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Guest columnist: Political correctness takes aim at bird names, cows

By John Trump

I’d like to address the “woke” movement, or whatever people are calling it.

I’m not speaking of racism, or sexism or gender inequality. Those are significant issues that should — and must —  be addressed, though separately, critically and exclusively.

I’m speaking, rather, of this oncoming crazy train, its boxcars and tenders overfilled with ideas someone failed to secure, leaving them to fall haphazardly across the countryside. All part of the overarching desire to be “woke,” whatever that means. It used to be called, I guess, “political correctness.”

I heard or read about some of those ideas over the past couple of days. And before you castigate me for being an insensitive, painfully ignorant jerk, I think some of these aren’t without merit.

I get it, everyone wants to do their part. To make things right, to make a difference. We’ve removed monuments and renamed schools and streets. We’ve changed the names of sports teams, moved all-star games and other events — to places more “woke,” more acceptable. But can we slow down, maybe pump the breaks a bit, before we go off the rails for good? Before we take that gallon of whiteout and completely erase our history, however sordid, ugly, and complex?

Now, we’re to the point of renaming birds and removing cows.

For the past year or so, as NPR reports, Jordan Rutter, a birder from Washington, D.C., and founder of the group Bird Names for Birds, has tried to make birding more inclusive by removing all eponymous bird names. Or, birds named after people.

Rutter, in August 2020, petitioned the American Ornithological Society, which determines the names of birds, to take up the cause. “We call these bird names verbal statues,” Rutter told NPR, “because so many of them truly are honoring folks that were involved in colonial and Confederate times.” When early naturalists such as John James Audubon discovered a new bird, the story says, they often named it after a friend or colleague.

“There’s Wilson’s warbler, and Swainson’s warbler, and Kirtland’s warbler,” lists Kenn Kaufman, author of several birding field guides, told NPR. “You’ve got Nuttall’s woodpecker, and Cassin’s vireo, Cassin’s auklet, and then there’s Botteri’s sparrow, and Bachman’s sparrow,” he says.

“As an activist in the birding community I would say that I’m seeking to decolonize the birding experience,” Tykee James, a birding activist in Washington, D.C., and co-founder of Freedom Birders, says in the story.

If one group or another wants to rename a bird originally named after the Confederate general who discovered it and then call it by their chosen name within their group, that’s their prerogative. I would support their effort. But these campaigns and those like them lead more to chaos and confusion than to justice and equality.

American Ornithological Society president Mike Webster is committed to the idea, NPR writes, but he’s not convinced all eponymous names need to be changed. Common names, such as street names, provide guidance for those navigating the scientific literature, “’And if you changed the names of a quarter of the streets in a particular city overnight, that would cause chaos.’”

A lot of people, I’m guessing, couldn’t identify a McCown’s Longspur if their lives depended on it. Racial justice is one thing, but trying to alter history and culture to support an esoteric interest or hobby is something else.

For example, Epicurious no longer has “the beef.” The digital brand focusing on cooking and recipe last month announced that it will stop using cow parts in its recipes.

“’We know that some people might assume that this decision signals some sort of vendetta against cows — or the people who eat them,’” Maggie Hoffman, a senior editor, and David Tamarkin, a former digital director, wrote in an article last month, according to the N.Y Times. “But this decision was not made because we hate hamburgers (we don’t!).

“The shift was solely about sustainability, about not giving airtime to one of the world’s worst climate offenders. … We think of this decision as not anti-beef but rather pro-planet.”

Cows, say environmentalists who want to remove them, are bad primarily because they say they emit greenhouse gases that are destroying the planet. Thing is, grass-fed beef is delicious and, if raised responsibly and in a sustainable way, is an important source of nutrients, including B-vitamins, iron and protein. And, what exactly would we do with all those cows? Put them in shelters, advertise them for adoption as household pets?

Furthermore, hamburgers, which aren’t going away, go great with a Coke, which by the way was invented by a veteran of the Confederate Army trying to concoct a potion to relieve excruciating pain brought on when a Union soldier planted a saber in his chest. Coca-Cola gets its name because its inventor, John Stith Pemberton, incorporated the coca plant — a base for cocaine — in his original recipes.

Part of our history, after all.

John Trump is managing editor of the Carolina Journal, where this article first appeared.

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