The Seattle Audubon Society has initiated a course of to vary its identify to replicate its dedication to an equitable, simply, and antiracist path for all of its members — a path that has been encumbered by its namesake, John James Audubon, a racist who engaged in scientific fraud
“What’s in a reputation? A rose by some other identify would odor as candy”
— Juliet Capulet in Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2) by William Shakespeare
The Seattle Audubon Society is altering its identify, publicly stating it’s starting the method of transferring away from “a shameful legacy” by eradicating “Audubon” from its identify.
The Audubon Society, which presently can boast nearly 500 impartial affiliate chapters all through the USA, was initially named in honor of artist and naturalist John James Audubon (1785-1851), by Forest and Stream journal editor, John Chook Grinnell, again in 1886. Horrified by the annual mass slaughter of untamed birds, Mr Grinnell hoped that invoking this well-known artist as namesake would encourage the membership to emulate conservation beliefs and the scientific examine of birds. This concept shortly caught on: inside one yr, the fledgling Audubon Society boasted greater than 39,000 members, every of whom had signed a pledge to “not molest birds”.
Sadly, though Mr Audubon was a fairly good hen artist, he was a despicable human. He owned, purchased and bought enslaved Black individuals and loudly opposed abolition; he stole the stays of Native Individuals to assist assist his racist concepts utilizing debunked and unscientific methodologies; he made quite a few contributions to white supremacist thought and insurance policies; and he stole observations of hen species reported by Black and Indigenous peoples and handed them off as his personal.
“The shameful legacy of the actual John James Audubon, not the mythologized model, is antithetical to the mission of this group and its values,” Claire Catania, Government Director of the Seattle chapter, stated in a press release. “Realizing what we now know and listening to from group members how the Audubon identify is dangerous to our trigger, there isn’t a different alternative however to vary.”
“Our members, volunteers, and employees are targeted on a future the place the views and contributions of all persons are valued — particularly those that have been systemically excluded”, Ms Catania stated. “The challenges dealing with people and birds alike demand that we construct a radically inclusive coalition to handle them.”
Though the decision to vary its identify was unanimously handed by the group’s Board of Administrators on 14 July 2022, making the Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ Society the primary affiliate chapter to take this essential step, no deadlines and no candidate names have but been recognized. The Nationwide Audubon Society and a number of other of its native affiliate chapters, who’re intently watching what its Seattle affiliate chapter does, are additionally contemplating a reputation change.
“Most individuals, particularly our detractors, are specializing in ‘Audubon’ — the presumed energy and ubiquity of the model, and the contributions vs. racism of our organizational namesake”, Glenn Nelson, group director for the Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ Society, instructed me in electronic mail. Mr Nelson is an advocacy journalist and activist reporting on the intersection of race and the outside. He additionally helped administer a program for the Nationwide Audubon Society that focused younger individuals of colour, and he served two phrases on the state board.
“This transfer is 100% about being extra inclusive within the conservation motion and in our personal mission to prepare and advocate for cities the place all individuals and birds thrive. [emphasis his] It’s nicely documented that Black, Indigenous, and Folks of Coloration have been traditionally excluded from what I name the ‘organized outdoor’ (conservation, environmentalism and recreation) and our group isn’t any exception”, Mr Nelson famous.
Seattle chapter affiliate surveys have constantly proven that its membership and volunteers are greater than 90% white, older, principally retired, and concentrated in north Seattle, the place neighborhoods are primarily white. Alternatively, BIPOC communities are nearly nonexistent in native membership surveys. And but, BIPOC neighborhoods are the primary to expertise environmental calamities, together with the impacts of local weather change, which additionally fall disproportionately upon these communities.
“As racial demographics shift on this nation, the illustration concern turns into extra acute over time, impacting the sustainability not solely of organizations like ours, however that of humanity typically since local weather change is an existential problem requiring the eye and sources of everybody”, Mr Nelson stated in electronic mail.
However is the ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ identify itself a barrier to range and inclusion?
“It’s my expertise and that of my colleagues of colour throughout the nation that ‘Audubon’ is basically unrecognized (particularly as a conservation group) by most individuals beneath, say, 50 years outdated and nearly all BIPOC individuals of any age”, Mr Nelson defined in electronic mail. “This can be a downside as a result of when our group and others have interaction BIPOC teams and communities, we can be inviting them to study who we’re and the place we come from”, Mr Nelson additional elaborated in electronic mail. “They’ll examine — as I did with different organizations once I was in additional activist mode — and uncover the ugly fact about John James Audubon and solidify their mistrust of us and the conservation motion, typically. That end result is the hurt the ‘Audubon’ identify inflicts. For those who agree that the ‘Audubon’ identify is dangerous to individuals, then each second that you simply bear it’s harming individuals, and we wish to cease that in a manner that we are able to management.”
What standards are getting used to determine potential names?
“We wish the re-naming course of to be as inclusive because the mission that we’ve adopted”, Mr Nelson replied in electronic mail. “We wish as few standards as doable moving into; we don’t wish to impose preconceptions from our primarily white lens on individuals who don’t acknowledge that lens.”
Moreover, the Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ Society helps the motion to vary eponymous names given to birds, animals and locations, in an effort to stop this identical scenario from arising once more in future.
“Many cultures, together with mine (Japanese descent), make use of names in descriptive phrases. So I can confidently say we is not going to identify our group after one other particular person.”
Additional, the Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ Society will keep away from utilizing phrases, like ‘Society’, that draw upon the elitism from which conservation and birding developed.
“An enormous a part of containing preliminary standards is the hope that we’re shocked by what we hear and are in a position to incorporate these sources of our ‘shock’ in our mission”, Mr Nelson stated in electronic mail. “That’s an important a part of considering outdoors of our normal circle and thereby increasing that circle.”
The renaming course of remains to be in its early levels. After numerous thought and dialogue, the renaming course of will encompass a collection of ‘listening periods’, starting with employees, board of administrators, members, and volunteers, then transferring on to exterior stakeholders (i.e.; teams and communities with which the Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ ̶S̶o̶c̶i̶e̶t̶y̶ want to have interaction and associate with however presently don’t.)
“We are going to ask about values related to ‘Audubon,’ values presently related to our group, values we wish to challenge, and names related to these values”, Mr Nelson defined in electronic mail. “We are going to ask a collection of questions on our mission — who we presently serve, who we’re not serving however ought to, and the way the latter ought to look.”
The Seattle ̶A̶u̶d̶u̶b̶o̶n̶ ̶S̶o̶c̶i̶e̶t̶y̶ remains to be formulating how, ultimately, a reputation can be chosen. Different organizations confronted by this course of would in all probability rent outdoors consultants to information the method.
“I do know that is the case, for instance, with the Audubon Naturalist Society, which is able to announce its identify new in October”, Mr Nelson identified in electronic mail.
“It’s additional essential to notice that that is only a first, humble step towards inclusion. There may be a lot, way more work to be completed”, Mr Nelson defined in electronic mail. “It took us centuries to get so far in historical past; it might take generations to appropriate.”
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