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

Shutdown Week 4: Shame

House sparrows have been chirping at my window. They’re abundant on my city street and in the spring they emerge from their winter hiding places looking for food. Last year for the first time, European starlings appeared. Sometimes I think I hear robins and cardinals but starlings mimic the sounds of other birds. They’re trying to trick me into putting bird seed out for the more colorful birds, not knowing I love them equally. 

Gutsy red-winged blackbirds abruptly premiered on the railing of my balcony, sucking the breath out of me. Their distinctive one-second long, loud musical trill called me from the breakfast table. Jet black bodies shouldered with red and yellow feathers held on fearlessly as I moved closer to the window. For years I’ve had black furniture with red and yellow highlights, imitating red-winged blackbirds. 

A friend called from Florida to say Happy Easter as I was tethering Henry for his morning walk.

“It’s Easter?” 

“Yes! It’s Easter,” and we laughed in that old familiar way, like we just discovered each of our days slips from one to another like egg after egg slipping into boiling water. We starting talking about the Shutdown. I extended Henry’s walk farther along Lake Shore Drive sensing a longer iPhone conversation.

“I can’t watch the news. Can’t talk about him,” she said.

I understand, of course. It’s what we all say and like all of us, she ended up talking about it anyway—said the Democrats need to present an answer to the question “why” to win in November. 

“The Democrats have moved their convention to August about the same time as my book release,” I said. “Let’s go to Milwaukee and sell books out of the trunk of the car, a trunk show!” We’ve had such adventures in the past, but plans cannot be made until the Shutdown is resolved. 

The outside world has been a physical threat since St. Patrick’s Day. At first I was in danger of someone sneezing on me. I’m in the vulnerable group. Now others are in danger of me sneezing on them. I may be an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier. 

Henry and I ended up sitting in the bus stop sheltered by an unexpected spring warmth. IMG_0871Walkers have taken to the street lately because the sidewalks aren’t wide enough to keep the reqiured social distancing. A woman in an ominous medical mask, six feet into the street, walked by and gave me a long evil eye. I’ve been wearing a cowgirl bandana for my mask and I neglected to re-cover my face after it slipped down when I was on the phone. Shaming eyes have replaced smiles and waves on the street. Watch out if you forget your mask. You’ll need to mend your wounds with a Brene Brown Ted Talk on shame from the daggers shooting out of your neighbors’ gaze.

The Stay Home battle cry presents no threat though. Settling into social isolation, I watch masked neighbors from the window.

And I pray for a visitation from the woodpecker I heard the other day.