Bird's-Eye View (with Christian Cooper) | Crooked Media
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July 25, 2023
Pod Save The People
Bird's-Eye View (with Christian Cooper)

In This Episode

DeRay, Myles and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week — Southern GOP refuse majority-Black district, famed forensic scientist indicted for fabrication, and an anti-trans message from Jess. DeRay interviews author Christian Cooper to about his new book Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World.

News

DeRay Judge finds forensic scientist Henry Lee liable for fabricating evidence in a murder case

Myles Jess Hilarious says who will stand up for women

De’Ara Alabama Republicans Refuse to Create New Majority-Black District

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD BREAK] [music break]

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save the People. In this episode it’s me, De’Ara, and Myles talking about all the things that you don’t know with regard to race, justice and equity from the past week. The news that went underreported or unreported that you should know about. And then I had the pleasure of sitting down with the one and only writer, Christian Cooper, to talk about his new memoir, Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World. I learned so much. It was incredible. You will too. [music break]

 

De’Ara Balenger: Family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I am De’Ara Balenger. You can find me on Instagram at @DearaBalenger. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I’m Myles E. Johnson. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter at @pharaohrapture. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: This is Deray at Twitter on @deray or on X now, as Elon would like us to call it. But, you know, it mama called it Twitter. I’m calling it Twitter. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: You can not deadname X. Uh. Yeah. [laughing] Yeah. If they them she her X wants to be called X now and not Twitter, we’re going to respect that. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: What was behind that– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I don’t believe it. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Is he was it just like he just was on a yacht vacationing and just came up with this idea? Or is it like an idea based on something that is thoughtful? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Apparently, he’s always wanted to name a company X and hasn’t been successful. Apparently, when he was a part of PayPal, he tried to rename PayPal X and the board forced him out and that’s how we got Peter Thiel. Interesting. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah, that’s really weird. I guess everybody I mean, not everybody, but I guess like a lot of like diabolical, evil wrongdoers um have like their one thing that they’re fascinated with, I guess like for Mojo JoJo, it was the Powerpuff Girls. And for you know, Elon Musk it’s X but I guess I kind of just vaguely get like being weirdly obsessed with a number or a letter and and kind of being like, oh, I want everything to match. I think just most of us [laughter] just go buy something.[laughing] Go buy a mug, not an app. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I’m like, can we just get to the bankruptcy part so there’s a new owner and we go back to normal. Like when when is the reset on what’s going on over at Twitter? 

 

Myles E. Johnson: In all seriousness DeRay, because you know that I mean, I just look at the branding and Twitter is like very like early millennial Internet branding when everybody like Instagram, that kind of like light fluffy, the X has a black background is a little distressed and it looks a little like, you know, the new Republican conservative you know what I mean? Like it just looks like that. Do you think that that is like the underlying reason why the rebrand’s happening just to feel more welcoming to this new birthing conservative, I can’t speak my mind anywhere, don’t call me cis community. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I think that might be a part of it. I also think that he’s like, I think that what is good about this Elon moment for people, even though Lord knows we are struggling through it is the difference–

 

Myles E. Johnson: I love that you still call it a moment. [laughter]

 

DeRay Mckesson: [laugh] Yeah well I, this is not real to me, is a difference between like money and genius. And he just has money. Like that’s what everybody is seeing right now is like, this is it, these decisions are not brilliant. They’re not smart. They’re not. And I think before he really was benefiting from the glow of genius, it was like, wow, he must really. And I think that that window is completely closed. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. And I think a lot of like, even like him doing Tesla [laugh] and Tesla, you know, during his lifetime being a genius. But like the name absorption and yeah, I think you’re spot on with that. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I’m just looking at Page Six. Evidently one of his children’s name is X. He named one of his kids X. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: But that is– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: He also– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: –proof of the obsession. That is not–

 

De’Ara Balenger: He also has– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: –the beginning of the obsession. Right?

 

De’Ara Balenger: No, I think I think it is an obs– and yeah, and I think it is mental illness, obviously. And [laughter] the other thing that worries me about him is that he has ten children. Did y’all know that?

 

Myles E. Johnson: Now how you lay with the last man, with a man with the last name of Musk, [laughter] and just lay lay down with him? What? I don’t like that. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I mean, it’s given me Nick Cannon, because the headline of this article is who are Elon Musk’s kids? It’s ten children’s names, ages and their mothers. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I’m I’m like, again, when do we get off the train? Like we, he has taken us on a crazy ride. Okay, cool. Let us go to sanityville because this is a lot. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I guess what the last thing I’ll ask about it because I’ve been dying to ask DeRay about this all week is so do you think like this is the last stop of because my whole thing, shout out to Threads and Spill or whatever. Like, you know, live your dreams, pursue them, whatever. But my like, my hunch is oh if Twitter implodes and stops. That’s a sign that we should stop talking on the same app at the same time together as a [laughing] as a world community. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: As a world. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Like. I’m totally down down to say oh that was a failed experiment. There’s no let’s not even try to do that again. To get everybody in the world together to talk about things, even as I look at the trending topics now, there’s wars. There’s doja cat. There is just I don’t I don’t know. I don’t think we’re really made to be this connected. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I think we I think if it is, you know, is just about connection and bringing people together, it would be wonderful. But it’s actually about leveraging misinformation, disinformation, psychological warfare onto Twitter users and using the app for evil. That is what is messing us up. I think when it is just about the people coming together, I think that’s a beautiful thing. But it’s it’s like that is the means to the end for for the people who want to control the world, to be able to use that. I sound like a conspiracy theorist this morning, but–

 

DeRay Mckesson: You do sound like–

 

Myles E. Johnson: No I–

 

DeRay Mckesson: –it. I do think that that um– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: You know. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I think that there will always be a place where people do real time things. What is the place if after Twitter? I don’t know. But I think that Twitter my my read of Twitter is that it crashes and burns under Elon, somebody buys it and we and it like comes back. So that’s sort of [?] that is what I hope happens. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: And you still find it useful, like nothing about, I guess when thinking about. Because I think the thing with Twitter is it when it boomed, unlike Instagram and Facebook when it boomed, when Twitter boomed, it had such a um a moral political boom that it felt necessary. I don’t know. Like I feel like when Twitter got really popular, you’re like, this is the new reporting. Activists are on here, intellectuals go on here, it’s not just popular pictures or pictures of food. This is real things happening. Do you think that with Twitter existing or not existing, do you think that we as a culture have surpassed– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: No, I think– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: –that [?]. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –something will fill the void. I think that, like– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Got it. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –when things happen, you will need a place to go to be like what happened? And I think that Spill is like the cool kids room and Threads is, you know, this is the hard thing about Threads is I think Threads tried to lean into the bare bones too much and it’s just like I can’t find my likes. There’s no trend– like it it feels like Twitter when it first started and you’re like, we already went through that phase like, that’s, that’s too they went– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –too far back. It’s like we did that already. That’s why they had a 70% drop in user uh in user whatever um user using it. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Wow. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Threads, Threads had a 70% drop off in like user usage uh like a week after launch. And it’s like, that makes sense to me because it’s like, it’s like very 1.0 Twitter and you’re like, well we– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –we can’t search any of that, can’t search names, can’t search topics, can’t search it was like, this is not what I want. But anyway, there are more important things to talk about than wild Elon. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Uh. Like wild DeSantis. Is that a more important thing to talk about? And [laugh] the new Florida Department of Education standards for how they are talking about the history of of slavery in Florida? [sigh], the new standards in this–

