The Black Lives Matter movement and Critical Race Theory are powerful, seductive, and glamorous. They generate abundant capital, financial and social. As Americans secularize, walking away from organized religion, race ideology provides a ritualized seal of spiritual superiority. This new religion promises a cleansing purge. America will be razed to the ground, literally or culturally. Cities will burn; statues will topple. Language itself will swallow old, bad words and speak only the righteous lexicon. This shining new vocabulary will not be selected by the messy process of raucous human tongues trying out what works best to speak the heart, the mind, the groin, with other busy, sloppy, greedy, horny, hearing-impaired humans, over the course of eons. No. New, holy syllables will be hand-forged by our betters, people who know what is good for us. A glorious tomorrow will emerge. A superior elite will educate, and, failing that, dominate the polluted masses.
Corporations and individuals have struggled to jump on the bandwagon and to share race ideology’s reflected glow. Coca-Cola told employees to “be less white.” America, the Jesuit magazine, urged Catholics to be “Woke.” Indoctrination in Critical Race Theory is required in schools, despite objections from parents, students, and teachers.
Race ideology is especially dominant in academia, sports, and entertainment. This is ironic because all three are elitist. These elites announce themselves as the representative of poor blacks. They do so while demonizing black conservatives who disagree with CRT and BLM.
Elite birders, aka birdwatchers, have harkened to the siren song of race ideology. These birders insist that birdwatching is a colonialist, white supremacist exercise. Many of these birdwatchers are themselves members of an elite, far removed from the day-to-day concerns of African Americans and poor people of any color. For Coca-Cola executives, Jesuits, movie stars, billionaire athletes, and for elite birders, participation in race ideology is not about lifting up African Americans. It’s about burnishing their own public image, thus creating a new hierarchy, one in which those who profess an empty fealty to race ideology occupy the pinnacle. From those Olympian heights, they spit on the disgusting masses below.
On June 7, 2021, National Public Radio broadcast a segment alleging that birdwatching is white supremacist. This brief, three-minute broadcast has had at least three different titles. When objective facts are demonized, the past is erased, speech is muzzled, and language is weaponized, one must be sure to get the words exactly right. The first title: “Monuments And Teams Have Changed Names As America Reckons With Racism. Birds Are Next.” “Birds are next”? Sounds ominous. After the birds, who? Us? My first name means “Gift from God.” Does reference to the pre-Woke deity mark me? My last name means “little goose.” Is this cultural appropriation? NPR’s second title: “Birdwatching and Black People. Decolonize the Experience.” This sounds like birdwatchers have switched from watching birds to watching black people, a very colonizing thing to do. NPR’s third title: “To Make Birding Inclusive, Some Birds Will Need New Names Without Colonial Roots.” “Birds will need new names.” This one sounds like the birds themselves are petitioning for rechristening.
In this thrice-named broadcast, NPR reporter Jeff St. Clair informs listeners that, “America is trying to come to terms with its complicated racial past by changing the names of institutions, ranging from military bases to baseball teams.” The Woke can change “complicated pasts” by rewriting history. I think I’ll apply this Einstein-defying, time-travel technique to all the bad relationship choices I’ve made. Let me rename entire years to erase men I now recognize as jerks.
One hundred birds. Elite birders are renaming one hundred birds. McCown’s longspur is a small, brown, uncommon bird that lives in the western United States. It is named after John P. McCown, the man who first collected a specimen for scientific study. McCown was also a Confederate general, and, thus, his natural history work must be expunged. McCown also served in the 1858 Utah War against Mormons. No one has a problem with McCown fighting Mormons. In the Woke ethical economy, Mormons are expendable.
