The Washington Post found itself widely mocked on Twitter Monday for an extensive report titled, “The racist legacy many birds carry.”
Though the Post published the story on June 5, the headline didn’t become widely shared until June 14 when an account by the name of @LauraWhitt32 posted a photo of the headline with the comment, “I give up.” At that point, a number of Twitter users shared her post with jokes about the newspaper’s process of publishing the article, including guesses about how the story assignment came about: “Daily WaPo meeting: ‘so what’s racist today?’ *blindly flips through encyclopedia* it’s birds!”
Black police officer and host of the podcast “Reasonable Suspicion,” Zeek Arkham, quipped, “A bird pooped on my car the other day. I thought that it was because I parked near a telephone line, but it was white supremacy all this time. I’m so tired of all this oppression.”
Many comments turned serious, like Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon’s observation, “If you want evidence of just how far we’ve come in terms of putting racism behind us, just look at how far we have to reach to find it now.”
In the story, reporter Darryl Fears explores a debate he says is raging within the Audubon Society about “the names of species connected to enslavers, supremacists and grave robbers.” Fears then details a number of birds named after historical figures who owned slaves or used racist terms. In particular, he points out that British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who “frequently used the n-word,” had six different bird species named after him.
Among other feathered creatures Fears names as problematic because they “bear the names of men who fought for the Southern cause, stole skulls from Indian graves for pseudoscientific studies that were later debunked, and bought and sold black people,” are Bachman’s sparrow and Wallace’s fruit dove.
Fears quotes a number of experts to bolster his premise that bird names are a problem worthy of the attention of Post readers. Black ornithologist and Clemson professor J. Drew Lanham told him, “Conservation has been driven by white patriarchy. This whole idea of calling something a wilderness after you move people off it or exterminate them and that you get to take ownership.”
Asian American ornithologist Olivia Wang shared similar thoughts, saying “[The birds’ names] are a reminder that this field that I work in was primarily developed and shaped by people not like me, who probably would have viewed me as lesser. They are also a reminder of how Western ornithology, and natural exploration in general, was often tied to a colonialist mind-set of conquering and exploiting and claiming ownership of things rather than learning from the humans who were already part of the ecosystem and had been living alongside these birds for lifetimes.”
Corina Newsome, another black ornithologist, told Fears she has felt traumatized in the past when she wore a work shirt bearing Audubon’s name. “I felt like I was wearing the name of an oppressor, the name of someone who enslaved my ancestors,” she said.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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