 

DeRay Mckesson: I’m like are teachers really teaching this, though? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Uh. I think so. You know what? I actually DeRay, this an aside, but sort of related, NPR maybe and This American Life, maybe two Sundays ago had a whole the whole episode was was um was about Florida and how people during COVID in particular moved to Florida because of the because schools were open. And they were that, you know, and they weren’t masking. But it was fascinating to hear how people like literally just so admired DeSantis that they picked up their lives, their families, and relocated from places like New Jersey to Florida. So this is interesting to me, because I think to answer your question, yes, I think there is like obviously a demographic of people who are very much like, ah, that makes sense to me. That’s right. And it’s like the same category of people who are like, but we treated our slaves so nice. They were treated nicely. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: And, you know, I’m not the I’m not the youngest chicken, but I’m still really I’m still young, you know? And I went to school, elementary school, middle school, high school in Georgia and middle school and elementary school in Georgia proper, like not Atlanta, Georgia, Georgia. Like it doesn’t even make sense to tell you the home town, because nobody would know it. But like having the teachers I grew up with and having the teachers there that like I knew and stuff like that, like it’s just so imaginable to me because they if I could make a whole book just based off of the 100 most racist things that I’ve ever heard around, you know. [?] I had a teacher tell me that um that Black people like to, like to calm me down she didn’t even wasn’t being she wasn’t being like, nice racist. She was like, she was like, oh, don’t worry, Black people are not, you know, Black people are not good at algebra. That’s just not what don’t don’t cry, I was getting frustrated because I wasn’t getting it. She was like don’t cry, Black people are not, like she was a sweetheart. Like she was like go, go, go play basketball. [awkward laugh] Yeah. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I cannot. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Wow. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: That was like she would say, she even said the last part. But that was her whole thing. She was like, Black people are just, every community’s good at something. And that’s just not what you’re good at. And just wild things like are getting in a real argument about the basis, one of the big basis’s of the Civil War being um slavery. Like one of the reasons why we were in the Civil War and having multiple teachers just say like that had nothing to do with the Civil War. That is miscommu– like just arguments I’ve been in ISS for that argument many a times. I have friends who we still talk on Instagram when we see each other that had were in the same school who like we all got together and like argued and it makes it just I just already see it happening because I know those teachers, I know those environments and this is just a green light to do really what they’ve always been doing because– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: That’s how I was educated. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: And this, there’s a quote from DeSantis. I think what they’re doing is I think what they’re doing is, is I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life. [sigh] For what? Like what are you talking about? 

 

Myles E. Johnson: This is giving me all my little high school flashbacks. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: I mean like–

 

Myles E. Johnson: –because we also went– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: –what do you? What? 

 

Myles E. Johnson: We also went with the blacksmith recreation in high sch– in um middle school. And it took me a minute years to figure out wait, all those white people were supposed to be Black people. [laughter] It wasn’t no Black people in George trying to recreate it and go to that and be a blacksmith. It took me a minute because I was like, where are these Amish people at? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Oh my gosh. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: In our history books. I was like y’all are supposed to be slaves or enslaved people or yeah, no, I think that like re– that re-narrative is just such a whistle. It’s just a whistle. You know. Like, you don’t believe that. We don’t believe that. But the people, you and the people who you’re even whistling to don’t believe that. You just want them to know that you’re willing to be on the side of white supremacy other than the truth in certain things like that. And ideas like that show people, okay, you’re actually loyal to the institution of white supremacy and not and not truth. And that is what it costs to be a Republican today. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And it’s a reminder that the um, you know, as much as it is the structures and the laws, it is the stories we tell that shape the way people think about the world, and they are invested in reshaping the stories. I think about um I don’t know why I was in DC at the Bible Museum. There’s a museum of the Bible and they were talking about uh the slave Bible that during slavery, slave owners, there was a version of the Bible that we only have a couple copies left of where they removed every single instance of rebellion, and that’s what the slaves got. And we know it exists because they have some– like some slave owners were invested in burning it. They like destroyed them. But there are some left. And it’s like, yeah, you’re making all these people become Christians and destroy and like literally removing every instance of people rebelling because you need to control the narrative. Like the narrative is, is so much a part of how this functions. 