In fact, McCown was “indifferent to Confederate success.” He wanted to retire from the military and “go home and plant potatoes.” The Confederacy relieved McCown of one command, called him back, and then court-martialed him. In turn, McCown denounced the Confederacy as “a damned stinking cotton oligarchy … gotten up for the benefit of Isham G. Harris and Jefferson Davis and their damned corrupt cliques.” Isham G. Harris was the Tennessee governor who dragged Tennessee into the Confederacy, against the wishes of the majority of the population, who voted to remain in the Union. McCown denounced the Confederacy a century and a half before his Woke accusers. That McCown figured out too late that the Confederacy was a bad cause is unforgiveable, and it can be unforgiveable because the bird he gave his name to is small and uncommon and lives far away from population centers. Purges are always easier when you pick on someone not your own size. Then you work your way up.
Wikipedia, as of this writing (6/9/21) has erased the name “McCown’s longspur” and now calls the bird “thick-billed longspur.” We celebrate Wikipedia as compassionate, anti-racist, and inclusive. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world class research, education, and conservation institution, still uses “McCown’s.” We must throw rocks through Cornell’s windows and never write donation checks to those KKK members again. Back in 1961, Jim Zwerg, a white man and a Christian, participated in the Freedom Rides. He had to be beaten within an inch of his life to become a civil rights hero. Now all you have to do is rub an eraser over natural history.
This will keep the censors up at night: at this very moment, there are millions of field guides, including several on my bookshelves, in my backpacks, and in my glove compartment, using the taboo “McCown’s longspur.” Every iteration of those words must be airbrushed into the memory hole. There’s a famous black-and-white photograph from 1937. It depicts Joseph Stalin, Vyacheslav Molotov, and secret policeman Nikolai Yezhov walking along the Moscow-Volga Canal. At least that’s what the photograph depicted in 1937. After Yezhov fell out of favor, he was airbrushed from the image. You still see Stalin. You still Molotov. Where Yezhov stood, spookily, you see only water. The disfavored secret policeman left not even a chalk outline. Elite birders will deposit McCown’s longspur in the same receptacle occupied by Nikolai Yezhov. Yezhov and McCown’s longspur will find it a bit crowded. The war with Eastasia is in that same memory hole. George Orwell described that war in his book 1984. We have never been at war with Eastasia; we have always been at war with Eastasia. We say what our betters tell us to say.
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed … the Party is always right.” Orwell was a prophet, but he missed this one. Not just records, not just books, not just pictures. Now, birds.
In the NPR broadcast, celebrity birdwatcher Kenn Kaufman mentions the Bachman’s sparrow, a small bird with a limited habitat in the pine forests of the American southeast. Because of habitat loss, the Bachman’s sparrow is threatened with extinction. The bird’s extinction is not important. Here’s what’s important: the Bachman’s sparrow is named after John Bachman. “Bachman was actually a Lutheran minister,” says Kaufman. “He fancied himself to be a scientist,” says Kaufman. “Actually” a minister. “Fancied himself to be a scientist.” One of those delusional white male Christians! Bad, bad, bad. Kaufman alleges that Bachman “suggested that whites were just naturally superior to members of other races.” The name “Bachman’s sparrow” Kaufman says, has a “sinister tone.”
Either Kaufman has been selectively edited by NPR, or Kaufman is lying. Taxpayer-funded NPR is certainly circulating falsehoods. Bachman didn’t “fancy himself to be a scientist.” John Bachman (1790-1874), “was the leading authority on North American mammals. He was responsible for the descriptions of the 147 mammal species included in Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America, a massive work produced in collaboration with John James Audubon. Bachman relied entirely on scientific evidence in his work and was exceptional among his fellow naturalists for studying the whole of natural history.” Bachman’s collaboration with Audubon, the most famous birder in history, lasted two decades.
There’s a fascinating twist to Bachman’s career as both a Christian pastor and an influential naturalist. Many prominent Enlightenment thinkers, including the actively Christophobic Voltaire and the “irreligious” David Hume, advanced the theory that different races of human descended from different ancestors. This “polygenesis” or “multiple origins” theory means that blacks and whites are not related. Whites, these Enlightenment thinkers insisted, were so obviously superior to black Africans that whites and blacks must have different origins.
