The tax-sponges at National Public Radio seem to be a bit schizophrenic. Simultaneously and repeatedly, they dwell on their leftist disgust for “colonialism” – something that usually acts as an avatar for what they, like Marx, errantly believe is “capitalism” – while they close their eyes to the fact that NPR is one of the most prominent examples of colonization in the modern world.
Indeed, almost exactly one year ago, I wrote for MRCTV about NPR’s intellectually lazy, downright foolish, admonition that Westerners should “decolonize” the contents of their bookshelves. Now, NPR extends its lack of self-awareness with the newest promo, the push to rename a bunch of birds to eschew their “colonial” heritage and make the hobby of birding more “inclusive.”
This is not a joke.
Tax-subsidized WKSU’s Jeff St. Clair wrote and narrated the tax-subsidized piece and audio entitled, “To Make Birding Inclusive, Some Birds Will Need New Names Without Colonial Roots,” and he opened it with Kenn Kaufman -- a guy sitting on an American Ornithological Society committee -- as he listed some birds, transcribed by NPR (thanks to your taxes):
KENN KAUFMAN: Wilson's warbler and Swainson's warbler and Kirtland's warbler. Then you've got Nuttall's woodpecker and Cassin's vireo, Cassin's auklet. And you go off into the sparrows, and there's Botteri's sparrow and Bachman's sparrow.
This, of course, delivered in that processed, computer-flattened, calmly elitist NPR style, which makes it even more delightful.
ST CLAIR: Kenn Kaufman is the author of several birding field guides. We met at one of his favorite birding spots near Lake Erie.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
ST CLAIR: Kaufman, like many birders, hadn't paid much attention to the people behind the bird names - that is, until he learned more about that last guy.
Before we get into “that last guy,” let’s reiterate the point that Kaufman, like many birders, hadn’t paid much attention to the people behind the bird names. That has a bearing on the associated claim that if American Ornithological Society changes the names of birds, this will attract more “minorities” to birding – however those “minorities” are defined by NPR.
KAUFMAN: Bachman was actually a Lutheran minister in South Carolina. Bachman also fancied himself to be a scientist, and part of what he wrote about was just the idea that suggesting that whites were just naturally superior to members of other races.
Ahh. So, these names of birds that find their origins in the people who named them can turn off people who… are unaware of the origins of the bird names, and therefore turn them off to birding altogether.
St. Clair later adds:
The American Ornithological Society, the group governing bird names, asked Kaufman to serve on a committee looking into how to change some or all of the names of the 149 North American birds named after people. Society President Mike Webster is committed to the idea.
MIKE WEBSTER: We want to and will change those bird names that need to be changed.
And then we get to the hypocrisy, once again, of an NPR-tied radio “newsman” decrying “colonialism.”
ST CLAIR: Tykee James is a birder in Washington, D.C., and an organizer of Black Birders Week.
TYKEE JAMES: As an activist in the birding community, I would say that I'm seeking to decolonize the birding experience.
For listeners who see their tax cash sucked up by the unconstitutional, federally-created Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), then handed to PBS and NPR, this is a rich dish to swallow, indeed. For those who are aware of the fact that NPR-affiliated stations occupy over 1,000 spaces on the radio spectrum, that’s even more infuriating.
Mr. St. Clair doesn’t appear to grasp that his position as a colonial occupier of our wallets, of radio waves, and of physical land might just be unacceptable – especially since he’s waving the virtue flag about purging bird names of their virtually unknown colonial or racist connections even as he occupies our lives without our permission.
He also seems oblivious to the fact that major aspects of “birding” are tied to ancient oppressors.
If birders employ the most common term referring to the dual-lens devices they use when magnifying their views of birds, they’re using a term connected to oppressors and slavers, because the word “binocular” derives its etymology from 18thCentury French and ancient Latin.
If birders use the term “camera,” that, too derives from a society that allowed slavery – ancient Greece. Originally, the term was “camera obscura,” based on the Greek term for “vault” or “chamber,” and the term for dark, because early cameras were “dark boxes” that allowed a flash of light in to expose a plate of film.
Heck, if folks who love birding think the names aren’t appropriate, for whatever reason, it’s not a problem to debate and consider changes. St. Clair notes that Tykee James believes that bird names should be based to their characteristics.
That’s fine to discuss. No problem.
But the idea that a tax-subsidized radio host can pose as “concerned” about colonialism even as he works in what is the largest government-subsidized media outfit in the West – that’s obnoxious.
And no amount of soft-spoken NPR rhetoric can hide that fact.