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Myles E. Johnson: So today I bring you some some sad news. So this is this is actually something that I like revisit a lot on the podcast because, A, I find it interesting next to like the the burgeoning new Black conservatism. I also kind of I think that because of all the conversations that we’re having around trans people, I’m also really observant and aware about how other people react to those those discussions and those advances. And I’m not a fan, so the person who I’m talking about is Jess Hilarious. Jess Hilarious is the comedian who you might know from co-hosting on The Breakfast Club, also being on Wilding Out. Um, she’s really popular on Instagram and her demographic, she skews, you know, Black. Mostly Black women. And, you know, that 18 to 35 or probably like 18 to 40 or maybe even older, like age bracket. And she’s and she is a popular comedian. Two days ago, she got on the Internet, was responding to one sole person, she was getting into a conflict with who was trans and then just kind of like [laugh] says kind of the most vitriolic thing that you can think of to the trans to the entire trans community instead of like you know saying something to one person and says that, you know, I’m a natural born woman and who’s going to protect us. And and and and just kind of saying, all these things that are alluding to, A, of course, trans women not being um women, but then also that there’s a hierarchy in um womanhood, humanity, and in oppression and and and either and, A, Black women are are the only the only real Black women and then also that there that Black women are also the most vulnerable. And even trans women in their engagement with us is like a kind of like, like like a like a kind of like a reinforced misogyny, like seeing trans women as just men in dresses who are telling, quote unquote, “real women what to do.” That’s just kind of like this um counter-narrative that’s been that’s been coming out and um without any kind of like critical analysis. So she says this, it goes super duper um viral and and it’s just wild to me you all. Because there’s so much going on. [laugh] And I like I tweeted it out like yesterday. I’m just like, you’re [?] offending something. I said this countless times on this podcast alone, I’m like, You’re not even included in the gender binary area you’re defending, you know, I know it’s like a tired, tired, tired like ABC talking point, but it obviously it needs repeating. I’m like we when everything was when the dust was settling and we can look at social life here specifically being from the South and maybe because I grew up with such remnants of it. But it’s like no, it was men, women, colored. It was how we were engaged with during even chattel slavery was uh was uh divorcing us from any gender. And the only reason that truly matters to us is because gender in this society is how you’re getting uh how you often get granted humanity. So us getting granted gender and humanity help was important. Even the signs that we put on our chests. I’m a man. All these things were shouts and signals of of showing that we are a gender people because we want to be seen as human people. And now that that conversation is expanding and we’re kind of editing stuff, it’s just interesting to see some of the people who have the loudest things to say and the most violent things to say towards a community, are the people, Jess Hilarious who would um benefit from it all. This is a sticky part of the conversation, but a lot of people were bringing up I forgot the um the woman’s name, the woman the cis woman who just died because a man thought she was trans. So she was killed because a man thought she was trans. Jess Hilarious has actually talked about different experiences where somebody because of her voice or because of how she um how she performs her own gender. People assuming her to be a trans woman and asking her this is you know, she said the story countless times, but like asking her uh to go on dates and then not saying, not want to go on dates where somebody getting mad at her and saying something transphobic in order to um in order to diminish her. We see the same thing happen to Serena Williams. Michelle Obama. I say all this all these other things that no trans issues are selfishly a cis-Black woman issue. And then if we even think altruistically just as a community, just because trans people, trans women, because we are human, we should be able to be granted certain types of conversations and certain types of um leeway is just what’s disturbing. And I don’t know, I want to see y’alls opinion. You know, DeRay is uh repping the same the same same hometown. And I just felt like uh we we got we got to talk about it, we got to dissect it and then maybe figure out like, what is I think I’m most interested in what is the conversation to have. So every single time we’re at this point of conflict culturally, we don’t go back to square one. I think that’s the thing that’s most exhausting is that it feels like I’m telling people things that Laverne Cox and Janet Mock said almost like, damn near ten years ago, you know, and kind of gave their whole first ten years in order to educate people on the ABCs one, two three. And people are like throwing out the window and saying, no, like, how do we avoid that happening if there’s any avoiding it?

 

DeRay Mckesson: I was both disappointed in Jess Hilarious and unsurprised because she said other problemat– you know, I remember when she was homophobic and then was like I didn’t mean it, da da da da da. You know, I love gay people and you’re like, okay, girl, like, this is this is uh this is who you are. I think the only thing I would add to um add to what you said is that what strikes me about Jess Hilarious that’s so interesting is this defense of womanhood. But she so famously doesn’t defend women. And that I think, is interesting. So, you know, when Russell Simmons is, you know, tearing Kimora down. She is on Russell’s. She’s like, how dare you criticize that man, You know, when and that’s like a pattern. There was another Black woman too who something happened to them and like Jess just was on their side and I say this because she is actually a po– she is like reminds me of Bell Hooks reminding us that patriarchy is something that everybody participates in. I think that that is what Jess to me is a poster child for a woman covering for patriarchy and calling it feminism like she nails it. And it is there’s actually not a more cookie cutter like explanation of it than her. She just like defends patriarchy. She finds her power in it. That is where her comfort is. She jokes and mocks women in the name of patriarchy. And then she’s like, I’m a feminist. And you’re like, wow you are, you are. I wish Bell Hooks could write about you because it’s almost so pitch perfect that it is a caricature. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. When Bell Hooks says patriarchy has no gender like she is, the picture of like, this is how you [?]– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Literally it’s like, Wow. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Well, you all have very intellectual analysis of this young woman. Me? Not so much. Sis really wants to be famous. Like so badly. And that is an issue with our culture and with our community. We don’t have to talk about old girl who was saying she the whole abduction thing. We’re not even going to get into that alleged abduction. Everybody wants to be so famous. And I felt like. For Jess, who I’ll assume has a lot more good sense for what she is showing, knew that that was going to be a scandalized topic, knew what she was saying was going to go viral and that’s why she said it. Period. Okay. It’s been one thing after the other with this gal. Saying wild things, stunting like all of it. So, I mean, it it everything that you all are you both are saying is true. But I really I do believe that this is much more um a showing for– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Calculated? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I can respect that. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Mm hmm. [?]. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will double back and I checked, and she defended Bill Cosby. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Jesus. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: But that’s insane. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: She– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: It’s more she wants to go against the grain so that she can get people can talk about it. You know what I’m saying? 

 

Myles E. Johnson: One, the only thing I don’t disagree with you, but what’s what is interesting is usually she’s saying this either to herself but people who are she’s saying it around often agree with her. You know. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Well that part. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: [?] like I don’t think it’s– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Well and even when you were– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: –strictly like kind of like being a contrarian. I’m saying what I want. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I think it’s I think what’s kind of disturbing is that she does represent a lot of people in how they think. And she activates people who are like, no, why are you calling me a cis woman right now when I’m a woman? You know why? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: You know, not knowing that, like, you know, we often don’t go around calling each other mammals, but it’s a medical, uh you know, scientific term. And now the trans issue has talked about the word using a medical term to talk about a medical thing in the culture. So that’s why it’s been absorbed in the culture. But like–

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: To her and other people, it’s just become something that’s invented. So I’m using it as an example of like how they’re kind of she’s like their kind of like Trojan horse of like somebody saying it who’s famous, you know? So I don’t want it to seem make it seem like she’s just solely a one individual contrarian.

 

De’Ara Balenger: It makes me so sad. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: That she’s famous. It makes me sad.

 

DeRay Mckesson: And remember that she also um famously defended Tory Lanez and– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: –joked about Meg thee Stallion. So it’s like again– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: That’s wild. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: If you. It’s like you. She just is. She is Bell, she is the Bell Hooks critique. It’s like the defender of patriarchy. And then I just saw literally in this moment, um and you probably didn’t see this because Angelica just posted it 4 minutes ago, I’ll show you this. Is that Jess Hilarious dm’d Angelica Ross to to taunt her about the period conversation. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: What? Let me see this. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: She just like Angelica Ross just posted this literally like while we were recording. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Oh, wait, let me read. Hold on. Okay. Still couldn’t [?]. Sorry. So this is what Jess Hilarious has said to Angelica Ross, via DM. So if I say anything wild it’s I’m quoting something. Still couldn’t produce if you tried homie, homie oh my god uh [?] Angelica Ross’s deadname. A new way to bleed, huh? A lot of y’all got more and more stupid by the effing day. The gag is we got it and you’re never going to get it. Never going to get it. So she went to Angelica Ross, who’s a um famous Black trans actress, and went into her DMs and taunted her because she’s trans and she doesn’t experience a menstruation cycle. That’s really miserable. And that’s, [pause] that’s really miserable. And again, it just really makes me feel like if she is, this is what she’s saying and feels comfortable with. What is the actual content that maybe a big group of like more conservative, more transphobic, like transphobic, whatever Black folks like how are they feeling? Of course, it’s happening everywhere. Obviously, this is happening everywhere between races. But I sometimes I think that Black people can get like the liberal paint washed over them if you’re not Black and you’re like, Oh, you’re Black, you’re a Democrat, you’re liberal, you’re [?]– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: No. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: –at all. You’re like, no. [laugh] Voting blue because we got to, not because we want to. Like if it wasn’t for the race issue, we would have a lot of more conservative Black people. If if if if if yeah if people [?]– 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Okay so I’m I’m I’m, I’m amending what I said so yeah she wants to be famous and yes, she says controversial things for social media but she’s also just evil. So I think that is my [laughter] synopsis of Jess Hilarious and Jess Hilarious. I’ll tell you one thing, young lady, stop speaking for me because I don’t watch this or that or whatever that show comedy show is you were on. I don’t–