Polygenesis contradicts the Bible. In Genesis, a loving God creates the ancestors of all humanity in Adam and Eve, whom God fashioned “in his own image.” “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” This “monogenesis” explanation of human origins – unique among various religions’ creation stories – renders all people, of all skin colors, brothers and sisters, and alike in having been made in the image and likeness of God. The Bible tells believers to take humanity’s oneness on faith. If someone is smarter or richer or more powerful, we are to look beyond those details and see the transcendent imago dei, the image of God, in that other person. Science said that such faith is foolish. Look at the evidence. Look at how much better off whites are than blacks! Clearly we are talking about different species!
Voltaire described his own contempt for Africans. “Man was created in the image of God,” Voltaire wrote, alluding to and mocking Genesis. “Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land.”
Bachman, as a Christian, believed in monogenesis – one common origin for all human beings. Bachman, as a scientist, used hard facts to prove monogenesis true. “Bachman’s opposition to the polygenic theory arose from his own scientific work and observations … he critically reviewed the craniological work of Samuel Morton, the polygenism of [Louis] Agassiz, and the popularizations of [Josiah] Nott and [George] Gliddon … John Bachman should be remembered as the most formidable adversary of polygenism. In the course of his defense of a single human origin, Bachman approached Darwin’s views on the adaptation of species to changes in their environment.” Bachman focused on measurements of human cranial capacity and protested “the utter futility of any attempt to divide the races of men into different species from the size of the brain.” Thus Bachman’s work anticipated future contributions not just of Darwin, but also that of Franz Boas, the “father of modern anthropology.”
Bachman was also an educator. “He served on the Charleston Board of Education as well as the Board of Visitors at West Point. For 14 years he was a trustee of the College of Charleston and later professor of natural history … In 1831 he started the Lutheran Seminary in Columbia … in 1856 founded Newberry College.” He was a full-time pastor of the same church for fifty-six years.
“African Americans held [Bachman] in high regard for dispelling the myth of racial differentiation and setting up schools to educate their children. In 1816 – one year after arriving in Charleston – he received permission to have African Americans as members of his congregation. It is estimated they represented 40 percent of the membership over his 56-year term with some 2,000 baptisms. Several black church members became Lutheran ministers.”
“Bachman trained and ordained the first three African-American Lutheran ministers, one of whom would become president of Wilberforce University.”
The South Carolina General Assembly noted that John Bachman educated African Americans when it was actually illegal to do so. “Contrary to civil statutes and community standards of the time, Dr. Bachman educated Charleston slaves and freemen of African descent … Dr. Bachman encouraged African-American members of St. John’s Lutheran Church to enter the ministry, nurturing nationally known clergymen such as Jehu Jones, the first African-American Lutheran minister ordained in North America, Boston Jenkins Drayton, missionary to Liberia and eventual Chief Justice of the Liberian Supreme Court, and Daniel Alexander Payne, the sixth bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church … in 1864, he published Characteristics of Genera and Species, as Applicable to the Doctrine of Unity in the Human Race, in which he argued, from a scientific perspective, that all humans, including slave and master, were the same species, a radical, controversial, visionary, and correct pronouncement that took great courage on his part, particularly amid the turmoil of the Civil War.”
Wait, there’s more. Bachman’s second wife, Maria Martin, was herself a talented naturalist. A scientific illustrator, she is believed to have provided backgrounds for “at least thirty” of the images in Audubon’s Birds of America. She also worked on John Edwards Holbrook’s North American Herpetology, a study of reptiles and amphibians. The Charleston Museum credited Martin with a “combination of scientific accuracy and artistic judgment.” Audubon said, “Maria Martin with her superior talents assists us greatly in the way of drawing; the insects she has drawn are, perhaps, the best I’ve seen.” Martin also edited the text of Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America. Of her work, John Bachman wrote to Audubon that she “lops off, corrects, criticizes, abuses and praises by turn” and “she does wonders.” Audubon named a woodpecker, Picus martinae, after Maria Martin.
