's free, and you point it at things (plants, animals, insects) and it tells you what they are. Like, get the thing in the camera and it will link you to what that is. It's pretty remarkable. The first day I got it I walked all over our yard getting to know what the legacy plants we have on-site actually are rather than "well, it might be a...." Also, two birds.
posted by hippybear at 6:30 PM on June 18 [10 favorites]


Also, before I clicked through I was sort of wondering why that actor was taking us birdwatching. Different Chris Cooper, definitely!
posted by hippybear at 6:32 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Seek is in the goog play store for androids too.
posted by hexatron at 7:23 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Seek is great, it is another project from the makers of iNaturalist, and they are integrated with each other so what you find on Seek can be posted to your iNat account if you want it to. I've used both with many Bioblitz groups, especially students, and it's really fun.
posted by primalux at 7:43 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


" it's part of a larger issue with outdoor recreation, spaces, jobs, and natural/environmental sciences in general that has spawned groups like Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Unlikely Hikers, and many others. I love birding, but there's a reason I'm self-taught and have done it mostly as a solo excursion for the last 12 years. I'm happy there's so much push for change, but there's still a LONG way to go."

It must have been 8 or 10 years ago now that Illinois did a study of declining state park attendance and concluded that it was absolutely essential to their survival that they reach women of color and in particular moms. I'm going to summarize badly, but what they found was that state park usage was most common among the white sons of white rural men, who grew up hunting and fishing and camping and canoeing and so on. But that was no longer a large enough group to sustain state parks, and the addition of people who took up hiking recreationally in their 20s or 30s wasn't enough to sustain them either. They saw three underserved groups: women, people of color, and urban(/suburban)-dwellers. There's already a great program serving women (that exists in a lot of states) called "Becoming OutdoorsWomen" (BOW) that teaches women to camp and fish and hunt and survive and stuff, buuuuuuut it's super, super white in Illinois (and most other states that I'm aware of). They felt that the key to increasing state park attendance and gaining lifelong state park fans was to attract mothers of color, who would teach their own kids to camp and hike and birdwatch and so on -- and to provide ways for urban families of color who might not have cars (not necessarily because of poverty, just because of urbanism) to get to state parks. They created some outreach programs that were pretty amazing -- and then Illinois elected a GOP governor and that all got sidelined. The state park system underwent not one but two shakeups under the GOP administration; I have no idea what department the proposed outreach would even fall under these days. As best as I can tell it hasn't been resurrected under our new Dem governor (probably literally everyone who worked on it was fired under the GOP and moved on to other work), but I'll ask around and see if anyone knows.

Anyway, you are 100% right on! and at least SOME states are recognizing that they are doing a very bad job serving a LOT of communities in their state, and attempting to rectify that in some innovative ways. But it requires forward-thinkers in senior leadership at the parks department and typically consistent democratic governance.

The National Park Service has an Office of Relevancy, Diversity, and Inclusion, that has done some VERY impressive work (although again my impression is it varies quite a bit by specific park). The Indiana Dunes National Park (your newest national park!) has done some impressive outreach , but it has had to fly a bit under the radar under the Trump administration, and a lot of it is due to the regional director who is a very solid person who "gets it." (Helped create the Pullman National Monument, commemorating Black history and in particular Black unions.) As people move around, it's hard to know if that beginning will be honored by successors, and it's hard to know how much any individual park ranger appreciates the diversity & inclusion initiatives. (When we visited the Dunes last year most individual rangers had enthusiastic things to say about D&I (we made a point to ask), but that was, like, four rangers. Who were all white.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:45 PM on June 18 [15 favorites]


If you missed #BlackBirdersWeek, you really need to check it out. Chris Cooper was also on Birds of North America with Jason Ward - Jason is an amazing voice for the importance of diversity and equity in birding and science more broadly, and also SO ENTHUSIASTIC about birds.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:08 PM on June 18 [7 favorites]


jim in austin: Geeks are geeks and almost always harmless. Even black birding geeks in a public park...

I write this not to pile on, but to point out problematic language and phrasing. I get that you're trying to celebrate the love geeks have for the focus of their geekery, but "even black birding geeks in public parks" sounds like you're trying to be cute about the fact that Mr. Cooper, who is black, asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash. When she did not, he began filming. In response, the woman said she would tell the police that “an African-American man is threatening my life” before dialing 911. (New York Times)

My reading of your comment sounds like you're saying "you might think that black birding geeks in public parks are dangerous, but they're almost always harmless." Which is not something I think you intended to say or convey.

Back to the OP -- thanks for posting this, I love his entusiasm for birding, and his gentle self-chiding for mis-identifying the orchard oriole -- "I'm embarrassed I even suggested those things."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 PM on June 18 [14 favorites]


A college friend has a son just about 18 who's deep into birding, and is already leading groups as a volunteer with Audobon; he was really active in #BlackBirdersWeek as well, as a sort of defiant "dammit, that coulda been me" kind of thing. His proud dad posted all these pictures of his son on tours and such and it was good to see.

I also really appreciated that there wasn't any sappy narration to this, and the only words we heard were mostly Chris Cooper's own.

And yay birds. I'm not a birdwatcher in this sense, but an ex taught me a more literal form of bird watching by example - "hey, look at that bird over there, let's just watch it a minute and see what it does" - and it's something I still do now and then throughout the day.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:55 AM on June 19 [7 favorites]


> Geeks are geeks and almost always harmless.

Oh boy, a lot of geeks are not harmless. I don't want to derail this thread with examples, but there's an influential subset of toxic people with toxic behavior in most types of geekery, because...well...humans. What primalux said about gatekeeping, and also sometimes protection of the "missing stairs" in the subculture.

Back to birding and birding while black, though...a shout out the fantastic Instagram of my local force of nature Corina Newsome, aka hood_naturalist.
posted by desuetude at 9:50 AM on June 19 [9 favorites]


I love his enthusiasm, and I'm super impressed that he's able to do so much by ear. I'm a novice birder, and that is the hardest thing for me. He seems like a really great guy.
posted by aneel at 6:47 PM on June 21


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