On Race and the Environment in the Age of the Climate Crisis
“I worship every bird that I see” says Drew Lanham.
You are invited to join noted writer and ornithologist Dr. Drew Lanham, along with Derek Sheffield, Dr. Joan Qazi and the WVC Sustainability Committee, for a reading and conversation on the many intersections between race and the environment during this moment when the life of the planet hinges on the decisions we make today. Register here: https://wvc.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_SNm5Ju9hTOyIgCRzgqxkXg
Ornithologist Drew Lanham is lyrical in the languages of science, humans, and birds. He’s a professor of wildlife ecology, a self-described “hunter-conservationist,” and author of the celebrated book The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature.
Check out Drew Lanham’s Nine Rules for the Black Birdwatcher in Orion, Birding While Black in lithub.com, his 2021 On Being podcast with Krista Tippett, and this excerpt from his 2020 interview with the American Birding Association:
There’s an intensity to settling into one place… When place becomes familiar, the birds become family and friends. And for me, family and friends are reasons to stay in South Carolina. The bitter history of enslavement and racist politics here leave much to be desired, but my human family is here. Many of my friends are here. I love the land here. It’s my ecology—cue Marvin Gaye. The birds here connect me to the Arctic and tropical rainforests and prairie and so much more. I’m hoping that by staying here I can eventually make a difference… [and maybe] be a part of the human change that’s been a long time coming…
I’m more and more concerned with the calculus of conservation and culture these days. That is, how does who we are affect what we think and how we behave toward each other and toward other species? My ethnicity impacts how I see and perceive everything, including nature… I am still engineering, I guess. It’s just that I’m seeing birds as key factors in the equation…
That selfless act of loving nature—birds and everything else wild—is a loving act. That is my bottom-line ethic: to love the land. Everything else follows in that wake. Having ancestors who were bound to the land as enslaved means there’s a lot to overcome. Part of overcoming means we have to reclaim the land (and nature) as critical components of our free being…
When we share the wonder of what we love lovingly, then we can begin to cross lines of difference… Birders spend lots of time seeing color—otherwise a Red-winged Blackbird and a Snow Bunting wouldn’t be so beautifully different. So, see the color. Respect the face. Get to know me inside. The rest will fall into place.
-- Drew Lanham