Maria’s mother, Rebecca Martin, pioneered prenuptial agreements as a way for wives to protect their assets from rapacious husbands. When she married Bachman, Maria Martin drafted her own prenuptial contract. Kenn Kaufman et al will erase a proto-feminist along with her naturalist husband.
There is another bird named for Bachman, the Bachman’s warbler. Here’s some good news for NPR and Kenn Kaufman. The Bachman’s warbler is probably extinct. While the Woke devote their time to maligning a giant of natural history, birds are disappearing. No need to rename them!
Kenn Kaufman is a high school dropout. Kaufman, who would take down a man who mentored blacks of high achievement, chooses to live in 98% white Oak Harbor, Ohio. One could stop there. If we did, we’d be doing to Kenn Kaufman what Kenn Kaufman, NPR, and birding’s Woke elite are doing to John Bachman. In fact, Kenn Kaufman is a highly accomplished hero of birding. He’s published many well-received books and he runs a conservation center. “High school dropout” doesn’t tell the entire Kenn Kaufman story, any more than “actually” a minister; “fancied himself to be a scientist” tells the whole Bachman story. Without ancestors like John Bachman, Kaufman could not have had the career he has had.
I’m a lifelong fan of the Museum of Natural History. Henry Fairfield Osborn was president of that museum for twenty-five years. In “Lo! The Poor Nordic!”, published by the New York Times on April 8, 1924, Osborn argued that there are no intelligent Poles, rather, any Pole with any accomplishment is descended from a member of a superior race who had traveled to Poland. Osborn was addressing his comments to Congress. The month after Osborn did so, that is, May, 1924, Congress passed a Quota Act impeding immigration by Poles and others on the basis of our racial inferiority. Osborn’s racism against my own people in no way diminishes my appreciation of the museum he fashioned or his own contributions to paleontology.
I once worked at the Bronx Zoo, an institution I cherish. It was cofounded by Madison Grant, who wrote a book that Hitler would later call his “Bible.” Justifying his racism with ideas like those found in Grant’s bestseller, Hitler killed more people per capita in my father’s country, Poland, than in any other. The SAT was developed by Carl Brigham, who used it to demonstrate that Poles are the stupidest people in North America, unfit for immigration. Planned Parenthood, Jack London, Kenneth L. Roberts, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center: just some of the many noted individuals and institutions rooted in the very eugenics that caused so much suffering to people like my immigrant parents. I do not ask that these racists from the past be banned, canceled, or tossed down the memory hole. Big Brother’s iconoclasm would do nothing to alleviate past human suffering.
More importantly, though, no one is asking that the Museum of Natural History take down its life-sized replica of a blue whale, or rebury the bones of its equally famous T-Rex. Racism against Poles is okay. Shooting Mormons in the Utah War was okay. All racism is equal but some racism is more equal than others. There is no leftist outrage without selective outrage.
Jordan E. Rutter, who includes “she/her” after her name so that we will know what pronoun to apply when speaking of her – always the policing of speech – appears in photos to be a pretty, plump-cheeked, white-blonde girl. She’s a graduate of Oberlin, where tuition is about $60,000 annually. Rutter is one of birding’s elite working to change bird names. Names must be “Equity-Diversity-Inclusion based … The voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color … should be listened to and supported as frequently as possible.” Rutter is circulating a meme that declares “The birding community faces a difficult debate about the names of species connected to enslavers, supremacists, and grave robbers.” American Ornithological Society president Mike Webster says, “We want to, and will, change those bird names.” Changing bird names, elite birders argue, will make it possible for black people to birdwatch. Black people can’t birdwatch now because birdwatching is a white supremacist activity.
I live in Paterson, New Jersey, a majority minority city. I have been low-income my entire life. I birdwatch, and have done so for fifty years. To birdwatch, I need two things: binoculars and a field guide. Binoculars similar to those I began with can be had for thirty bucks. Used field guides are available for pennies.
