April 10, 2008

Keeping the Black Dog Down, Boy, Down

From AOL News: Big, Black Dogs Face Stigma

I'm sorry, big, black whats?
Ah, yes. Right.

I know I'm treading on dangerous ground here, but I can't shake the feeling that this news story is being just a little bit flippant:
Gozer isn't aggressive and doesn't look mean or bark . . . People are afraid of the dog purely because it's big and black. . . .

According to animal shelter officials, big, black dogs like Gozer have more trouble finding a happy home than do other dogs. Some shelters even have a name for it: "Big black dog syndrome."

. . . At the city animal shelter in Rogers, Ark., big, black dogs almost always make up the bulk of the animals put to sleep each month. Last month, 13 of the 14 dogs killed by the city were large and black . . .

One black dog, Coal, took more than six months to find a home despite a sweet temperament, excellent recommendations and a featured spot on Yaffe's Web site. "He was just black," Yaffe said. "That was his one offense."
A quick search on Google reveals that there are a bunch of other news stories and websites devoted to championing the rights of big, black dogs. And yet they all manage to get by without mentioning the big, black elephant in the room: sometimes, big, black DUDES get discriminated against, too.

Some of the language used teeters so close to its human civil rights equivalent that one of the websites (blackpearldogs.com) was actually forced to place a prominent link at the top of their sidebar explaining earnestly that they are not an internet hoax (discrimination against black dogs is a "very real" problem!). They manage to do this, naturally, without any mention as to why people might think they are a hoax, though I think it probably has something to do with their list of the top three reasons why people don't like black dogs:
1) Harmful superstitions: Black dogs in folklore

2) Negative Labels . . .

3) Fear: What makes a dog aggressive or dangerous. Is it their color?
I mean, are you shitting me? Look, I know pet adoption websites are not the best forum in which to take up civil rights issues, but how can you write this stuff without any mention of discrimination against black people and still keep a straight face? I think it's worth pointing out that (a) the three hundred years of racism in the United States — including the frequent depiction of black men as animals — might also help to explain the presence of a bias against, um, actual black animals, and (b) since the same kinds of claims about black people have been summarily debunked and condemned, there's really no reason why we should put up with it in the animal kingdom (or anywhere else) either.

Or are we really still so uncomfortable talking about race that we're willing to tiptoe around the most obvious argument here for fear of appearing somehow racist?

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