 

Myles E. Johnson: Not you calling Wilding Out this or that. [laughter]

 

De’Ara Balenger: I don’t I don’t listen to the Breakfast Club. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Oh you auntie [?] is out. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Angela E. is no longer there. I’m not listening to that show. [banter] So all of these things that you’re on. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: [banter] Not you saying I don’t I don’t watch the I don’t watch the supper club. I don’t watch none of that. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: All these things. Child. I don’t know that I’m not I’m, I am a Black woman and not, not your demographic. So don’t try to represent me because I I didn’t follow you. I didn’t even hear know of your name. And I am from what you young people are now calling the DMV. Which is really– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Okay. Well why–

 

De’Ara Balenger: D.C. and the others. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: As we exit this topic, we’ll we’ll leave it with if it’s with an auntie slogan that just came to mind as you were talking, if it doesn’t come on HGTV, it’s not for me, [laughter] let’s move on.  

 

De’Ara Balenger: And that is the truth. 

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Stay tuned. There’s more to come. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: So my news is so I think it’s about Alabama. Ugh. Um. I’m actually going to be in Alabama this weekend, though. Okay. Um. But it’s a Vanity Fair article, um short and sweet. I actually was looking for the right article to post on this issue. And this was the one I liked the best. But the headline is definition of noncompliance. And we covered this before. So the basically the Supreme Court, even we have a conservative court, but the court still came down and said that um Alabama’s districting was basically gerrymander gerrymandering and they needed to go back to the drawing board to ensure that they were drawing congressional districts that Black people could have, can keep their congressional members. So right now, it’s um it’s Sewell I believe. Um. And so the new drawings would basically take away that I think it was going from like 50% to 40% for Black folks and then taking a portion of of what that congressional district was, which was predominantly Black and giving it to a nearby um congressional district that went surely went for Trump in 2020. Um. But what’s interesting is even with the Supreme Court being like, you cannot do that and you need to redraw the lines. This legislature in Alabama was like mmm we’re going to do what we do. Um. So they passed a redrawn congressional map that appears to really go against the court ordered mandate to create two majority Black districts in the state or something quite close to it, as the Supreme Court said. The new map was quickly signed by Republican Governor Kay Ivey on Friday, and the GOP dominated legislature says that collectively, we know our state, our people and our districts better than federal courts or activist groups. So the new map was approved. Um. It reduces the percentage of Black voters in Alabama’s sole majority Black district currently represented by that’s right Congressman Terri Sewell from 55% to 51%. And then on the other side, it boosts the percentage of Black voters in one of the state’s six majority white districts, from about 30% to 40%. Oh. [sigh] So, you know, the Democrats, of course, are, you know, all ablaze in Alabama saying that this is, you know, quintessential definition of noncompliance. Um. Of course, also, you know, clearly a practice of white supremacy in trying to suppress the Black vote. Um. And it just you know, it’s one of those things that you know, with these elections coming up um, both, you know, kind of state, local elections, but also the you know next presidential election. Things like this still being playing out how they’re playing out and being unresolved is, of course, really upsetting and really unsettling. Um. Similar things are happening in places like Louisiana. They had a similar order um for the state legislature to redraw its voting maps. They’re refusing to do it. So it’s just interesting because even where even where there should be an advantage given to Black voters and it’s not even an advantage, really. It’s actually just equality. It’s it’s not, it’s not happening right and its being not only is it not happening, it’s being like wildly fought against. So it’s just interesting. I just wanted to just bring this to the pod, but also bring it to our listeners just because, you know, we have to be on the lookout that these things are happening. And as we’re preparing to gear up for these elections and for getting out the vote, I mean, questions like this just around the voting maps are going to be absolutely essential for us to have a free and fair election so.

 

DeRay Mckesson: The only thing, you know, it’s it’s so interesting. I saw this and I saw that statement like y’all really they really don’t care. And I just get frustrated because, you know, the left is supposed to play by the rules and da da da da da, and you know, and the court says that we finally lost this and abortion and blah, blah, blah, and then they lose to the Supreme Court and they’re like vibes. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: [laugh] Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: They’re like, they’re like, didn’t read it, didn’t see it. Sorry thanks for writ– like, and not even stressed about it. They’re like, we know we’re better than the Supreme Court. That’s like not even a rumor. That’s their official statement. You’re like what? 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. And it’s so funny when I read that I could like in my head I was hearing it like, we don’t care about your rule. Like, it literally was like that, that depiction of somebody. You know what I mean? That’s like, has a whip in one hand. [laugh] It’s like–

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I will say, um because of our conversation last week, I called a friend who is a professor at Harvard who studies reconstruction because I was like, tell me what happened. Like, what happened. And the short version that I’ll relay, he was like, remember that the only reason why Black people gained any power or anything in the South is that we sent the military. He’s like, the military was in the South and maintained order and it was like the compromise of 1867 or something like that. It was like a contested presidential election. They didn’t know who was going to like it was. It was contested. So for one of the people to drop out of the race to be president, the deal was that the military would leave the South. And when the military left the south, that was the end of reconstruction. That’s when everything, that’s when the Ku Klux– that’s when everything comes back. And he was like, remember that the only reason the South complied with anything was because the military was literally there. And he was like, the question became for the country, how long do you keep the military in the south? Like at some point like that that probably is not a tenable 100 year solution. But I just say this because it’s like Alabama is reminding us that it took the military being in the South to actually make people do right by Black people.

