The Blackest Questions

Christian Cooper, the man who refuses to stop “Birding While Black”

Episode 42

An afternoon with the Central Park Karen in 2020 opened the world’s eyes to the dangers of “birding while Black.” Christian Cooper made it out of the situation safely but it forever changed his life and had an undeniable effect on the birding community as a whole. Cooper has now made it his life mission to introduce birding to minority communities and National Geographic is helping make that happen with his new show Extraordinary Birder.  Dr. Christian Greer, a birder herself, is elated to welcome Cooper to The Blackest Questions. The pair fawn over their shared love for nature but also discuss the drastic overhauls that have to be completed to make the birding community a more inclusive space.

Christian Cooper surveys the new grasslands at Freshkills Park. (National Geographic/Troy Christopher)


Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:05] This episode is pretty special for me. As you all know, I’m a birder and we’ve got the birder of all birders joining us today. You may remember him from his run in with the Central Park “Karen” back in 2020 when a white woman called the police on him while he was birdwatching in New York City Central Park.

Speaker 3 [00:00:21] Please call the cops.

[00:00:22] I’m going to tell them there’s an African-American man threatening my life.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:00:25] So it was a traumatic experience. It opened the world’s eyes to “birding while Black.” Christian Cooper is now on the other side of things and really used the situation to introduce birding to a whole new community. We know you’re going to love this conversation. So let’s get right to it. Hi and welcome to The Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Doctor Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest five of The Blackest Questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answered the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic Black fist and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still love them anyway. Our guest for this episode is writer, editor and birder Christian Cooper, who has a new show on Nat Geo entitled Extraordinary Birder. This Harvard alum has a background in science, once worked for Marvel Comics and also has a long history of LGBTQ Black activism and criminal justice reform. He also has a new book out as well entitled Better Living Through Birding. Hello, Christian, Thank you so much for joining us on The Blackest Questions.

Christian Cooper [00:01:47] Hi, Dr. Greer.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:01:50] Okay. I’m a total bird nerd, and I’m trying not to, you know, fangirl out, but here we go. Okay. Question number one. Are you ready?

Christian Cooper [00:01:58] Sure.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:00] This young ornithologist is considered a leading voice when it comes to closing the racial gap in the birding community. She was a community engagement manager for the Georgia Audubon, and many refer to her as the Hood Naturalist. Who is she?

Christian Cooper [00:02:15] Could it be Corina Newsome?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:02:18] You are correct. So, Corina Newsome, for our audience out there is a biologist, zookeeper and conservationist who grew up loving animals and says it wasn’t until she interned for a Black zookeeper as a teenager that she realized it was possible for her to make her passion a career. Corina’s nickname, Hood Naturalist, pays homage to her upbringing in Philadelphia, is meant to counter the assumption that people living in cities aren’t interested in nature. Corina helped organize the inaugural Black Birders Week, which is a virtual event that highlights Black Nature enthusiasts who face a unique set of challenges and dangers as they engage in outdoor activities. And she also works with people in underserved communities who’ve been excluded from conservation efforts. So, Christian, we know that you’ve worked closely with Corina especially during Black Birders Week, which I can’t wait to hear more about, which is created a direct response to the encounter you had while birding back in 2020, where, you know, many of our audience members may remember a white woman in Central Park called 911 made a false claim that you threatened her. So tell us, do you think that unfortunate event for you eventually impacted the larger birding community in a positive way?

Christian Cooper [00:03:26] Oh, for sure. For sure, because it made many more people inside and outside the birding community aware of the challenges that we Black folks face when we enter public spaces, particularly public spaces of the great outdoors and the natural world, which are often isolated and can be in parts of the country where we are not necessarily always made to feel welcome. So I think that opened a lot of people’s eyes to some of the challenges we face. And can I just add that Corina is fabulous and I know no one with more tremendous energy than she has.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:04:07] But well, you’re also, I would say, an urban birder, if you will, Right? You live in New York City. You’re from New York area, Long Island. Tell us tell our listeners ways that they can not just watch your show on Nat Geo Wild, but really think more about their external city environment and also seeing all the the small and large parts of nature that are around them all the time.

