My husband is a nature buff. His love of all things fishy, feathered or furry is one of his endearing traits. I don't know how a dude from Jersey came to have the tracking skills of an 1800s-era Montana homesteader, but we often have conversations like this, while driving down some highway:
Husband: Look at that!
Tami: (Glancing up from playing Tower Madness on iPhone) Wha?
Husband: That hawk back there in that tree.
Husband: (Shares elaborate description of hawk.) You didn't see that? (incredulously)
Tami: Uh...Or, we'll be curled on the couch watching some nature show:
Husband: Ah, that's a Speckled Western Booby Cat. They're know for their love of honky tonk music and Red Vine candies.
Program announcer: And here we have a Speckled Western Booby Cat, displaying common traits of the species. This little fella is dancing to Jelly Roll Morton and eating Red Vines.
Husband: Told ya.And so it is curious to me--a woman who loves a black man who loves nature--how noticeably absent people of color are from most televised nature programs.
This struck me over the weekend after spending a few hours watching National Geographic programming with Mr. What Tami Said. The lack of diversity is particularly evident to me when the focus is on animals indigenous to places with majority brown or black populations. The predominate view of most nature programs seems to be that of the colonizer. Program after program focuses on white American or European scientists and tourist relationships with animals. We are asked to relate to (white) explorers as they push into a remote wilderness in some dark and "uncivilized" spot. We are to thrill at their knowledge of "exotic" animals and their proximity to dangerous beasts. We watch as they "discover" and "conquer" nature.
But it occurs to me that there are people for whom, say, tigers or lions are not "exotic." There are people who live their lives in some proximity to these animals, who learn as a matter of course how to manage around them. And, even taking into account disparities in economics and education between places like India and Kenya and the United States, there are native Indians and Africans who are as educated about the flora and fauna of their homes as any American expert. But we never see these people. The people of Africa and India and South America are presented as much as exotica as the animals that live in these places. (Look up "safari" on Flickr as you will see photos of animals interspersed with photos of African people) When they exist, black and brown people are only at the edges of the story--a figure in khaki at the corner of the shot or in the back of the jeep, holding a shotgun. They are "scouts" or "guides" or "protectors," while European-descended protagonists stay at the center of the experience.
Why are experts of color rarely present in nature programs--even ones centered around places where they are the majority?
Is there reluctance to trade the "colonizer narrative" for a new view of nature?
Photo Credit: CorradoMos