Birds and Bo Burnham

This Monday morning, my mind is musing all around. The Avengers. Graduation. Biking. Ice cream. But, it keeps coming back to Birds and Bo Burnham.

My mom was a Bird Nerd, and I’ve realized recently, so am I. This post is a tangle of wings, but stay with me…

Close up photo of a tall white bird on the edge of a pond
A pretty bird at the rookery. Photo taken by my mom.

Birds

As I sit on my front porch, it’s peaceful and noisy. 6 am. The birds are out, doing whatever birds do, and they’re chatting about it.

This is my first ever front porch. I’ve always wanted one. I’d see a big house with a wraparound porch and a little voice inside me would say, “Oooh, when I’m old, I want to sit on a front porch like that!” Then, another voice would say (in my deepest Jersey bravado), “Yeah, but would you ever really sit there?!” It seems I would. I would sit and listen to birds.

Some people can tell a bird by their song. I can’t. We met a bird guide recently who was amazing — he could tell a bird by just the first note or two of their song! I can’t even distinguish which birds are making which calls where. Although right now, I do hear two distinct calls in my yard. And geese in the sky (but they’re easy — they honk).

Birdsong, as I’ve learned from The Bird Way, by Jennifer Ackerman, is both not well understood and sexist. Today, I learned from Anti-Racism Daily, that birdwatching has a racist legacy.

Our recent bird guide was from the National Audubon Society society, an organization named for “an enslaver who mocked abolitionists working to free Black people.” ( Washington Post article by Darryl Fears) The article goes on to catalog a common history of White supremacy, colonialism, and exclusion.

And, a common theme: It’s too HARD to be anti-racist.

Fears reports: “It would cause confusion in the profession and among casual birders, opponents said. Books and ledgers would have to be revised, and people would have to learn new names.”

Ah, yes. Anti-racism is just too…inconvenient.

Being anti-racist is hard. It’s hard to learn new words, hard to update history books, and hard to look at our behavior and systems. Much harder than doing nothing and keeping the status quo, right? But does that mean we shouldn’t do it? No.

Bo Burnham

I’m sure you’ve been wondering how this gets us to Bo Burnham, who I understand came to fame as a teenager writing offensive parody songs on YouTube (according to my 14-yr-old, so don’t quote me).

Comedian Bo Burnham intently writing in a notebook
Comedian Bo Burnham intently writing in a notebook
Still from Bo Burnham: Inside

Yesterday, we watched Bo Burnham: Inside (with said 14-yr-old). Burnham’s COVID-19 pandemic year resulted in an unsettling (and compelling) series of self-reflections, including the song White Woman’s Instagram and a searing takedown of corporations who co-opt social justice movements to market their products.

I’ve wondered many times (along with everyone else in my Twitter feed): Are corporations really solving the issue of racism or just saying they are?

Tech companies changed ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist’ to ‘block list’ and ‘allow list’, but did they dismantle White supremacy? Maybe time would’ve been better spent analyzing how (and which) people are promoted.

Brands created emotional marketing videos, but did they change police policies? No, there’s so much more work to do.

Time for Action

This past year, I’ve been in learning mode. I’ve read Anti-Racism Daily’s emails, Blavity News’ articles, and the Better Allies’ newsletter. Now, it’s time for action.

But, as a White, cisgender, able-bodied person in a socio-economic upper class my grandparents never dreamed of, how do I (and you, if you are in the majority culture) get out of my comfortable seat on my front porch and do the work?

Do I make videos on YouTube? Nope, hate the camera in my face, but if you love it, do that! Do I change the names of birds? Nope, I don’t even know the real names, I just point and say, “Look! A pretty green one!”, but if you have influence in those circles, go for it!

All I can do is get back to doing what I do: making tech communities inclusive.

I’m re-committing to making policies and platforms and spaces equitable, listening to voices from groups that are underrepresented, and not backing down, even when it’s hard.

What about you?

Technology industry leader, evangelist, and connector who cultivates inclusive communities. She/her. maryscotton.com