|Grace's Warbler by Carl Jackson|
My love, my Bird Photographer, is a black man and not a day goes by that I don't think about the danger of his being a black man, filing it away the worry in the dark with my night vision honed by twenty-five years of worry about Sophie. I am nothing if not good with this kind of coping. But is it coping or is it complacency? Is there something more to think about, to do, to work towards, something beyond the obvious? How to be scrupulously honest with ourselves, we white women? We white people? How to begin how to continue and how to do so despite the cacophony.
Carl wrote this on his social media page, where he generally posts some of the most gorgeous photos of birds you'll ever see:
A Memorial Day reminder of just how risky it is to be a black photographer. I’ve got too many stories from my time out alone shooting in Southern California, as well as every state I’ve gone to observe/photograph wildlife or birds. The systemic racism based upon skin color by the police and the justice system could turn a birding trip into an arrest or even death, not even accounting for the threat of others who hate based on skin color. “Birding while black” has many layers of risk.
We can pass along memes and express our outrage. We can talk about privilege and supremacy, inner and systemic racism. We can defend dogs and debate endlessly whether Ms. Cooper should will when how much is enough receive the punishment she deserves. The word opprobrium. How much energy is wasted even in this the writing the need to wrestle meaning to string together in what direction? What direction?
When I first met Carl he took me out for a walk in a park. He walked so slowly that if I hadn't been falling in love with him, I would have felt irritated. He is so very very quiet. He stopped periodically and pointed. I'd look where he'd point and see nothing. I'd tilt my head and gaze down the long line of his finger, one eye closed struggling to see. To see what he saw. And then I did see what he saw a brilliant blue bird so blue that I couldn't possibly miss it, yet I had. In the days and months and now years that followed then, I saw them everywhere, these birds, all sizes and colors their markings intricate and startling even as they blended in with the browns and greens of the trees and flowers and shrubs. Their calls, too, each distinct and something to remember -- a chirp, a warble (is there a more beautiful word than warble?), a low rumbling creak. They have always been there.
I had to slow down and look.
I had to be quiet and listen.
I still walk fast. I'm impatient and blind, perhaps willfully so to what is in front of my eyes. I can't hear, don't listen and I forget the names.
Carl still walks slowly. He points them out, these birds that are everywhere.
He tells me their names.
You know where I'm going.
Say the names.