Published: June 2, 2020

What follows is a modified statement about the recent deaths of Black Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee, at the hands of white policemen and vigilantes, and the recent racist interaction between a Black birdwatcher and a white dog walker in Central Park NY. The statement was written by the American Ornithological Society (AOS) Diversity Committee (which I am a member of) and AOS president Kathy Martin. These recent racist events have highlighted long-existing systemic racism in the United States that have once again resulted in violence and continued discrimination for Black Americans specifically, and people of color in general. Myself and the members of the Taylor Lab echo the comments of the AOS and share in the pain and frustration over the recent horrific killings and other acts of violence against Black Americans. We stand in solidarity with all who are speaking out against racial injustice. To our colleagues and students in the Black community, we are here for you. We pledge to fight racism and reaffirm our efforts to build a more inclusive community. #BlackLivesMatter 

From the American Ornithological Society:

The recent deaths of Black Americans, including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and David McAtee, at the hands of white police and vigilantes, have highlighted trans-generational systemic racism in U.S. institutions and culture that have yet again resulted in violence and continued discrimination for Black Americans specifically, and people of color in general. In the same week, the racist interaction between a Black birdwatcher and a white dog walker in Central Park showed that implicit and explicit forms of racism are much more widespread than many of us recognize and, for some of us, are accepted as a normal part of our daily lives. Sadly, these incidents are only the most recent manifestations of centuries of violence and injustice against Black and African Americans and many other people of color in North America. Through such racist acts, from discriminatory police practices to acutely felt microaggressions in the workplace, systemic racism damages us as individuals, limits our access to nature and the outdoors, and impedes our progress as a society. The ongoing protests throughout the United States, no doubt aggravated by the Covid-19 epidemic, reflect a country past the tipping point of assuming we have effectively combated racism and white aggression on the Black community.

The American Ornithological Society (AOS) strongly condemns these recent racist acts and all acts of individual and institutional racism, harassment, and discrimination. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the families directly affected by these horrible acts of violence. We stand, peacefully, with the protesters around the country who bring much needed and renewed attention to the ongoing problems of unbridled police violence towards Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color and to the deficiencies in our leadership and law enforcement system that allow such acts to continue.

As a professional Society, we must embrace the path forward: through self-education about implicit bias; by adhering proactively to our policies on diversity and inclusion; by continually enforcing a culture of inclusion and awareness; and by being vigilant within and beyond our Society for acts of discrimination, bias, and aggression. As individuals and as a Society, we need to reflect on how easily our individual actions, perceptions, and words can damage the fragile balance that diversity and inclusion requires. We can meet this critical challenge that exists in all components of our Society. AOS wants to provide the resources and services that can help support our community: to members who have encountered systemic racism within and outside of their professional workplace; to members who want to be effective allies to their colleagues, and to members who want to understand how deep structural inequities pervade their lives.

We can take some small solace in recognizing that birds provide a powerful force for community, understanding, and diversity. The AOS strongly endorses the community-building activities ongoing this week on Twitter, such as #BlackBirdersWeek and #BlackAFinStem, and #BlackInNature, all of which celebrate the contributions of Black North Americans and people of color to the study of birds. These statements of solidarity and inclusion showcase the growing diversity in ornithology as a field. Much, much more work needs to be done, but such expressions of community should be celebrated and amplified by AOS members.

As a member of AOS, you likely have questions about what you can do in this time of crisis. “What can I do? Where can I find an accepting community and how can I feel safe in the community I have?” Below are a list of resources that can provide a sense of unity, clarity, and paths forward for all members of our AOS community. 

Here are some resources and actions we can all take today: