Book Review

Birding For Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers - John C. Robinson

Publishers: Wings On Disk, 2008 ISBN: 978-0-9679337-3-2 / 144pp (pbk) 10 Chapters, 3 Appendices', Bibliography and Index

On the day I received a copy of John Robinson's book I began reading it from the moment I took it out of it packaging. I was excited by the very title of the book since I for one am an African American birder and not more than a month ago had launched our organization Black Birders Worldwide and our website: www.blackbirders.org and was in motion to recruit as many people as I could to join us in the wonderful activity of birding.

My initial thoughts were that this would be a how to manual for introducing and supporting People of Color in the activity of birding. To some extent it is, but in the larger scheme it isn't. For the most part it is a dialog and an appeal encouraging the larger (read White) birding community / communities to pause, listen, investigate, understand, and make better overtures to People of Color to join them and support their getting into birding.

The first half to the book lays the foundation by way of sharing the authors experiences that lead him, an African American, to become a birder, an ornithologist, and someone committed to the cause of birds and birding for others. Here we learn of what one culture might take for granted that may appear to be odd and irrelevant to another culture, and how incidents of chance can be illuminating and life changing. Robinson recounts his exchange with a birder that opened the door to a new horizon for him and from there takes us on an excursion into the world of birding - what it is, why it is so compelling, how to enjoy it, be proficient at it, and why we should be concerned to have others - People of Color - involved in it. His is a story characteristic of how a large percentage of African Americans and other People of Color come into the world of birding - by chance. From there he begins his appeal to assist and support People of Color coming to birding by way of overt awareness and opportunity.

A part of his story is the constant reminder of the absence of People of Color in the birding arena and the nagging question as to why. Why are People of Color disproportionately missing in the world of birding? This question ushers us into the second half of the book where Robinson asks questions of People of Color and Whites in his quest to understand the phenomena. Here we observe a dialog with each culture seeking to understand itself and the other. For the most part the dialog is carried out by way of surveys and interviews that give us insight into the thoughts and motivations of the respondents as to why they do and don't participate in bird watching. The survey's, targeting African Americans, reveal that contrary to funding, most responded that they did not participate due to "lack of interest" and "not enough time" both of which Robinson suggest can be mitigated by education and opportunity. He states: "If we knew [how] we would make the time to involve ourselves is such activities regardless of how little or how much money we have…"

Robinson's research makes it clear that the answers and solutions are much more complex than the responses would make them appear to be, and I agree. Those surveyed and interviewed that did bird watch revealed that for the most part they were introduced to birding by someone and supported by other birders, which helped them to sustain their interest. From this Robinson gleans that having more people to share birding with People of Color would result commensurately with more People of Color birding. To this end he turns his attention to the larger (White) birding community / communities for support. Recognizing that they far outnumber People of Color in active birding, have organizations, institutions and resources he makes an appeal for them to understand the importance of their engaging in outreach and sharing to resolve what he characterizes as a critical issue. He points out that more is at stake than just the enjoyment of birding that it is environmental awareness, conservation and empowerment related to ones way of life and quality of life for both People of Color and for birds that is at stake. Though an apparently logical conclusion it caused me to ask the question: What is the inspiration and motivation of White organizations, leaders and activist to outreach to African Americans and People of Color? Do they really care about our environmental awareness, conservation and empowerment? These are questions that should also be asked and answered.

Robinson's book lays the groundwork for a real dialog around the concern of the disproportionate absence of People of Color in the activity of birding that is long overdue. He more than makes the case of "Birding For Everyone" and identifies methods and strategies that can and should be explored for solutions. I can say at this point that this book should be read by as many people as possible whether they bird watch or not because the core issue truly lies in a larger issue having to do with the disproportioned absence of People of Color in areas vital to their quality of life, to the life of others and to the life of our planet. This book is a must read.

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