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We Are Flying Solo

June 10, 2020

Taking Action

I generally do not delve into too much social commentary on this horse blog, but we have reached new-yet-old levels of horrifying behaviour & I want to share a few things.

Some things shouldn't have to be said.  I'm going to say them anyway.

Judging anyone based on their skin color is wrong.

Classifying someone based on any attributes they can't control is wrong.  You are not better than someone else just because they have cells that grow with a different shade than yours.  Human behaviour, choices, ethics, & intelligence are not dictated by the colour of the sack that holds their organs together. 

Someone else is not less deserving or less worthy or in any way different from you just because they fell out of their mother on a different side of an imaginary line drawn by dead, greedy white men.  

Racism, just like sexism, is wrong.  Both should be named, called out, & shut down on sight. 

White people, of which I am one, don't like to hear it, but the truth is that we are not that special.  If you have found success in your life in this country & you are white, at least part of that success is because you didn't have to battle the colour you were born with.  Part of your success is absolutely due to pure luck (hint:  if you immediately thought 'no', that means the answer is 'yes').  Plenty of other people worked just as hard & harder than you did & wanted it more.  What they lacked was the key ingredient of opportunity, aka luck.  It's up to us as mature, thoughtful adults to realize that accepting this does not denigrate us, rather it's an important step to recognize both the humanity & the struggle of others. 

I could dig into that in extensive detail, but what I want to do instead is talk about how we can move forward.  Because it takes ACTION from all of us who did have that luck in the form of parents or other family/connections who could help us out, in the form of access to education, which creates choices, in the form of a job when we were looking for one, in the form of relative safety when we speak up -- change is possible, but to have meaning, it will require force from us to overwhelm the fear & resistance of those in power.

What that action looks like is going to vary based on our individual capabilities & strengths.  I don't have money, so in this society, I have little power.  Even my vote is crippled since I live in a gerrymandered district.  However, I can still effect meaningful change.
When I started working in conservation, I quickly noticed that it is REALLY REALLY white (it's also really, really male, but I won't get into that for now).  For much of my career, I've been banging away at that drum & trying to find ways bring more diversity into our conversations, our meetings, & our conferences.  Because it's not just about what people look like -- it's about the diversity of life experiences, cultural backgrounds, values, interests-- these are what make our communities & our programs better & that was sorely missing in our agency.

It's been a puzzling problem to tackle, because I knew that at least in the hiring decisions that I had a say in over the last 15 yrs, it was definitely NOT due to discrimination against diverse applicants.  We were simply not getting any qualified applicants who weren't white people.  And for a long time, we barely even had any that weren't white guys with brown beards who hunted & fished (yeah, sadly, I was a major component of our division diversity for a while).  So what were the barriers that prevented people from even getting to our entry level (you can be a technician with an associate's degree from a community college)?

We're a long way from a solution, but I can share some positive things.  A few years ago, my statewide professional society started sponsoring bilingual outdoor family events which are geared towards our hispanic communities.  This is a small-but-huge step that our agency is part of.  I wish I could be more help with those, but alas, we don't seem to have many French-speaking groups in NC.

The big effort though, that I am very excited about, is a result of a grant we were recently awarded from a national program.  I am part of a small sub-group of employees who are working on concrete steps to broaden the diversity of our partnerships both internally & externally.  There is a solid workplan & momentum that I am thrilled to finally see.

This effort, called Partners For Inclusion, is a 3- pronged approach, recognizing that you need diversity within in order to successfully engage the diversity of constituents.  It includes critical elements like creating opportunities all the way down to elementary levels for kids to see people they can relate to & for people to see that natural resources belong & are relevant to everyone & there are so many different ways to enjoy them.  It's hard for people to fight for environmental justice if they don't feel included as stakeholders.  It's about being better communicators, which includes both reaching out AND listening.
Many need to be coaxed out of their shells...
I mention this for two reasons:  one, I wanted to share something positive in this cacophony of violence & soul-wrenching sadness.  Two, I want to challenge each of you, if you haven't already, to look around you & identify a niche where you can contribute to opening doors & creating opportunities where they may be lacking.  Where you can give a voice to someone unheard, or even better, create a safe space for that voice to flourish.  It's easy to shower out words of support on the internet -- I do hope that some of them will cause detractors to at least stop & think, but words will never be enough.

