Would it surprise you that not everyone was allowed to enjoy spring peacefully this year, even in their own neighborhood?
Related contentNot long ago, Dudley Edmondson, Duluth's highly regarded nature photographer and author, was taking pictures of wildflowers on the east side of Duluth. A white woman and neighbor challenged him, saying, "You don't look like any nature photographer I've ever seen." She suggested to people passing by that he was casing her house.
Dudley was photographing a wildflower near an I-35 freeway ramp a few days later, and a state trooper stopped because he had a report that a drunk black man was lying on the side of the road. The police officer and Dudley both knew it was a case of "appreciating nature while black," a close relative of "driving while black." It's well-documented that officers disproportionately stop drivers who are people of color. Just as is "shopping while black," which is being given poor or no service because of skin color.
You can read about Dudley's experience, and about the experiences of other African Americans who love nature, in the March 20 issue of Yes! Magazine. (Disclosure: Dudley Edmondson is a board member for Oldenburg Arts and Cultural Community, or OACC, the nonprofit organization we serve. He is the father of Document Spring, a citizen science and photography project offered by OACC.)
How do we effectively counter our neighbors' expressions of racism? Our first reaction might be furious indignation: "We are better than this!" But anger doesn't really change minds. Research shows the best way to encourage a broader and more nuanced perspective on race is to listen with empathy so our neighbor feels heard and to try to find some truth with which you can agree. In this instance, perhaps it's that it is true there aren't many people of color who are nature photographers. Then can you can raise your own experiences and facts in a way that allows a neighbor to revisit his or her views.
Related contentChanging people's minds is hard work. But it's something white people need to do. It's just not fair to leave it to people of color who are experiencing subtle or overt racism in their daily lives.
Now, in this season of new beginnings, it's time to take this on.
And when you pick up Stan Tekiela's book, "Wildflowers of Minnesota," remember Dudley Edmondson went through unnecessary hassles to bring you beautiful photos.
Then keep on standing up for all of us enjoying Mother Nature at every opportunity.
Emily Swanson is executive director and Glenn Swanson is artistic director for Oldenburg Arts and Cultural Community (oacc.us). They also own and operate Oldenburg House, a bed and breakfast and event venue in Carlton (oldenburghouse.com).