Microaggression and Blackbirds

Long ago someone told me pigeons are flying rats and I’ve never bothered to think differently. Pigeons have discovered the bird feeder on my balcony. I shoo them away but they lurk on the ledges of the building across the street and return when they think the coast is clear. A single red-winged black bird, one-fifth the size of a pigeon, will scare a pigeon away from its breakfast on my windowsill.

 Red-winged blackbirds can be aggressive in defending their nests this time of year.

Red-winged blackbirds nest in Chicago parks. The males chase intruders — other males, crows, raptors, and people. I wandered down Michigan Avenue the other day to check on the migrating flock that sets up housekeeping every year in Lake Shore Park. Though I readily observe one or two red-wings at my window, there’s nothing like watching a flock dive-bombing unsuspecting dog walkers who pass under their nests.

On the way, I clutched my bag as I passed the Louis Vuitton store. I funneled myself between the ever-present queue around the store and the narrowing sidewalk. Lines formed outside Louis Vuitton and other high-end stores when Covid Shutdown rules required a limited number of people inside. And for the umpteenth time this year I noticed my silent microaggressive thoughts on Black people. Where do these people get the money for four thousand dollar purses? 

Covid Shutdown coincided with the proliferation of online free programs about white privilege, implicit bias and microaggression. For the first time in my old life I’ve been made aware that my whiteness affords me privileges such as crossing paths with a policeman without fear, a privilege Black people don’t have. I’ve discovered that fear of Black men is an implicit bias that governs where I live, eat, shop and travel. Microaggression is a bit trickier to face. Awareness of clutching my bag as I silently scorn Black people lined up at Louis Vuitton is a start. 

On a recent anti-racist zoom program, I learned about workers in the “informal” or survival economy. These are the bucket boys. The handymen. The loose cigarette sellers.The sex workers. The retail money-launderers. Until recently I thought of informal workers as criminals, and not as resilient, courageous, burdened and traumatized spirits of the survival economy. 

A dapper old pensioner sits in a busy park near my building. I know he’s often short on rent, the way you know these things about the neighborhood. He palms a bill in the hand of every passing informal worker: the Streetwise peddlers, the panhandlers, the street people. He’s the only person I know who still carries cash. I used to think he was not only foolish with his money but that he actually hurt people by providing cash for booze and cigarettes. I now think of him as the buddha, the christ, the manifestation of noble kindness. 

I’m receptive to changing my thinking about people.

But not about those pigeons.


‘Nature’s A–holes’ Are Back: Red-Winged Blackbirds Attacking People Along The River As Nesting Season Gets Underway

8 thoughts on “Microaggression and Blackbirds

  1. Regan, As usual you reveal to me truths about myself. Although, living in a more rural setting , it’s not pigeons for me but Canada Geese. And the enforcers here are crows.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Regan,
    “Conscious” and “unconscious” bias part of being human.
    The wonderful awareness of being aware of them is vital for our humanity and the elimination of racism.
    Your essay is brave, truthful, and human!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For some reason, I am confused with the request for my email address and password. I’ve seen men and women, mostly black,  on many corners in the South Loop asking for money. I have seen men at the library with their heads down on the table sleeping.  I much rather see a man (or woman) get up in the morning and go to work, even if it means standing there with a cup from a fast food joint, jiggling the coins and asking for money, over and over.  I always have change with me and the first person who asks, gets my money.  They thank me and in return, I look them in the eye and say, “you’re welcome.” 

    Al Hippensteel 901 S. Plymouth Ct, #1005 Chicago, IL 60605312.939.8888davis-steel@sbcglobal.net

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Recommended reading:

    Gay-Neck: the Story of a Pigeon won the Newberry Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1928. It deals with the life of Gay-Neck, a prized Indian pigeon. Mukerji wrote that “the message implicit in the book is that man and winged animals are brothers.” He stated that much of the book is based on his boyhood experiences with a flock of forty pigeons and their leader, as the boy in the book is Mukerji himself. The book offers an insight into the life of a boy of high caste and also into the training of pigeons. Several chapters are told from Gay-Neck’s perspective, with the pigeon speaking in first person. (If memory serves, there’s a lot about homing pigeon messengers during WWI)

    Since early day, this has informed my thought about pigeons- also their real name: rock doves. Their original native habitat is cliff-sides, and rock doves can be found in eastern Washington nesting on basalt cliffs along the Columbia River in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge (Grant County).

    I always think of them as exiles, living on the sides of high rise buildings as a substitute for cliffs. Something to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

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