 

Myles E. Johnson: Yeah. This was way more just like informative for me. And just like remind reminds me in in that there really just is no place that people won’t go in order to win and to gain power and that it’s necessary to like talk about stuff like this and to be and to educate other people who are um affected by this. And I’m just like chewing on that great information that DeRay uh just gave us. So I’m just kind of like my my head is kind of spinning because that’s so right. And that it almost makes certain other efforts not laughable, as in they shouldn’t have happened or like me minimizing them. But it’s like, yeah, it took this [laugh] for the South to act right. We need something equal to that. You know, when you really when you really feel the gravity of it, it makes so much more sense how come certain things haven’t worked because it never worked. [laugh] You always needed uh other federal forces in order to make the South not be a contentious place to be uh to to be Black. A beautiful place that I grew up in, but also a really hard place to be Black and be raised. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: So my news is the criminal justice news. Just so we’re all on the same page about how the world is really special, the short synopsis is that there’s a famous forensic scientist who was making it up, and his name is Henry Lee. You might know him really because he’s now 84, but he was the famous evidence forensic expert in the O.J. Simpson trial. He was a consultant around the JonBenet Ramsey trial in Colorado. Uh. He was also involved in the 2004 murder trial of Scott Peterson uh and the 2007 murder of record producer Phil Spector. And he was the former head of the state’s forensic lab, and he is now professor emeritus at the University of New Haven’s College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Science. Now he was just found liable by a judge for making up evidence in a murder case that sent two Connecticut men to prison for decades for a crime they didn’t commit. Uh. Ralph Birch and Shawn Henning, they were convicted on December 1st, 1985, for killing Everett Carr. Based in part on the testimony that he said that there were bloodstains on a towel found in the 65 year old’s home 55 miles west of Hartford. Now, there was no evidence connecting these people. There was like no blood on people’s clothes and da da da da da da da. But Lee testified that there was a towel, which he suggested could have been touched by the killers while they were cleaning up. And it was found in the bathroom near the crime scene with stains that he tested and he said were consistent with blood. But then after the tests done, tests were done after the trial, when the men appeal their convictions and there was no blood actually on this towel. But Henry Lee got on the stand and said that that he suggested heavily that there was blood on the towel and that he had tested it and that he was the expert. And that and the judge has noted that there was no, that it’s not even clear he performed a blood test when he testified. And this is you know, this man has testified in a gazillion cases and his quote was, “In my 57 year career, I’ve investigated over 8000 cases and never ever was accused of any wrongdoing or for testifying intensely wrong. This is the first case that I have to defend myself.” Now, let me tell you, if this was some error where it was like the machine broke or da da da da da I’d be like, you know, everything like perfect is hard. You said you did a blood test and didn’t do a blood test. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Didn’t do it. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: That is lying. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: That is not a mistake. That’s a lie. So I am just, you know, these people spent 30 years. They spent a lifetime in jail, you know? And I can only imagine how many other lives he ruined in the name of his own career to be an expert. What what a mess so I just wanted to bring it here. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: But DeRay just think how many, first of all, DeRay, you’re obsessed with just forensics, period. We’ve had so many we’ve covered criminal forensics in so many different types of way. And what we have learned from you bringing this to the pod is there’s such a lack of accountability around the discipline. But also like who can actually who can get into forensics and what makes you a forensic expert? Right. We already know that’s just like not a whole lot. And not a whole [laugh] not a whole lot in terms of what you need to know about science. So I think this is just like what’s shocking about this is that he has been an expert in 8000 cases and we don’t have a system that that holds holds this discipline and holds these practitioners to any great standard of accountability. Right? It’s like what they say goes because they’re the expert. There’s no kind of system around making sure that what they’re saying is actually accurate and making sure that it is not completely fabricated. So I think that is the scary part in all of this, is that we’ll never know how many people how many people have been falsely accused, well falsely incarcerated. But also um we’ll just we’ll just never know what those numbers are because we don’t really have a system in place beyond something that’s just like, you know, DNA testing um that’s going to that’s going to really bring this really shed light on, like how deep this issue goes. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And the other thing is that you you know, these people got lucky. They had a lawyer who could appeal, who knew the right thing to appeal. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Most people, you know, they even even when the judge is crazy, they don’t have the legal resources to file an appeal. I was, you know, we’re doing this campaign of campaigns around a drug free school zone. And we were talking to somebody about it and their friend got an extra two years for committing a crime in a drug free school zone. That wink wink, turns out they weren’t in a drug free school zone, but their lawyer didn’t know anything about the zone. They didn’t know the streets, so they just didn’t even know to contest the idea that they were getting two more years for this zone that they weren’t even in. And you’re like, this is crazy. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: But that’s even like Innocence Project. I mean, I was when I was in law school, I was with the Innocence Project for a semester. And it really just is in cases where DNA can be test tested, you know what I’m saying? So it really when you’re talking about the science and the forensics of it all, it’s like there aren’t that many avenues to be able to disprove what is what has happened or, you know, so it’s just I don’t know. This is this is thi– 

 

Myles E. Johnson: I hate that this happened. 

 

De’Ara Balenger: Yeah. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: And, you know. I’m a big believer in [?]. So I definitely want the Netflix doc investigation of what’s going on because it’s wild because the wildest thing that’s like echoing to me is that he’s being accused of making up evidence. And there’s so many things when I was reading the article that he’s being accused of that of course, maybe show like incompetence or show, you know, how iffy forensics are and stuff like that. But the other things are just kind of like moral things that you’re like, hmm could you have gotten us there a money trail here? Are you being are you being requested by lawyers to be the forensic expert and getting paid money. Might you be uh like if that’s the kind of the the part that I’m most interested in um and specifically because he was in some landmark cases like, oh my goodness. Have y’all seen this fo– have y’all seen anything about the Phil Spector um case? [?]

 

De’Ara Balenger: Mm mm. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: Oh, my goodness, please ruin your day and watch it because it’s so fascinating. It’s so fascinating. And Phil Spector is such a musical genius and evil genius and it was just it’s just wild. But that was such a Phil Spector had got off. Got on it was such a um it was such a [?]–

 

DeRay Mckesson: Oh, I think I, he killed his wife? Right. 

 

Myles E. Johnson: No a girlfriend like like a girl yeah, like a girl who he had met that night. But like he had, he had already had like a [?] so I stlil have to say is he had goteen off for some wild things and it was and it’s so um necessary once you even, even me thinking about the Phil Spector um situation. Just that one, not the all eight thousand but that one situation. How important it was to have somebody with integrity reviewing that evidence because Phil Spector’s celebrity had already freed him and had already made people uh get have get away with murder and violences. So it was so it was so important that somebody who couldn’t be influenced because of money. And again, I’m not saying that’s exactly what happened, but I’m like, there’s just only so many conclusions you can come to why somebody would be in the habit of saying they did a blood test, but then didn’t do a blood test or, you know, that it’s feel like money will have to be the foundation of that. [music break]

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating: This week, we welcome Christian Cooper on the pod to talk about his new memoir, Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World. Many remember Cooper from the 2020 viral video of him being accosted by a white woman dog walker in Central Park while he was birding. But there’s so much more to this story than meets the public eye. We talk about his love for birds, how it developed and all the lessons that he learned through birding. You will learn so much from him, too. Here we go. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Christian, it is so great to be in conversation with you. Welcome to the pod. 