At Garret Mountain, blacks, whites, Hispanics and Muslims mingle without incident. My city is dirty, poor, and polluted. Nevertheless, here I see bald eagles, Cooper’s hawks, nighthawks, ravens, mergansers, bufflehead, pileated woodpeckers, great horned owls, black-crowned night herons, and more. Some argue that blacks are “not safe” in “white spaces” and anywhere beyond pavement is apparently a “white space.” I have been going, alone, into natural areas, for fifty years. I have been grabbed (by white guys), hit in the head with a rock (black guys) and threatened with gang rape (brown guys). I’ve encountered bears, rattlesnakes, floods, feral dogs, coyotes, quicksand, poison ivy, blinding giant hogweed, and landslides. When I taught in Africa and Asia there were army ants, black mambas, armed militias, rhinos, tigers, and hyenas. I’ve had malaria and I’m terrified of Lyme disease. And there are police. “We got a report of someone with binoculars skulking in the bushes. Could you please stop? It’s making people nervous.”
We all know that black people face dangers that white people don’t face. Stating that is not the problem. The problem is stating that and stopping there. Women, old people, and the handicapped – and I’m all three – also face dangers. Anyone who ever steps over the border between civilization and its opposite – and that line can be in the woods or on a subway platform at two a.m. – takes risks. If I were a power in the birding world, and I’m not, I’d focus on educating all birders about safety. Like all women, birders or no, I strategize where I go, when, and what defensive weapons I carry. The elite could help black birders, and all birders, by educating the public on safety tips. But that’s not what elite birders are doing. Elite birders are obsessed with punishing whites, not with empowering blacks. Their obsession is narcissistic, white-focused, Woke virtue signaling.
On May 25, 2020, Chris Cooper, a birdwatcher, followed and filmed Amy Cooper (no relation) in Central Park because her dog was off leash in an area where dogs are supposed to be on leash. She threatened to call the police and report that a black man was trying to kill her. This incident is used to prove that birdwatching is unsafe for black people. Video of the incident received forty million views. Amy was fired from her job. New York law was changed. Celebrities, including Trevor Noah, discussed the incident. Those deleting white men’s names from bird names point to this incident. At least one birder said that the McCown’s longspur should be renamed the “Chris Cooper’s longspur.”
Celebrity birder Jason Ward commented on NPR. “Being black and being in nature” is “scary,” Ward said. “Unfortunately, something that we love to do, something that we’re so passionate about, is also something that is inherently dangerous for us. It’s always been a precarious situation to be black in America, period.”
In February, 2021, Aisha White alleged, in a graphic, heart-breaking, and gut-wrenching blog post, that Jason Ward raped her while the two were birdwatching. A Google search of the names “Aisha White” and “Jason Ward” turns up just over a thousand pages – much less than the forty million views the Amy Cooper incident received. Other Google searches show numerous appearances of Jason Ward on NPR, but turned up no NPR coverage of the rape allegation. White began a GoFundMe to pay her legal expenses. She was unable to reach her modest goal of $40,000.
There is no leftist outrage without selective outrage. What explains the love showered on Chris Cooper and the relative disregard for Aisha White? Perhaps the answer can be found when we consider that Woke birders show concern for blacks’ fear of the woods, not by empowering blacks with safety tips, but by demonizing white people. In the High Church of Woke, white liberals gain social status by punishing a white perpetrator – Amy Cooper. White liberals gain no social status by taking a stand for a black woman raped by a black man. Woke is ultimately a narcissistic exercise. White guilt is a display of white virtue. It is not performed to help blacks at all. Shelby Steele has been saying this for years.
Why do the Woke birdwatcher follies matter to me? My parents were peasant immigrants from Eastern Europe. Like many working class people, their hand-to-mouth existence prevented them from taking a time off to explore pristine wilderness. But they never stopped hearing the ancient call into the natural world, the natural world that was so close in their peasant homelands.
We gardened, hunted, trapped, and fished. If my mother had an itchy bug bite she’d go into the yard and pick plantain and rub the leaf against her flesh. My father brought home delicious mushrooms picked on the country club grounds, in the woods during his long walks, and in highway islands. My brother, while hunting, found an injured yellow-billed cuckoo. He brought it home in a bucket and cared for it. Another brother brought home a copperhead, a venomous snake. He displayed it in show-and-tell, to many ooos and aaas.