If you can support protestors in any way, that's great, do so.  But don't feel helpless if you can't, because there is a great deal of important work, some already in progress, much more that still needs to be done, that lies ahead of us.  That work, to ensure people have access to their basic civil rights & an equal opportunity at choosing their own path through life, will take commitment for a long time, from all of us to see it through.  Because make no mistake, if someone else's civil rights can be trampled on, that absolutely means yours can be too.

Every society is only as strong as its weakest members & helping someone else does not reduce you.  Taking care of each other strengthens us all.  Conversely, standing by & letting others fail merely dooms us all to an inevitable tumble into the same abyss.

It's up to us whether to choose to build a bridge instead.


  1. Where is the heart emoji? This is wonderful and well thought out. Can I share?

  2. I know what of the greatest things that can be done to inspire youth and let them know about certain opportunities available to them is directly going into school to share your profession and how it helps (honestly if its easy enough with an AA going into community colleges as well is a good place to start too). The sad part is that climate change though it affects all of us will disproportionately affect poor minorities. I don't know if your work has a program such as that but it might be something to bring up to start. It's something I'm bringing up to more people more and more because I wish I knew about more professions growing up and their possibilities.

    1. I agree -- since I didn't even know about my profession until I started working in it, that one is always on my mind. This is something we have done for a long time on an informal basis, when opportunities arise. What the new PFI grant will allow us to do is to formalize & expand efforts like this so it is an official "assignment" for our outreach folks, instead of just a piecemeal effort from biologists like me when we can squeeze it into overbooked calendars.

      Heartily agree on climate change & the same also applies to development/industrial permits which I review every week. Not all, but there are definitely some which purposely choose sites for things which lack people who have money & are loud & assertive enough to fight back. My agency does not have regulatory authority on this (we can only make recommendations which can be & often are totally ignored), so we can't directly block projects. But we can & do teach communities why resources are important & how to navigate the system to speak up. Again, the PFI effort will help us to be more organized in our approach to that, provide pre-prepared materials on a broader scale, things like that.

      I do want to THANK YOU so much for taking the time to make suggestions, it's really important & helpful. We, as the PFI group, are struggling a little on how to get more suggestions from diverse viewpoints -- we do have several latinx members & I am grateful that so many of the people I work with are progressive thinkers with compassionate & open minds with broad life experience. But we need black voices in our group & we're trying to figure out the right way to do that in the short term since we don't have many on staff right now, a non-offensive way to say, "hey, any black people out there who want to come help us out?" I hope that doesn't sound terrible & it's clear what I mean!

    2. Oh no worries and that is good to know that the grant will help 'bake in' opportunities for your work to do more outreach. It is tricky though on the getting diverse input front especially if the input you have from the team is lacking in diversity itself. It would lend itself well if the outreach team was composed of a woman, a latinx, and someone who is black to helps show like "you can see yourself in us" kind of appeal. But yeah I don't have the answers and any outreach is a start. Do you and your colleagues attend conferences at all? Have colleagues farther afield you can get in touch with that are black to bounce ideas off of?

    3. Exactly -- representation is critical. I was about to send you an email but I can't find your email address right now. We do have conferences & that's a good suggestion, although I'll let you guess how equally white those generally are too, ha (my laughter is sardonic bc I am old & jaded, obviously it's not actually funny - but I'm encouraged by the fact that the students showing up having gotten significantly more diverse in recent years). We have ONE black fisheries biologist that I know personally in our 3 SE states that work most close (NC/SC/GA), who I am definitely going to hit up for ideas once I get over my guilt of having to say, "hey, black friend..." Fortunately, he has a great sense of humour & I know him well enough that (I hope) he will know that I am NOT saying "since you can speak for all black people..." We're also reaching out to groups like OutdoorAfro (if they would just respond to our messages) & Feminist Bird Club & searching places like Meetup for other partners in the POC & LGBTQ+ communities. I am also welcome to any suggestions if you or anyone else who happens to read this (no matter what your DNA is) knows of active groups who target diverse audiences that we could contact to offer partnership & resources.