 

Christian Cooper: Oh, thank you, DeRay. Glad to be here. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: So, you know, we all met you because of a viral video in the park. But you’ve done so much more than just that one moment. I’d love to know, uh where did your love of birds come from? Like, how did this was this like a was it cartoons was it, you know, you grew up around a bird place or I don’t know. What was it? 

 

Christian Cooper: Um. Well, the setting, the the background was the fact that my dad was a science teacher. And and for a good chunk of that, he was specifically a biology teacher. So nature was always big in our household, um but with me for some reason and and took the particular form of birds, uh it started with um my spark bird, as we call it in birding lingo, uh the bird that starts you down that dark, dark path. Um. And for me it was a a redwing blackbird. I put up a bird feeder in the backyard and I thought I was seeing crows with little patches of red on the wing. And I thought I’ve discovered a new species of crow at ten years old, getting all excited. And then it turns out they were red wing blackbirds. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: But I wanted to ask you, like, do you own birds? How do you feel about owning birds? 

 

Christian Cooper: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. To me, owning a bird, putting a bird in a cage, this creature that was born to fly free through the skies. To take a bird and put it in a cage is like you might as well take a hot poker and blind Picasso or take an ax and chop off the hands of Chopin. You know, you just you don’t, in my opinion, you just you just don’t do that. Um. And I think particularly for us as Black people, we should have a little bit of of understanding of what it means to have your freedom taken away and and empathize with with how birds should be wild and free. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: You know, early in the book, you there the first thing that I read that I was like hmm didn’t know this at all is you talk about how birds have a limited sense of smell and I don’t know if I like I just. I never even thought about that. And. And you obviously talk about the importance of sight and touch and how that thing that we all know about birds, they can fly. But I was like, I didn’t even think about the limited sense of smell. 

 

Christian Cooper: Well, but, you know, new theories are that that may may not be so correct. That in fact, their sense of smell may be okay. Now, they’re still primarily like us. They primarily rely on sight and sound, but new theories, new studies seem to indicate that they have they you know, their sense of smell is not as limited as we thought. And then certain kinds of birds like vultures, they’ve got a good sense of smell. They have to have one because they got to smell that rotting carcass so that they can zero in on it. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Got it. Now, let’s go back to the park real quick and then we’ll hop back to the book. 

 

Christian Cooper: Sure. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: So the video obviously changed your life in a lot of ways in that moment. How has it been the further you get away from it? What is people like what do people kind of say to you or what are the like? I have to imagine that people recognize you and they’re like hey da da da da da. What is that? What do they want to talk about in addition to birds? 

 

Christian Cooper: Interesting question. Um. A lot of times and and most of the time if I get recognized and I don’t have binoculars around my neck, it’s other Black people. And usually it’s always a very positive interaction. And, you know, they’re just, you know, thanking me maybe for bringing the issue to light or for how I handled the situation or whatever. So so that’s that’s usually what how people come to me. And as far as sort of, you know, what people want to talk about, I mean, I guess I’ve been asked a number of times lately why I didn’t want to be involved in the prosecution of her or why I didn’t sue her or something like that. And, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of different reasons. It was really right on the line for me. I could have gone either way. And ultimately I decided to go on the side of mercy, even though I knew there were some important potential legal issues to establish, some legal precedents to establish. I thought, you know what? Her life has imploded. It’s a mess already. You know, this would be piling on you know, let’s let’s show a little mercy. But there’s a bigger point. Which is that to keep going after her is to keep the focus on her. And it’s not about her. You know, what was important about that incident was how it highlighted principally for white people, because we Black people know. We live it. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Absolutely. 

 

Christian Cooper: But highlighting for a lot of white people that, hey, racial bias is deeply ingrained in our culture and pops up in all these different ways. That’s what’s important. And so we need to focus on how that racial bias affects our lives in big, important ways, for example, how it bubbles up in the criminal justice system so that a white police officer in Minneapolis that same day as what happened to me, thinks it’s appropriate to kneel on a Black man’s neck until he’s dead. And how that racial bias manifested in the other police officers that they stood around and saw that and did nothing, and how that racial bias comes up, for example, and the fact that Washington, D.C. has no representation, a urban, largely Black and Brown city an urban, largely Black and Brown city has no representation, whereas rural, overwhelmingly white Wyoming gets two senators, rural overwhelmingly white Vermont gets two senators. But Black and Brown. D.C. can’t become a state. Nobody’s doing anything to make the mistakes. That’s racial bias in a way that affects lives in big, important ways. So while we’re high fiving, maybe that we put that woman away behind bars from Central Park. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is rolling back affirmative action. So we have to keep our eyes on the prize. We got to keep our focus on what matters. And that’s the racial bias and how the racial bias manifests in important ways that we can fight against and change. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Did you ever get a private apology? 

 

Christian Cooper: No. And I’m not looking for anything. I’m not looking for anything from her. You know, my life has moved on in myriad ways. Hopefully hers has too. And, you know, let our let us lead our separate lives. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: One of the things in the blackbird chapter that um that stuck out to me, is you talked about the I think it was called the Jamaica Wild Refuge, that trip with your dad and–

 

Christian Cooper: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, right. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Jamaica Bay and then um the adventure with Elliott is is I was like, Oh my God, there’s so much around me that I haven’t paid attention to. Like, even when I walk through Central Park, the idea that, like in my mind, there aren’t a million types of birds in the park. I don’t know. It’s like a bird’s a bird. And I was reading this. I was like, Oh, he is like seeing things that I just didn’t see. Um. And I and I wonder how how did you train yourself to see those things? Like, what was it, the walks? Was it the. I don’t know, like. Yeah. Birds moves so quick to me that I’m like and I, and I loved the part about the, you know, keep your eye on the bird like that tip that’s in the blackbird chapter. 

 

Christian Cooper: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: But yeah I’d love to know. That was my take away from that chapter. I was like, Wow, There’s way more around me that I just haven’t seen, you know? 

 

Christian Cooper: Once you start paying attention to the birds, you start noticing all these different things about them, and you don’t have to have binoculars, you know? I mean, binoculars are a great tool. And, you know, yes, if you can get them– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Do you have special binoculars are there like special ones? 

 

Christian Cooper: Uh. They are special to me because, uh first of all, they are top of the line, super expensive. And they were a 50th birthday gift from my late father. So um.

 

DeRay Mckesson: What’s the best binocular brand? I don’t know this so I’m curious. 

 

Christian Cooper: Well, you know, it depends on who you talk to. Um. A lot of people swear by Swarovski, so, you know, you may think that–. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: They make binoculars? 