One autumn day when I was ten or so, my sister and I were standing at the edge of the woods bordering our small factory town. A flock of starlings flew overhead. My sister and I stood there for some time, our necks craned, our eyes fixed on the sky. The flock went on and on. It darkened the sun. We were in awe. Since then, I have never seen such a flock. Where did all those millions of birds go?
A biologist wrote, “Starling numbers have fallen by half in the past quarter of a century, and they’re still plummeting. Biologists are so concerned that they have recommended the bird be added to an endangered species list.”
Whenever I went into the woods, I saw kestrels, nighthawks, bobwhites, and ruffed grouse. I didn’t stop long to observe them. I was seeking more exotic fauna. Now birders actually alert each other when they see a kestrel or a nighthawk – sightings of these previously common birds have become that uncommon. New Jersey Audubon reported in 2018 that bobwhites in New Jersey are “believed to be functionally extinct.” I still hike the exact same trails where ruffed grouse were my constant childhood companions. They are gone. Vanished.
Garret Mountain, a green oasis in east coast urban sprawl, is a migration site. I talk to old-timers. They are in mourning. The veritable airborne river of migrating warblers they remember from their youth is, alas, perhaps gone forever.
What I and other birdwatchers have seen in our own lifetimes is reflected in big, scary statistics. “Nearly 3 Billion Birds Gone Since 1970,” reports the Cornell Ornithology Lab. This is “A staggering loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s ecosystem is unraveling.”
The natural world, that educated my people, healed us, intrigued us and thinned the border between our mechanical, workaday bodies and the larger spiritual realm, is disappearing. I have donated for years to several environmental organizations. I want to feel that my dollars are protecting what of nature we have left. What are bird-name-changers like Mike Webster doing to preserve our priceless heritage? Fiddling while Rome burns.
Most birders are nice and normal people. Within the birdwatching subculture, there is an elite. That elite is every bit as invested in virtue-signaling as any Ivy League professor, NFL or NBA billionaire, or show business celebrity. For them, birding is a cut-throat competition. They make no effort to disguise their contempt for anyone who is not as competitive as they. They display their wealth and privilege as aggressively as any rutting peacock. They do not hesitate to slander or even physically hurt others, or damage the private property of anyone who gets in their way. In internet discussions, I have seen elite birders bully others with a ferocity usually encountered in high-tension religious debates. A newbie birder made an innocent comment about possibly seeing a golden eagle at the Stateline Hawk Watch. One can see golden eagles there, but rarely, and usually at a different season. An elite birder publicly and viciously humiliated this newbie.
An elite birder posted that female birders will never be worth anything and the only good birders are male. Another, a young man, mocked a much older man for misidentifying a peregrine falcon as the more exotic gyrfalcon. There was no mistaking the young man’s comment as the setting up of a hierarchy. I’m better and you are less because you identified that bird incorrectly.
An elite birder might brag of spending one, two, three or four thousand dollars on Swarovski or Zeiss binoculars, an additional several hundred dollars on a spotting scope, and then a few thousand more on camera lenses. When I first tried to share my nature photos on Facebook, I was roundly mocked for obviously not having an “appropriate” camera and lens. “Appropriate” meant, of course, expensive. Diversity, equity, and inclusion doesn’t mean including people who can’t afford a $2,000 lens.
