Last Updated on August 6, 2020
A group of ornithologists is demanding that birds with names linked to “racist” individuals should have their names changed as the Black Lives Matter movement continues gaining momentum.
“Bird Names for Birds,” set up by ornithologists Gabriel Foley and Jordan Rutter, have identified a number of birds that are named after famous “racists,” and following recent events, are insisting these eponyms be changed to something else.
“These honorific names — known as eponyms — also cast long, dark shadows over our beloved birds and represent colonialism, racism and inequality,” Foley and Rutter argue in the Washington Post. “It is long overdue that we acknowledge the problem of such names, and it is long overdue that we should change them.”
Some of the “racist” birds that they identify include Audobon’s shearwater and Audubon’s oriole, named after John James Audobon. Audobon discovered an “astonishing” 25 bird species in North America, but studied the skulls of dead Mexican soldiers after the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, and therefore must not be honoured, they say.
Bachman’s sparrow is named after Reverend John Bachman, who Rutter and Foley rightly point out was an anti-abolitionist, and argued that the intellect of “the negro… is greatly inferior to the Caucasian.” However, the two forget to mention that Bachman was also a social reformist, who preached to both black and white communities in his southern church, and was one of the first to argue that all races of people are the same biological species.
Due to the controversial nature of the argument, Rutter and Foley have said that all eponymous names must be removed as a precautionary measure, because white people shouldn’t get to decide who is and isn’t racist:
We cannot subjectively decide — especially if the adjudicators are White — that some names can be retained because they are associated with less abhorrent pasts than others. We must remove all eponymous names. The stench of colonialism has saturated each of its participants, and the honor inherent within their names must be revoked.
It follows a wider push across the West to remove statues and names of anyone who was deemed “too racist” by the standards of today.