 

Christian Cooper: Exactly. A lot of people think they’re all about bling, but they actually have a division because, you know, they’re working with crystals and, you know, super polished glass. [snapping from DeRay] So they make optics that are very, very high end. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Brilliant. 

 

Christian Cooper: And yeah, my my 50th birthday gift gift from my dad um was a pair of Swarovski binoculars so um. But you don’t need binoculars um great if you can get them. I had never bought a pair in my life. All my binoculars have been either hand-me-downs or gifts. But the point is, you start paying attention and you notice all these different things and you’re like, Oh, wait. This little brown bird is a little bit different from this other little brown bird. And I just kind of lumped them all together as little brown birds. But there’s a difference. Is that difference because one’s a male and one is female, or are they different species? One of the most interesting things for me was I used to um, but I still do. For years. Um. For decades, I’ve been going into the New York City public schools to talk to kids about birds and get them outside of the concrete jungle and into whatever green spaces they have nearby and away from their pixels, whether it’s their phone or the TV screen or whatever, and get them looking at nature and whatever green space they have. And when I took the kids out at first, some of them were like, Oh, okay, so there’s a pigeon. And then they would look at a house sparrow and they’d be like, and that’s a baby pigeon. To them they [?]– 

 

DeRay Mckesson: That’s me. That’s me. 

 

Christian Cooper: Well, yeah, they didn’t realize that there are there are two different species. And then that little brown sparrow was never going to get any bigger and was never going to turn into a pigeon. Um. You know, it’s sort of like the idea that you would look at a mouse and then go, okay, that mouse is going to grow up one day to be an elephant. And no, that’s not the way it works. So, yeah, so once you start paying attention to these things, there’s so much to learn and it’s so exciting. It’s like it’s having a veil lifted from your eyes. And there’s a not to be a cliche like from a Disney film, but a whole new world out there for you to experience. It’s wonderful and it happens everywhere. That’s the wonderful thing about birds. It is everywhere. I don’t care if you’re in the middle of the city. I don’t care if you’re, you know, out on the ocean, you can be in the desert. There are birds. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Boom. In the um in the Ramus the book of Ramus. Did I say it right?

 

Christian Cooper: Yeah. Book of Ramus. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: In that chapter when you talk about what it is what it was like to be a queer kid who you know, wasn’t out and and was trying to navigate and in the escape to the outdoors, but also the fascination with science fiction and the X-Men, which I also loved. I was like X-Men through and through– 

 

Christian Cooper: Alright cool. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Uh is that lo–

 

Christian Cooper: Who was your favorite character? 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I mean, it’s it’s so cliche. I’m embarrassed but Storm obviously because like– 

 

Christian Cooper: Of course Storm! 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I have, I mean.

 

Christian Cooper: It is all about Storm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Who is better than Storm? I will say I met the guy who um who who created Jean Gray. 

 

Christian Cooper: Mm hmm. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And I asked him, like, why did you make her the most powerful person in the universe? And he was like, I was 18. I had just gotten hired by Stan Lee. And all of the female characters were they had sexist powers. So he was like one person and one woman’s power was to scream. He was like, well that was sexist. He was like, another superhero got small, she shrunk. He was like, well, that was sexist. And he was like, I couldn’t change those characters. So the only thing I could do was make her the most powerful. And I was like, I love that. I had never even thought about that, you know what I mean? 

 

Christian Cooper: Yeah. Well, it’s funny because there was a time in the X-Men where all the most powerful characters were the women. Storm, Jean Gray, you know, as as Phoenix, like they had all the raw power. They could kick the men’s ass anytime they wanted to. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Do you still have that um? Do you still have that love or? 

 

Christian Cooper: Oh, totally. Totally. Um. I don’t follow X-Men as closely as I used to that you know, there’s been a lot of changes in that world, um but yes. No, I still have the passion for science fiction, for for comics. Um. And certainly, you know, the Marvel Universe has conquered the movie theater. You can’t swing a dead guy without hitting a marvel blockbuster these days. So, um yeah, no, I still I still embrace that that passion for for science fiction. It’s a great escape. But also the nice thing about science fiction is it lets you imagine other possibilities. And I think that’s so important for those of us who are queer and for those of us who are Black, you know where we face a world that is not always the way the world should be for us. And science fiction, fantasy let you imagine a world that is different where we are fully embraced or where there are new possibilities for us. So I think that’s that’s important, that hope and that opening up of the imagination. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Now, I don’t want to give away too much because people need to buy the book and read it. But you talk about in this chapter coming out to Deb, I think that Deb is her name, right? 

 

Christian Cooper: Mm hmm. Yep. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Did you have a long relationship with Deb after that moment? Like, did you? 

 

Christian Cooper: Oh, she texted me yesterday. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Oh you still are in touch with Deb? 

 

Christian Cooper: Oh, I’ll be talking to Deb till the day I die. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: More back in Birdland. You talk about blackbirds a lot, and I didn’t even appreciate. I mean, you put in the book, but like, Blackbird singing in the dead of night. I was like. I was like. That is about birds. Um. But my question to you is, if I walk through the park, what birds should I be looking for? Like, is there like a most common bird in New York City or is it just like a bird like, I don’t know. Like, what if I start in my birding journey, should I be seeking out a bird? 

 

Christian Cooper: All right. I want to make this more general because there is no one single bird that you’re going to that you’re going to find. It really depends on what habitat you’re in, what time of year it is, what’s what part of the country you’re in. So the thing is to to just, you know, when you’re when you walk out your front door or you don’t even have to walk out your front door if you’re homebound, when you look out your window, you know, just see what you see and observe. It’s funny, I birded in East Africa, in Kenya. I was so lucky to be able to do this with Kenyan birders. You know, I wasn’t birding with these expat Brits. This was a Black African ornithology student who I birded with, which was fabulous. And he said he kept saying, his catch phrase for me was ATD. ATD. Attention to detail. So when you see these birds observe what they do, observe, you know, not just what the colors are, but where the colors are distributed, you know, is it primarily on the breast? Is it primarily on the back? Does it have an eye ring? Does it have wing bars? What is it doing? Is it cocking its head sideways and looking at the ground? You know, you notice all these things and it’ll not only help you identify the bird, but you’ll learn so much about what the bird is doing and what the bird how the bird fits into the bigger world. And then you start to figure out, well, how do I fit in into this bigger natural world? And you start to explore that. So it’s really just a matter of ATD, attention to detail. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: And you in that segue, the book highlights you traveled to a lot of places, you’ve been to a lot of countries, and seen birds in many habitats. Is there I don’t even know the best way to ask this because I’m like a learning birder, I guess is what I would say. Um. Is is there a place where you’re like, I will never forget birding here? There are a lot of places in the book that you talk about, like just the whole experience of the people. And da da but like, yeah, is there a, you’re like, wow, that was just like a wild birding experience. 