Birders post fabulous photos. I ask about locations, explaining that I live in Paterson, don’t have much time off from work, and would appreciate any guidance in finding such lovely spots with such great species of birds. I am told that I am not allowed to know these precious natural locations, because riffraff – not me of course but maybe someone I know – might show up dump garbage or hurt a bird. Really. Really. Someone from Paterson might “hurt” birds. Again, this from birders championing “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” For years I swallowed similar insinuations without retort. I remained silent because I was terrified. If I pointed out how classist such comments are, I would be booted from internet nature groups I want to belong to. One day, though, I was bold enough to risk a comment. I said that the photographers whose work I was admiring were lucky to live in a greener (and more expensive) part of our state. I said that those of us working and living in more urban areas didn’t have time to explore the more remote regions, and might benefit from instructions on how to arrive at a given spot. Immediately, I received a private message. A group administrator told me I was an “argumentative” “troublemaker” and I never “contributed” anything to the group. I never contributed exactly because my previous photographic contributions had been mocked, by posters zeroing in on my work and pointing out that I was obviously using a “cheap” camera.
It is this subset of birders who are the most Woke. I think it is exactly because they are so morally limited that Woke attracts them so much. Woke is the current costume for moral superiority. These birders have the best of everything and they want the world to know it. Of course they must have the best morals, and of course they must sneer at anyone who does not share their Woke morality.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion” are talismans bandied about by the Woke. They mean as much as “eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and toe of dog.” They are merely magical chants signifying inclusion in the Woke elite. They make the speaker better than those not speaking Woke words. Confronted with economic diversity, the Woke cringe, circle the wagons, and exclude any nature-lover who isn’t part of their private club.
In 2017, Paterson made Huffington Post’s list of the ten most violent small cities in America. My Paterson students have come to me to ask for money to buy food, to report child abuse and crisis pregnancies, gang trouble and homelessness. Not a single one ever complained to me about the name of the Bachman’s sparrow. My upstairs neighbors, Ukrainian immigrants, are disconsolate. The family patriarch, whom I formerly frequently encountered in my walks around Garret Mountain, is now wheelchair-bound, shaking, and aphasic. Paterson was hit hard by COVID. He went to the local hospital, one already impoverished by non-paying patients. He was there for months. The care he received, his family insists, was worse than the COVID itself.
Garret Mountain is not just a famous spot to see migrating warblers; with its easily accessible pond and sheer drops, Garret Mountain was the suicide choice for one of my fellow adjunct professors. I went that day to watch birds. I watched a police raft scour for a fellow teacher’s corpse. Six years ago my future-teachers class visited a local high school. The class we visited was depressed. One of their classmates, a freshman, jumped off the cliff at Garret Mountain a day before we arrived. Paterson Falls are another frequent choice. One Paterson resident jumped to his death as I walked past one day. Some call the Passaic the “River of Death;” the river, reports NBC news, coughs up “a disproportionate number of bodies.”
Kenn Kaufman, Jordan E. Rutter (she/her), Jeff St. Clair and Mike Webster, come live in Paterson for one year. Earn what we earn. When your mail is inevitably stolen, complain to the same government offices we complain to, and be ignored just as we are. Your cars will inevitably be vandalized or stolen. Call the police, wait for hours for their arrival, and be told that “If you don’t want to be robbed you shouldn’t live in this neighborhood.” Yes, our police really do say that. Ride the same buses we ride and deal with the same shenanigans from passengers who delay the bus by refusing to pay. Put faith in yet another elected official – always a Democrat; that’s the only party here – who breaks yet more promises and ends up on TV charged with corruption. Walk streets strewn with garbage and addicts, and try to sleep when car stereos as loud as stadium sound systems rattle your bedroom walls. Send your kids to our schools, where your kids will be, again, inevitably, beaten up by their classmates and let down by their teachers. Hear your black, Hispanic and Muslim neighbors say, “We need more police. I hate the noise. I can’t sleep. Kids throw their garbage on the street. Why doesn’t someone tell them to stop? Where are the parents?” Then, after you gain a sense of what forces keep the underclass down – and it’s not bird names – expand your reading beyond propaganda urging the renaming of the Bachman’s sparrow. Discover the so-called “black conservatives,” who love their own brothers and sisters enough to tell the truth. Oh, and by the way. If you encounter one black person in Paterson who tells you that the name of the Bachman’s sparrow is responsible for their pain, I will give you a thousand dollars. For real.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery