Crows, flickers, and White obliviousness

Dear President Biden,

Since this is going to be a bit of a lurch-y letter, I’ll just let you know up front that I’ve got a couple of bird things to tell you about and then I’m going to switch over to swimming pools.

First, remember how the mean crow swooped me on my morning walk a couple of weeks ago? Well, since then I’ve seen two notes on the local Next Door blog commenting on crow attacks, one of which happened exactly where mine did. The other was posted this morning and describes what sounds like quite a scary incident complete with multiple crows – the person got technical and dramatic and called it “a murder of crows” – and being chased into someone’s yard for cover. Sadly, that person is probably in for a rough summer, or five.

The second bird thing to tell you about is that there was a very large flicker in our backyard pecking and poking around for bugs for nearly five minutes. Several other birds came and went during this time and it was fun watching them do their different, individual, birdy, things. At one point a hummingbird joined the party and I swear it paused directly over the flicker (as only hummingbirds can do) and looked down at it as though it was trying to figure out if the red heart-shaped splotch on the back of its neck was a flower. Fortunately it figured out that it was not a flower, averting an inter-species bird issue. Then a bit later when we took the dogs on their little half-block walk we found two tiny fuzzy flicker under-feathers, one with one black splotch towards the tip end in the cream feather-field and the other with two black splotches. They’re lovely. And for me, quite a novelty, as previously I’ve only found the type of flashy flicker feathers that are crisp little blades – one side orange and the other side black.

So that’s the bird news from my corner of Seattle.

The swimming pool thing is more of a confession. I’m reading Heather McGhee’s The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together and just finished Chapter 2 – Racism Drained the Pool.

This is an aside, but do you all have a White House book club going? If not, it would be a good idea to start one and this book would be an excellent inaugural read.

Anyway, this chapter title is only four words long, but it ably captures both what literally happened in this country around public swimming pools as well as the very tangible ways that we’ve structured our society to keep from fairly distributing what should be public goods to people of all races and in the process have made life smaller and meaner for everyone, including those wealthy enough to afford the privatized versions of what should be public goods. 

The confession part of this for me is that before reading this chapter, I had no idea that public pools were literally drained to avoid having to be integrated. It’s not as though this is surprising news on any level, it’s just more that I’d never considered why there are private neighborhood pool clubs sprinkled around Seattle and that I’d never known this story (and yes, Seattle pools were segregated).

Basically, it’s another reminder of how insidious systemic racism is and how f-ing invisible it is to most White people. I’ve been fantasizing about finding a way to make practices like red-lining and racial covenants apparent in what are still very White neighborhoods in NE Seattle. I’ve not figured out (yet) how to do whatever it is in ways that would have a prayer of staying intact, but I think if we are going to puncture White obliviousness, it has to be where White people live – literally.

May we all be safe.
May we all have ready access to public goods that are restorative and bring us joy.
May we come to understand that we are truly stronger together.

May we accept that a society predicated on elaborate versions of “keep away” is dysfunctional to its core.

Tracy Simpson

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