This week I haven’t found watching cute puppy videos nearly as much fun.
What Bully Breeds Teach Me About Racism
Racism is a white people problem.
Yes, it’s people of color who bear the brunt of racism. But it’s white people who need to change. And not just the white people who use racial slurs or who bring out a gun when a black woman turns up on their doorstep or who think lethal force is an appropriate response to someone committing a misdemeanor.
How do I know?
The pit bulls have told me.
Everyone who fights against breed specific legislation (BSL) knows that it’s not a pit bull problem. It’s a people problem.
Heck, if towns outlawed every breed that ever bit anyone, they’d be rounding up golden retrievers too.
But pit bull mixes are now demonized dogs, just like German shepherds and Doberman pinschers were for earlier generations.
I love pit bulls. Every one I’ve ever known has been goofy and lovable. If you asked me, I’d tell you that BSL is unfair and does nothing to prevent dog bites.
And yet I have a guilty confession—when I meet a short coated dog with a big blocky muzzle, I’m more apprehensive than if that dog had a long coat and a floofie tail.
Yep, I don’t like it. But I’m a little prejudiced against pit bulls.
It’s not rational. I know it’s wrong. But I’ve taken the bad information I hear around me and let it influence my perceptions.
So if you’re a white person who says you’re not racist, I say you’re lying to yourself. Because it’s only human to be influenced by your culture. And U.S. culture, whose founders owned enslaved people, is deeply racist.
I know what I’ve just said is very hurtful. But stay with me. Because bikinis have something else to tell us about racism too.
Body Image And Racism
Google tells me that most people who read Something Wagging are women. So I think this example will ring true for many of you.
You have a wonderful body. It takes you where you need to go. It may have borne children. It’s beautiful.
But how often do you feel that way about it?
Would you go out in a bikini today? Probably not. Most women wouldn’t.
Even professional models spend hours on make up and hair before doing a photo shoot. And editors touch up the final images so they’re even more perfect than an already artful reality.
You know that the messages we see on television or read in magazines about body perfection are ridiculous. You’re not a less valuable human being because the backs of your thighs aren’t perfectly smooth or the fat on your arms keeps moving after you stop.
But you’ve probably taken the message that your body isn’t good enough into your heart. It influences what you see. It changes what you do.
Is it possible that even though we know that all people are equally valuable, that the messages we hear in our culture cause us to feel differently way deep down without even being aware of it?
How Our Surroundings Change What We See
I used to live in Southwest Philadelphia. At the time, census data showed my zip code’s population was 99% African-American.
You know the racist presumption that all people of the same race or ethnicity know each other? Well in my case it was true. There were so few other white people around that we all knew each other by name.
Once my sister and I went shopping at an outlet mall in the Philadelphia suburbs. After her car broke down, we picked up a bus to get back into town.
We both felt kind of weird on that bus. At first, we didn’t know why. But finally we realized it was because every single person on that bus was white.
It had been a long time since I had been anywhere that was so lily-white. And I felt uncomfortable. It made me think of cross burnings in South Philadelphia and KKK rallies in Baltimore.
My everyday surroundings changed what I saw while riding on a bus filled with white people. And it made me feel threatened for no reason.
Now I live in very white upstate New York. And I no longer feel weirded out by a bus full of white people. In fact, it’s a daily part of my life.
It’s changing the way I perceive the world. How could it not?
The current demonstrations and unrest give me hope.
It’s a good thing to stand up against injustice. Hopefully it will prompt systemic change.
But we also need hearts to change. My heart. And your heart. And many, many more.
I’ve never used a racial slur. In fact, hearing some words physically turns my stomach. I’ve believe every person is valuable.
But I’ve made stupid comments that my friends who are people of color have found insensitive (it’s the extrovert’s curse to say stuff before thinking about it). I’ve felt surprised by things I should not have felt surprised by. And particularly since I’ve moved to upstate New York, I’ve found it easy to simply accept the benefits of my white privilege.
In Philadelphia, I saw the benefits of being white every day.
Neighborhood store owners with giant signs on the door telling all customers to leave their bags at the counter told me, “Oh no, not you Miss.”
I’ve come home from work to find two of the nicest young men on the block handcuffed on my stairs for just hanging out and talking. As a teenager, I used to break into under-construction houses with my mostly white friends and never once thought I’d get anything but a warning if someone called the cops.
And I remember finding out that the police detained the wrong man for breaking into our house. The prosecuting attorney didn’t want to disrupt our schedule so he told us we didn’t have to attend the trial. The police had all the evidence they needed without us.
Unfortunately, the arrested man gave the police his brother’s name. It was his brother they rounded up for trial, twice. And if my husband and I had taken time off work to go to the trial, we could have told them they had the wrong guy and saved some innocent man a lot of grief.
Yep, I was dumb.
I have to work at being smarter. And if you’re white, so do you.
Today I live in a city that is mostly white. And the privileges I receive for being white are like water to a fish. They surround me all the time and I have to work to notice it.
We have to create a groundswell where white people admit our racism and see our racial privilege. Because training police officers to think twice before they shoot isn’t enough.
We all need to face the racist environment we’ve created in this country and the part every white person plays in keeping it going. If you don’t know you have a problem, you can’t solve it.
Why I Went Personal
Did you know that even members of the KKK tell reporters they’re not racists?
Everyone, even racial supremacists, knows racism is wrong. That’s why no one is willing to be called one.
I could have linked to studies where white people find black faces more threatening. But I decided to keep it personal and share from my heart what I’ve learned from bully dogs and bikinis.
White people who care about racial equality need to step up and face the truth about our own implicit racism. We need to make it easier for people who say “I’m not racist” to look into their hearts and see how attitudes they don’t even know they have are affecting them.
Because racism is more than just using racial slurs. It’s saying “boys will be boys” about your neighbor’s son who gets into trouble while telling folks that a black man shot by the police shouldn’t have done bad stuff if he didn’t want to get shot.
And it’s hoping you’ll get a warning when a traffic cop pulls you over for speeding without caring that a black man in the same situation is hoping he won’t get arrested or shot.
If I can admit on a dog blog that despite everything I know, bully dogs scare me a little more than other dogs, maybe there’s hope yet. And if I can make other painful confessions about racism, maybe you can too.
Perhaps if every white American starts to realize that racism is affecting us without our realizing it, the same way beauty magazines make us feel ugly despite knowing they’re stupid, we can make things better.
I know we have to.
Because if we don’t all feel safe, no one is safe.
photo credits: (don’t shoot) Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via photopin cc, (pit bull)Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via photopin,(beauty magazines) dicharry via photopin cc,(Uncle Sam) JoeInSouthernCA via photopin cc, (Philadelphia) sashafatcat via photopin cc, (Dr. King quote) philozopher via photopin cc,(racist graffiti) Patrick Feller via photopin cc. To learn more about the photographers, click the images.