 

Christian Cooper: Tons of places! I can’t even begin to to to limit how many places that I’ve gone where I’ve had an incredible birding experience. And I’m happy to say that before the year is out, I will. I’m lucky enough that I’ll be able to visit the last continent I haven’t been to on the planet. I’m actually going on a cruise to Antarctica, so I’m going to see, you know, all the glaciers and icebergs and penguins. But anyway, yes, so many memories of amazing birds. For example, I remember being in Tobago in the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, the country there. You know I was on the island of Tobago and I saw this hummingbird called the Ruby Topaz Hummingbird. But I didn’t know I was looking at it because hummingbirds, a lot of times the colors only come out when the light hits them a certain way. So I’m looking at this bird and it’s gray, and then it gets into a fight with another ruby topaz hummingbird. And so the two of them are fighting mid-air, tumbling down towards the ground. And as they do, the light is hitting them a certain way and suddenly the colors on them are flashing because Ruby Topaz hummingbirds, when the light hits them a certain way, are flaming red. So as these two birds are tumbling, it’s like someone is striking matches off as they fall down towards the ground. Like flash, flash, flash, flash. It was stunning. Um. And then the another is the opposite end of the scale. I was in Ecuador and I had made this trip in the middle of the pandemic on a whim because somebody I knew said they knew where there was an active harpy eagle’s nest. Harpy eagles are the biggest eagles in the world. And so I went down there. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Whoa! 

 

Christian Cooper: I trekked through ankle deep swamp, ruining a pair of hiking boots, didn’t care. And finally I get to this tree and there’s a huge nest. And there is the hugest mother of all eagles sitting there in the tree. And at one point she just kind of stretches out a wing and this huge thing opens up and her tail opens up. And I’m just standing there like, okay, you are a harpy eagle. It was just stunning. So, you know, there’s memories all around the globe of amazing birding experiences. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. There was this beautiful sentence about your about your dad deep in the book. Um. Elliot [?] was my birding mentor for all those years. But Frances Cooper was my dad. Just a just a good sentence. Can you talk about how he how your dad set you up to be the man that you are today? 

 

Christian Cooper: Yeah, well, my, my, well it’s hard to summarize in just a few sentences. That’s where you really need to read the book, is the chapters about my dad because um he was he was a project. My dad, um he was a very difficult man. And yet, you know, his love for me was never in question. Um. Not to him you know. I didn’t always understand it, um but I eventually came to understand it. And what that love for me meant was that he was a schoolteacher. He spent all week busting his butt, um working with kids, getting up early, going to school. And, you know, teaching is a hard job. Very, very hard job. And then the weekend would come and you would think he would get to sleep in on a Sunday. But that man got himself out at the crack of dawn because his bird crazy son wanted to go on the South Shore Audubon Bird walk and go see some birds. And so he got his butt up at the crack of dawn on Sunday when everybody else would be sleeping in and took me to the bird walk. And that was you know just one example of his devotion to family and what that meant. So, yeah, he, he he was he was a special guy. He was a difficult guy. Um. [laughter] But–

 

DeRay Mckesson: What did he call you? Did he call you Christian? 

 

Christian Cooper: Depended. You know, my family tends to call me alternately Chris or Christian. Usually Christian happens when somebody is mad at me or I have done something wrong. So–

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Now one of the things I’ll end with I know that we’re coming up on time, but um but I as I got deeper into the book, actually in the chapter about your dad, this is not where he first appeared not, the sentence I just read came from a different chapter. But um the tragedy [?] Frances Chapter. So I didn’t know that the Diallo protest didn’t kick into high gear until activists from [?] queers blocked traffic on Broadway. I had no clue about that. 

 

Christian Cooper: It was queer people who turned it into a civil disobedience protest. Um. And that was really important because it threw a spotlight on the issue of our treatment at the hands of police as African-Americans. So that was huge. And I remember Calvin Butts there, the late reverend of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, really important church in Harlem, saying that he would never forget what gay people had done for the Black community in doing that. So, yeah, I know it was one of those wonderful moments of intersectionality where, you know, we had each other’s backs. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. I’ve heard a lot. I mean, my work is in police all day. And that was a story that I did not know until I read your book, and I love this that passage about your dad, um as you talk about in take and and the quote is when I finally walked out around daybreak the next morning, dad, who had been my one phone call upon arrest, was there to greet me, bearing the blessed relief of a bagel. 

 

Christian Cooper: Yeah. And even even more so the moment when he and I are in jail together. That was that was a real moment to remember. So, yeah. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. Well, everybody, make sure you buy the book. I have two questions that we ask everybody. Uh. The first is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten that has always stuck with you? 

 

Christian Cooper: Wow, a piece of advice that has always stuck with me. It’s not so much advice as unspoken rule. And this is something my sister and I grew up with in our household. Nobody said it explicitly. We just knew it. It was it was part and parcel of how we were raised that if you see something wrong with the world, it is your personal responsibility to do something to try to fix it. And we grew up with that our whole lives. And both of us still try to live live by that. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Boom, now is she here in the city too? 

 

Christian Cooper: No, she’s out in L.A. now. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Is she is she a love bird–, does she know anything about birds? 

 

Christian Cooper: She knows something about birds. [laughter] She she she’s picked up she grew up surrounded by nature, just like I did. I’m the one who turned out bird crazy. But she’s quite familiar with a lot of she couldn’t. She couldn’t have a brother like me and not be quite familiar with a lot of birds so. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: I love it. And last question is there a lot of people who feel like they’ve done all the things. They read your book, they called, they protested, they ran in the streets, they watched a documentary. And the world hasn’t changed in the way that they wanted it to. What do you say to those people whose hope is being challenged? 

 

Christian Cooper: I’d say that the change does not happen overnight. It’s really hard for us to remember that, to remember that the change is not going to happen overnight and that we will get setbacks like we are seeing from these crazy things coming out of red states where they, you know, like we are seeing with the Supreme Court rolling back affirmative action. Keep your eye on the long term prize. Work towards that long term goal. Keep making the changes and we cannot help but win. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: Boom. Well, let everybody know the name of the book again and to get it. And where they can keep in touch with you. Is it Twitter? Is it Facebook? Is it a website? Uh and thank you so much for coming. 

 

Christian Cooper: Sure. Um. The name of the book is Better Living Through Birding, and it’s available everywhere. Uh. The name of the TV show is Extraordinary Birder, and that’s on Nat Geo Wild and is streamable on Disney Plus and Hulu. Um. And you can keep in touch with me via Instagram. @ChristianCooperBirder. 

 

DeRay Mckesson: [laugh] I love it. [music break] 

 

DeRay Mckesson, narrating:Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out and make sure you rate it wherever you get your podcasts. Whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Evan Sutton. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles E. Johnson. [music break]. 

 

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