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Cockburn

Is your birdwatching society racist?

The passion of the Audubon Society has come

November 16, 2020

8:44 AM

16 November 2020

8:44 AM

Cockburn can imagine many things he might regard as racist: prison gangs, the Nation of Islam, Harvard University’s admissions policy, all two dozen remaining members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The National Audubon Society is not one of those things. A birdwatching group concerned with banning pesticides and preventing drilling on federal lands has, in Cockburn’s estimation, a zero percent chance of being filled with crypto-racists.

But 2020 is a time where all are called to ‘reckon’ with racism, and often it seems that the more innocuous the institution, the more turbulent the ‘reckoning’. And so the passion of the Audubon Society has come. Per Politico, it began with ‘a botched diversity meeting’, which sounds like the setup for an episode of The Office. From there, things spiraled out of control:

‘Devon Trotter, a senior specialist for equity, diversity and inclusion, resigned from Audubon last month, claiming that he had faced “intimidation and threats,” including from [President and CEO David] Yarnold himself. Trotter is leaving to work at an organization headed by his former boss, Deeohn Ferris, who was Audubon’s top diversity officer and whom he said was driven out by criticism from Yarnold and other superiors.


‘Trotter accused Yarnold, a former newspaper editor who has led the organization since 2010, of fostering a workplace that concentrates decision-making among a tight group of mostly white male allies…

‘The survey was taken by 121 women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities and early career professionals with the understanding that their names would not be revealed. According to Trotter, who oversaw the survey, 66 percent of the respondents agreed that “Audubon doesn’t create an environment where diverse staff can thrive,” and 40 percent said they have seen team members or superiors “stall, de-prioritize or ignore” efforts to promote equity, diversity and inclusion.’

Nope. Noooooooope. Cockburn isn’t going any further here. He isn’t even going to engage with the evidence. Cockburn does not believe, for even one fraction of a second, that a Manhattan-based environmental group for birdwatching enthusiasts is a hotbed of racism, heterosexism and all-around evilism.

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Dig deeper into Politico’s story and it’s obvious that Audubon’s internal agony is based on injecting national politics into typical office drama and griping. An employee claims an independent contractor used a racial slur; another is upset that her male colleagues got a raise but she didn’t. Best run off to Politico and burn the whole organization down.

‘We have a real culture of retribution and punishment and fear,’ said one employee. Oh bollocks, it’s a birdwatching organization, one that has gone embarrassingly out of its way to comment on things wholly unrelated to avian matters. The group published an obligatory response to George Floyd’s death (though Floyd was not known to be a nature enthusiast). It urged members to read Ibram X Kendi’s intolerable book How to Be Anti-Racist. The group has also indulged hysterical efforts to rename almost every bird in North America on the grounds that the prior names are imperialist and fail to acknowledge BIPOC voices. The Audubon Society itself may even change its name. John James Audubon was only ever honored for painting The Birds of America, not for his years as a slaveholder, but no matter.

Of course, in reality it is precisely the non-racism of the Audubon Society that is causing it to implode so dramatically. The fact that the group had two ‘top diversity and inclusion officials’ capable of dramatically resigning is proof enough of that. Much like top universities, city governments and tech companies, the Audubon Society has used its prodigious resources to endow many lucrative ‘diversity’ make-work gigs. Someday, the world will stop being surprised when people hired as anti-racism police keep finding sinister racism to justify their existence. But that day is not today.


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