When I met the woman from Montréal a couple of weeks ago, I was amused when she asked me if my dogs were racist, too. I was amused because it was refreshing for a “person of colour” (God, I hate that term but it’s a convenient way to describe someone of indeterminate racial origin) to bring up race so openly with a white person she’d only just met. If she’d been African-American and I’d been a white American, I don’t think the topic would have arisen so casually.
A black friend of mine from St Vincent, in the Caribbean, was the first person to point out that my dogs barked far more at the African-Americans in my neighbourhood than at the white people. She was half-joking, half-serious, but I dimissed her comment because I just didn’t think it was possible for an animal to be able to distinguish race.
However, I remembered what my friend had said, and I soon began to notice that, yes, oh my God, my dogs do bark far more at African-Americans than at white people! At first I thought it was just coincidence, but then it kept happening again, and again, and again.
Just today Midwestern Man was telling me about how he spent hours sitting outside a café with his own dog, a chow mix, and he didn’t bark at any of the people going in and out..until a black couple showed up, and all hell broke loose. My dogs are exactly the same.
I find this quite embarrassing because I’m a white woman living in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, which used to be mainly African-American. I feel bad that African-Americans are not only being priced out of the area by white people, but that our dogs are making them feel unwelcome in their own part of town, too! Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but every time my dogs bark at black people I can’t help but think of slavery and the white slave owners who sent dogs off to chase after the scent of escaped slaves.
I have no idea why my dogs appear to have such a dislike of African-Americans but I have several ideas. Could it be that I am uncomfortable around black people, and my dogs have unwittingly picked up on this? Hmmmm, I don’t think so because I purposely moved to this side of town to avoid middle class white Americans and, to be quite frank, I’m pissed off that more and more have followed me over. This place is becoming less diverse by the second, and I’d be pleased if my dogs would chase all the white yuppies away.
Or is that the African-Americans in this town who are nearly all working-class and have grown up in “the hood” have just been exposed to more crazy, dangerous dogs and have therefore learned to be more apprehensive? When I found my pit bull three years ago, I was quite happy to let her come up to me, and pet her with no fear whatsoever. I probably wouldn’t do that now because I’ve seen how many abused and neglected dogs there are on this side of town, and I’d want to make sure the dog was safe before it got too close. Is it possible that my dogs bark more at black people because they just sense the apprehension and fear they learned after years of being exposed to unstable dogs?
It could also be that our dogs (all of whom are so-called dangerous breeds and were strays) were once owned and abused by African-Americans when they were puppies, and now have a fear of them etched into their little doggy memories. I don’t mean to culturally stereotype young, working-class, African-American males, but it is sadly true that they can sometimes be very macho, and like to boost their own masculinity by owning powerful breeds of dogs. Unfortunately, they don’t always take care of their dogs as well as they should, and I’ve seen many living, neglected, in yards, or, worse still, cast out on the streets to fend for themselves.
Whatever the reason, it would be great if my dogs would stop barking at African-Americans as much as they do. Jesus, do I need to take them to doggy diversity training?!