Willoughby Hills
Willoughby Hills with Heath Racela
103. Birder Christian Cooper on Protecting Nature and Civil Rights

103. Birder Christian Cooper on Protecting Nature and Civil Rights

Welcome to another episode of the Willoughby Hills podcast!

In today’s episode, I have a really incredible conversation with Christian Cooper, a New York based birder. Christian is in the middle of a busy month: his new series Extraordinary Birder just premiered on Nat Geo Wild, and his new memoir was just released. It’s titled Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World.

Christian has been birding since the age of 9 or 10, although he came into the national spotlight unexpectedly three years ago when an exchange he had with a dog walker went viral.

The incident, as he describes it in the book, took place in an area of Central Park known as The Ramble, which is a birding hot spot during the spring migration. Because many rare and sensitive species tend to stop over and rest in The Ramble, the park requires dogs to be leased in the area so as not to disturb the migration.

Christian encountered a woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), with her dog off leash while he was birding. He politely reminded her of the park rules and the situation escalated, to the point that Ms. Cooper called 911 and said "I'm going to tell them there's an African American man threatening my life."

The incident happened the same day that George Floyd was killed by police and a cellphone recording that Christian made went viral after his sister uploaded it to Twitter. It seemed to be another example of how the police can be weaponized against Black citizens.

Rather than shy from the spotlight though, Christian used it to build awareness and understanding for the various parts of his identity: a gay, Black man who likes birding.

In today’s episode, we have an honest conversation about how Christian struggled with parts of his identity as a child, how birding helped him cope with his differences, and what the struggle to preserve certain species of birds tells us about how we can approach civil rights for people too.

The book is a very good read and I highly recommend it! You can learn more here.

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Willoughby Hills
Willoughby Hills with Heath Racela
Quarantine Creatives is now Willoughby Hills. Join TV producer/director Heath Racela as he chats with interesting guests with unique perspectives on our ever evolving relationships to work, home, community, culture, food, the environment, and more.