Christian Cooper [00:04:33] All right. So one of the main points of my show is to get people outdoors, all people. And I don’t care whether you’re Black, white, green, purple, but particularly our people, because we have been for so long, historically underrepresented in the birding community. I want to see us get out there. So that’s part of the point of the show. Now, you may think, what am I going to see in the city if you live in a city? Plenty of things to see in the city. I’ll give you an example. I go up to my roof and I live in Manhattan, so I’m in the sea of concrete. I go up to my roof and there are red tailed hawks. There are American kestrels. And on a very special occasion, I see peregrine falcons. This from my roof in the middle of the city. Because you’ve got to remember one of the things cities have are lots of pigeons and lots of rats That’s prey for all these raptors. So raptors love to swoop in and eat these things. So that’s one thing you can do is keep your eyes open for that. We often do not have access to green spaces the way we ought to. We should have more access to green spaces and our neighbor neighborhoods should have more trees. Too often they don’t. But what spaces we have, even the limited amount of green spaces we have, can often be full of birds. So check out what spaces you do have access to. A good example is the organization I serve with New York City  Audubon just started a program called Nature and Nature. Nature being the New York Housing New.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:14] Housing Authority, New York City Housing.

Christian Cooper [00:06:16] Authority. Thank you, New York City. I was living at the city, New York City Housing Authority. So these are, you know, the projects, but the built in the built environment for for people to live in, that people ignore that people neglect. And yet we’re running bird walks in those specific areas to get people out and looking at the birds because there are green spaces there. And where there are green spaces, there are birds.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:39] Okay, Christian, I want to switch gears and talk more about your new show and Nat Geo Wild, Extraordinary Birder. Let’s take a listen.

[00:06:47] Look up. Wow. Bright blue flying across the river. The inspiring world of birds is all around you. The fun of birding. See the owls right there. Is that you never know what you’re going to get.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:06:59] The show is going to show you a Black man who’s who is very significant to this community traveling around the world. Tell our audience more specifically about the show, where you go and what you hope to accomplish with Extraordinary Birder.

Christian Cooper [00:07:15] Sure. The show goes to a different location each episode and explores not only the special birds in that area, but how the birds and people interact and some of the problems and opportunities where birds and people meet. And then what I hope the show will do is get all kinds of people to go out and look for the birds in their area, inspire them to appreciate the birds, and in particular, hopefully because they’ll see an African-American face. I’m hoping a lot of African-American youth will look at the show because, you know, if you never see anybody who looks like you’re doing something, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing it. So hopefully they’ll look at the show and they’ll say, oh, hey, maybe I can do that, too, right? Because the birds are for all of us to enjoy. They belong to no one, but they are for all of us to appreciate and to enjoy. And I think it is so healing and something that can be really beneficial as a healing factor.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:08:13] Well, I mean, listen, you’ve you’ve inspired a lot of us because you reverse aging. You know, for those of you who want to go on the Google and the interwebs to look up the age of Christian Cooper and then you look at Christian Cooper and you realize we will all be running out with our binoculars, because if this is what birding does, it’s taking years of our lives and face, I love it. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick break and a reminder to our listeners to subscribe to this podcast. So you never miss an episode. You can find more at theGrio Black Podcast Network on theGrio app, website and YouTube. We’ll be right back. I’m talking with Christian Cooper about his new show, Nat Geo Wild Extraordinary Birder.

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Panama Jackson [00:09:49] You are now listening to theGrios Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:09:55] Okay, we’re back. I’m with Christian Cooper. I’m a bird nerd. We’re birding out. We’re nerding out. Christian, are you ready for question number two? You’re doing incredibly well, by the way.

Christian Cooper [00:10:03] Well, I’ve only had to answer one question.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:05] Yes, you’re one for one. You’ve got 100% as a professor, you know you’ve got an A-plus. Okay. Question number two, this wildlife biologist is also a poet professor and is the author of The Homeplace Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. And he also penned an op ed that went viral entitled Nine Rules for the Black Birdwatcher. That was later turned into a short film. Who is he?

Christian Cooper [00:10:30] This has got to be Professor Jay Drew Lanham of Clemson University.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:10:34] Oh, wow. Okay. Well, Dr. Lanham has also discussed what he calls birding while Black on several podcasts. So if you’re interested, he’s got a lot of work to dig into for our listeners out there. Last year, he was named one of the 12 most influential leaders in South Carolina with commitment and advocacy for Black people’s role in nature and conservation. And here are a couple of those nine rules for Black birders that I mentioned. One always carry three forms of identification, never wear a hoodie while birding and never go birdwatching at night. So, Christian, when it comes to race in the lack of diversity in the birding community, you’ve been quoted as saying the birds don’t care. So why should we? And I love that quote because the birds are just there minding their business. They’ve got their own little drama going on, love affairs here and there, migration, lots of things that we talk about in the cities. And I talk about Black biology. The birds are going through as well. But you know, not just based on your experience, but going back to Dr. Lanham, rules for Black birders, Do you think it is safe for people of color to venture out into their own and explore nature? And what would you tell Black birders? Do you agree fully with Dr. Lanham, or do you have a different set of your own rules?

Christian Cooper [00:11:41] Oh, no. I agree fully with Dr. Lanham. And I should mention you did not mention that Dr. Lanham is a MacArthur Fellowship winner, the Genius Award. GRANT.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:11:52] Yeah, that’s right. He won a.

Christian Cooper [00:11:53] Genius award, which was like, thrilling for all of us because it’s like validation of Black birding in the ultimate form. So he is our he is our senior senior member, our soul. He articulates the Blackbird soul and what he articulated about, you know, birding while Black. I agree with 100%. Just like doing anything else while Black. You’ve got to be cognizant of your own safety. We just have to, you know.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:12:24] Have you changed your burning habits since your incident in 2020 in Central Park?

Christian Cooper [00:12:29] I haven’t changed them since the incident 2020. But long before 2020, I was very conscious of the fact that if I’m out in Central Park, even, you know, skulking behind the bush with a Black metal object in my hand, those being my binoculars, I’m going to be perceived completely differently from a white person doing exactly the same thing. And it could potentially end up really badly for me. Even though a white person is doing exactly the same thing and would be perceived as a birder as opposed to what people would assume about me. So, you know, you have to be aware of these things, so you have to. That said, we have every right to public space and to outdoor spaces as anybody else. So assert that right when you can safely. One of the ways to make it safer. Go in a group. Go with a white friend who has your back, you know, so that there is someone to back you up if there’s a problem. Those are just some of the ways to try to make it safer. But by no means let anyone tell you that you are not supposed to be out in the great outdoors because we are. It is ours as much as anybody else.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:13:40] Absolutely. And before we get to question number three, our listeners might not know this. So in the last couple of years, there’s been a lot of talk to rename the Audubon Society and also nearly 150 birds who are named after people who are tied to slavery and white supremacy. What’s your take on the renaming of the Audubon Society and also these birds?

Christian Cooper [00:14:02] The renaming of the birds is a much simpler decision, in my opinion. They should all be renamed, and that’s because we don’t have to make any judgment calls. We can just say, you know what? No more birds named after particular individuals because there’s no reason for it. It doesn’t tell you anything about the bird. You know, you tell me to go look for a Cooper’s Hawk. You know, you’re looking for a hawk. That looks like me. I don’t think so. But you tell me to look for a red headed woodpecker. It helps me know what I’m looking for. So slowly. I think the ornithological community is coming to that conclusion that the names should all be changed. The things that are not named after specific individuals. And that way you don’t have to make those. Oh, that person was awful. Or Oh, that’s a good person. No, none of that. As far as the name Autobahn, that’s harder, though. I do agree that the name has to change. And we just announced recently at New York City Autobahn that we would be changing the name. The reason why that’s harder is because for the longest time, Autobahn was nothing but synonymous with birds and the protection of birds in their habitat. So for like I’ve been birding for since I was nine or ten years old, and during all that time until like the last five years or so, that’s all that Audubon meant was birds. But in the meantime. More and more people have become aware, including myself, that Audubon, besides being, you know, very important in in North American birding and also being an incredible bird artist. And I’ve seen those paintings, not the prints, but the original paintings, and they’re exquisite. But along with that comes the knowledge. Now that he owned slaves, he sold slaves to finance his work, and he desecrated indigenous graves with hardly an afterthought. So with that knowledge, because birding has had a deficit of Black and brown people for so long and we are trying to reverse that, we can’t lead with. Oh, and by the way, here’s this organization that was named after this guy who thought owning slaves was Jim Dandy was fine. No, we we can’t we can’t lead with that if we want to reverse this deficit we’ve had for so long of not enough Black and brown people birding way below the numbers that we should be. So that’s why I think the name has to change. And it’s got nothing to do with trying to erase Audubon. That you can erase Audubon. Look, the guy is way important in North American birding and his artistry is pivotal in historically important and gorgeous. But if we want everyone to be involved in birding and we have to have everyone involved in birding, because if we want a diversity of birds, we have to have a diversity of people who want to protect the birds. And we don’t have that right now. And we’ve got to get that as the demographics of cities and the entire nation change.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:10] Wow. I am so, so thankful for your work. But I’m also so thankful for the contact that you give us as we think about it. And also as you inspire more people to get out in nature and become part of the birding community, which is a large and growing flock. If you like my little like my little like. There we go. Okay. Question number three, you’re two for two.

Christian Cooper [00:17:32] Here we go.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:32] They do get a little harder, but here we go. Okay. This writer released a short story called Smoke Lilies and Jade during the Harlem Renaissance. And it’s believed to be the first openly gay story published by a Black writer. Who is this author?

Christian Cooper [00:17:49] I’m going to take a wild stab and say Langston Hughes.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:17:55] No, it’s Richard Bruce Nugent. So, Richard, Bruce Nugent was not only a writer, but also an artist, actor and dancer who performed on Broadway. He was a leading Black figure during the Harlem Renaissance and was close friends with Langston Hughes. His story, Smoke, Lily and Jade was submitted to a magazine on toilet paper and told the story of a young artist discovering homosexual love for the first time. So we both live in New York City. We know that New York City has a very strong foundation of the queer experience, is very strong roots in the city, Manhattan in particular. You’ve done some historic work yourself. You’re one of the first openly gay writers to be hired by Marvel Comics. You introduced the first gay male character in Star Trek comic book series by Marvel, and you also introduced the first lesbian character for Marvel. So tell us some of the highs and lows of creating such trailblazing characters. Did you have to really fight to get their stories to the forefront, or did you come in at a time where it was, you know, you felt like the industry was actually ready to hear your point of view and see these characters come to life?

Christian Cooper [00:19:02] Oh, no, the industry was new. I mean, you can.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:07] Start. Wasn’t it just a seamless transition, Christian, who tell us how easy it is?

Christian Cooper [00:19:12] Well, see, I knew there would be barriers because I had been a part, a very small part, but a part of the introduction of Marvel’s first openly gay superhero. The superhero had always been there, and they’d always dropped hints that he was gay. But this was the issue of a comic book series that made it explicit in which this character came out. And so I was the assistant editor on the comic book at the time or something that the writer had decided to do. And my boss, the editor of the comic book, both agreed, Yeah, we should do that. And so there it was. And there we did it. And I had a ringside seat and boy, were they not happy when it happened. They being the higher high muckety mucks, sort of, you know, the bean counter, a pencil pusher types. They were. Oh, they were distraught.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:19:59] Before we go to commercial break, I’ve got to ask your opinion. So we’ve had an entire episode dedicated to comic book characters because we had a huge reaction and some serious feedback about a particular trivia question. When I had when I had some guests on. So I want to know your take. Here’s the question, and it’s not going to count towards your five questions, but which character would you consider to be the first African-American to appear in mainstream comics? There’s a lot of debate about this one.

Christian Cooper [00:20:27] The first African-American to appear in mainstream comics? Mm hmm. Whew. See, now, you got me. Because my knowledge of the chronology is not so great. I mean, there’s Iron Fist, there’s Black Panther. There’s. And see, I know Marvel. I don’t know DC as well as I know Marvel. So I’m going to go with Black Panther. But I don’t know if that’s correct, though.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:20:51] Our research landed on the Falcon, but we got some major pushback from Jason Johnson, who’s a friend of the podcast, who believed the answer was Black Panther. There was also talk of Lion Man, Lobo, Mal Duncan Abar, and we had an hour long conversation about this, so I just needed to make sure I got your take. As someone who’s created content for Marvel Comics, and maybe one day we’ll have a whole nother episode of just people arguing over the chronology of DC versus Marvel and Black comic book characters.

Christian Cooper [00:21:19] There you go. That’s definitely a podcast in and of itself.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:22] In and of itself. We’re going to take a quick commercial break. I’m with my favorite birder, Christian Cooper. We’ll be right back. And you’re listening to The Blackest Questions.

Panama Jackson [00:21:31] You are now listening to theGio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:37] We are back from a quick commercial break. I’m with my favorite birder ever, Christian Cooper. Christian, are you ready for question number four?

Christian Cooper [00:21:45] If I must.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:21:47] We’re doing well. So question number four, this legendary Harvard Law professor was the first Black professor to be tenured at the institution and is also the pioneer of critical race theory. Who is he?

Christian Cooper [00:22:00] Who? Oh, I should know this and I don’t. So I’m going to instead say Scott Edwards, the head of the order, the Black man who is head of the ornithology department at Harvard. Who wrote his bicycle cross-country and back.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:22:17] Okay. Well, it’s not Scott Edwards, but I did interview him for Living Bird Magazine. And we had a fantastic conversation about race in birding. But the answer is Derek Bell. So Derek Bell’s resume is quite impressive. He worked at the NAACP with Thurgood Marshall, overseeing more than 300 desegregation cases. He served as deputy director of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office for Civil Rights. He’s taught law at Stanford, USC, the University of Oregon. And he’s notorious for bucking up to universities who refused to hire minority professors he felt were more than qualified. And as we mentioned, Bell developed the academic theory known as CRT, which states that racism is ingrained in the Americas, in America’s legal, financial and educational systems, and that racial progress only comes when it aligns with white interests. And so the late Derrick Bell was a scholar among scholars, and I know you spent some time in Cambridge. So what do you remember about your time, not just on Harvard’s campus, but the unique birding diversity that exists even within Boston?

Christian Cooper [00:23:20] Well, my birding time when I was at Harvard was spent primarily in Mount Auburn Cemetery, which is and that always surprises people there, like cemetery. Why would you go to a cemetery to bird? Cemeteries are actually frequently really grave birding places. For example, here in New York City, Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the best birding spots in town. And the reason is because there are all these great plantings, you know, to make a beautiful pastoral landscape for the resting place of all these people. But it also ends up making a great resting place for birds. So Mount Auburn Cemetery is famous for its landscaping and for the birds that take advantage of it to rest and refuel, particularly during spring migration. So that’s where I would go during when I was in Cambridge. As far as the whole Cambridge experience, the whole Harvard experience. It was interesting.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:17] Did you work with Professor Edwards at all?

Christian Cooper [00:24:19] No, no, he was after my time.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:22] Okay.

Christian Cooper [00:24:22] I’m old.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:23] Well, listen, you look 27, so you know, who knows?

Christian Cooper [00:24:27] Yeah. But when I heard that he was there, I was just thrilled to pieces. I was like, I got to meet this guy. So when he came to New York, I was like, I was like this fan girl.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:24:40] Basically, you’re the Chrissy and he’s the Christian. Is that really what happened?

Christian Cooper [00:24:44] Something like that. But my experience at Harvard was great, particularly because I had a really tight group of friends. The one downside of it was, well, maybe not the one downside, but one thing I was very aware of is the whole time I was there, I kind of felt like, okay, but this isn’t really your school. It belongs to the Saltonstall in the Cabot’s. And, you know, those storied white people who are in all the pictures of the old football teams and all that. And I don’t know if that was, you know, me layering that on to it or if it was a legitimate  onus of the place. What I did discover when I went back for my 35th reunion is that they had changed the school song to make it more inclusive and no longer talk. Talked about the Pilgrim’s pride and and thy sons the talk to you know it was no longer gender or race specific. And that made a huge difference to me. I didn’t think something like that would. I thought, who cares? It’s just some old song. But to now be able to sing the song, the school song fully felt embraced by the school in a way I hadn’t before. And that went a long way to sort of dispelling, I think, some of that that onus I felt before of of sort of the heaviness of the establishment.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:26:12] Now, I’ve got a question for you, because I you know, I was down the road at Tufts. I might be a touch younger than you because I haven’t had my 35th reunion just yet. But, you know, I spent a lot of time in Boston. My sister was at Harvard when I was at Tufts. And, you know, I hear from a lot of people that Boston’s the most racist city. You know, a lot of a lot of Black kids have gone through all the different universities and colleges in that area. I tend to disagree with that. I don’t think that Boston is the most recent city. And and I know I’m in the minority in that debate. Where do you fall on the continuum of Boston is the most racist city in the United States since you talk a lot about race and sort of movement and migration of people and birds and Black folks. Where do you fall in that continuum?

Christian Cooper [00:26:50] Yeah, I don’t think Boston is the most racist city in the United States. Not because Boston doesn’t have its racism.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:00] Absolutely.

Christian Cooper [00:27:00] Because there’s lots of other cities that are just as bad or worse.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:05] Exactly. I’m just like, let’s not give them much credit, guys. I feel like, listen, New York is up there for me. Like New York is ahead of Boston. And usually when I say that at a dinner party, you know, I could see people getting ready to throw their red wine at me. But I just I don’t feel the same animus in Boston that I do in New York. I mean, because it’s all I’m older, I’m not exactly sure.

Christian Cooper [00:27:26] I think part of it is maybe it has a reputation for a stark division of neighborhoods, like the idea that if you’re a Black person and you’re going to South Boston, you won’t come back out alive.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:27:39] And so and I might say that about Brighton Beach or lots of parts of Brooklyn or Staten Island or Queens or parts of Manhattan, and even pockets of the Bronx.

Christian Cooper [00:27:49] But I think in another big part of that is because they had a real nasty fight over bussing in Boston back in I think it was the seventies. And I think that lingering perception of that racism involved in that is still tarnishing Boston’s image. But, yeah, no, I definitely don’t think Boston is the most racist in the United States.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:11] Okay. Well, listen, we’re going to boogie on a question number five. We’re doing pretty well here because.

Christian Cooper [00:28:16] I’m I’m at 50%. But this is going to if they get it harder and harder, this is going to really blow my my average. But go ahead.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:23] But when we think about, you know, birds migrating, what the percent that make it, you know, wherever they need to go, I mean, we’re tracking. Right? Okay. Question number five for my favorite birder Christian Cooper. This 13 story building in New York City is located on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and was considered the Waldorf of Harlem. It served as an organization hub for the March on Washington and was frequented by Malcolm X. What is the name of this building?

Christian Cooper [00:28:53] Is it the Audubon Ballroom?

Dr. Christina Greer [00:28:55] Ooh, that’s a fantastic guess. But it’s the Hotel Theresa. So the hotel only allowed white guests until 1940, when it was bought by a Black businessman who ended the racial segregation. Policy is one of the first places featured in the Negro Traveler’s Green Book, which many people might remember from the movie, which in the beginning focused on just New York establishments that were safe places for Black travelers. And as I mentioned, the hotel became a gathering place for civil rights activists who use the space to organize. In 1970, it was renovated and turned into office space, and in 1993, it was designated a New York City landmark. And so we’ve talked a lot about race and segregation and the birding community. What do you see as a clear path to diversifying the birding community? What needs to be done besides reading your book, watching your new show, and encouraging people to get out and bird. But, you know, for someone who’s listening to this podcast who may not have ever birded right, they only know about you and Birding and Central Park, right? And so there might be some reticence and I know that you’re like, listen, that should not be the barrier to birding, but how do we how do we really diversify the Audubon societies, all these different organizations in so many cities across the country that are doing amazing work, which is don’t have any people who look like us, right? Black Birding Week events that don’t have any Black folks in them. How can we sort of get those first steps going?

Christian Cooper [00:30:24] If I had the easy answer to that, I would be a wealthy, wealthy man and our problems would already be solved. I don’t know that there was a clear path. What we can do is we can keep working at it and chipping away at it, learn from our mistakes and capitalize on our successes. For example, one thing we’re doing here with New York City Audubon. New name to come.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:30:51] TBD.

Christian Cooper [00:30:52] Exactly. So, for example, New York City Audubon has a new program. Nature and nature. Nature being the New York City Housing Authority. And the idea is to bring birding to people living in those housing projects and so that they have their green space. Why not get people looking for birds in those green spaces? So that’s one way to start reaching out to communities that have been underserved by birding and the birding organizations. But you got to keep playing with those things. For example, don’t have your bird walks on a Sunday morning because a lot of Black folk are in church on Sunday morning. So don’t do on Saturday morning that kind of thing.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:27] Absolutely. And I love, you know, just making sure that especially nature residents or residents of housing projects in any city, you know, they deserve green spaces. They deserve to sort of be fully incorporated into the natural environment that they’re a part of. So thank you so much for all the work that you do. And I know that you do some mentoring with young people in the Bronx and making sure little kids get, you know, into birding at such a young age, just like you did. You know, I’m a pandemic birder. I know that that’s a new thing.

Christian Cooper [00:31:55] That’s a thing.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:31:57] You know, all of us who got into it throughout the pandemic. And we’ve been welcomed and embraced by the birding community. And I just so appreciate you and all the work that you’ve done. So before we get to the Black Lightning Round, which is my favorite, I want to remind our listeners about your new show on Nat Geo Wild called Extraordinary Birder. Let’s take another listen.

Speaker 5 [00:32:13] Have you ever seen this many ravens at once? No. It’s nutty. I mean, this is the kind of thing you expect to see with, you know, starlings. Yeah. Ravens. A bird that size. I know. That’s what’s so weird about it.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:24] And your new book, Better Living Through Birding. I’m so excited for both of those projects. You’ve just. You’ve really opened up my world in such a wonderful, rich way. I just. I can’t thank you enough.

Christian Cooper [00:32:36] Oh, my pleasure. I’m glad that’s the idea.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:39] Okay, so here’s my favorite. This is the Black Lightning Round. I just want you to give me the first answer that pops into your head there. No right or wrong answers. Here we are. Okay.

Christian Cooper [00:32:48] All right.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:49] What’s the last song you really jammed out to?

Christian Cooper [00:32:53] Michael Jackson, you Wanna Be Starting Something.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:32:56] Okay. Favorite comic book character of all time?

Christian Cooper [00:32:59] Storm of the X-Men.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:01] What’s the one bird you’re dying to see but haven’t just yet?

Christian Cooper [00:33:05] Great. Great owl.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:07] What’s the best spot in the United States to Bird?

Christian Cooper [00:33:10] Central Park.

Dr. Christina Greer [00:33:12] Oh, my God. Central Park. Person you’d like to go birding with?

Christian Cooper [00:33:19] President Obama.

[00:33:20] Okay. President Obama, if you’re listening. Pigeons. Are they sky rats or misunderstood beauties?

Christian Cooper [00:33:27] They are misunderstood beauties. And this is coming from someone who used to think of them as sky rats. So there is an education curve there.

Christian Cooper [00:33:33] Okay. Would you ever keep a bird as a pet?

Christian Cooper [00:33:36] No, never. That’s. You might as well, you know, a blind Picasso. You know, to take a bird that is all about flying and put it in a cage. Wrong.

Christian Cooper [00:33:46] Okay. What’s your favorite episode or location on your new show?

Christian Cooper [00:33:52] Alabama.

Christian Cooper [00:33:53] Oh, can’t wait. I’m a member of the Alabama Audubon Society, just randomly. I really like what they do. And who do you hope reads your new book?

Christian Cooper [00:34:02] Everybody. Absolutely everybody. But in particular, if it gets into more African-American hands and gets us out birding, then mission accomplished.

Christian Cooper [00:34:13] Christian Cooper, you are a gem among gems. I want to thank you so much for joining us on The Blackest Questions. I want to thank our listeners for joining us on The Blackest Questions. This show is produced by Sasha Armstrong and Geoffrey Trudeau, and Regina Griffin is our director of podcasts. If you like what you heard, subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode. You can find more from theGrio Black Podcast Network on theGrio app, the website and YouTube. Thanks so much.