Slavers and Grave Robbers

Do bird societies cling to a racist past?

  • 7 June 2021
  • Author: Mark Berthold
  • Number of views: 2461
Slavers and Grave Robbers

If you think woke is a joke, try this on for size: the pretty red bird known as Jameson’s Firefinch is named for John Sligo Jameson, who once purchased a young girl as “a joke” and drew sketches of the child being stabbed and dismembered.

So begins the article, “The racist legacy many birds carry,” in a recent The Washington Post. Included in the story is commentary by Olivia Wang, a grad student in the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

“[Eponymous bird names] are a reminder that this field I work in was primarily developed and shaped by people not like me, who probably would have viewed me as lesser,” Olivia is quoted. “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.”

Olivia goes on to discuss the proposed renaming of the Maui parrotbill to kiwikiu, which was initially refused and ridiculed by the American Ornithological Society.

 “I called out the AOS and [its North American Classification Committee] for censoring some racist and offensive comments the [committee] made when discussing the … proposal,” she is quoted.

Read the Full Article. Photo courtesy of Alex Wang.

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