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Are We Were We've Always Been?

Are We Were We've Always Been?
  • Sophia Sanchez

“We are where we’ve always been….” 

The idea that this “great country” - words that have been etched into every American’s brain since infancy - has never truly exemplified the principles it was founded on….

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”

Americans are living through one of the most tumultuous periods in history.  Just weeks into the Covid-19 Pandemic, a race war erupted as video surfaced of a Minnesota Man named George Floyd pleading for his life as Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck, constricting his airway for 8 minutes as he screamed, “I can’t breath.”  He later passed away from his injuries at a local, Minneapolis hospital.

Protests erupted all over the nation and have continued for several months in what is considered the biggest Civil Rights movement since the 1960’s, bringing to the forefront of everyone’s minds…. “Will African American’s ever truly be considered equal?”

It sounds like such a simple concept…. Equality for all.  Yet 52 years have passed since the “end” of the Civil Rights movement and here we are….  Are we truly where we’ve always been?

Africans in America have faced the most notorious racial fight of all.  With the beginning of slavery in 1619, it would be nearly 250 years before Abraham Lincoln would run his presidential campaign on an anti-slavery platform.  The Civil War would ensue abolishing slavery in 1865 and with it, freeing four million slaves.  What followed was the Reconstruction Era which came with the implementation of the Black Codes, where “freed” slaves would once again be forced into laborious work conditions, mandated into segregated communities in impoverished conditions, labeled as dirty and disease-ridden people.   They would be treated this way for another 100 years before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s would drive progress where still, social activist Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated in 1968 and labeled a radical.

It has not been an easy road and is yet to be fully paved.  Americans continue to navigate their way through a very sensitive racial and political climate.  And you might be wondering…. What on earth does any of this have to do with dogs?

This country has a long history of racial, social and generalized biases and prejudices that Americans continue to fight today.  Sadly, that too extends to our beloved canine companions.

America is reckoning with racism and discrimination; something many thought would end when an African American President took office.  But now, four years after President Obama’s departure from the White House, America seems further inundated in a social war that extends far beyond just bias towards African Americans.  Yes, the people of this country have made progress in how they see and value those who are different from them but the very basic principles of equality continue to escape so many.

  • African Americans are disproportionately targeted by police officers.
  • Women continue to fight for their right to have complete autonomy over their bodies.
  • LGBTQ+ people are targeted for violent hate crimes at a rate of two times that of other minority groups.
  • Hispanic Americans at the very surface continue the fight to exist in this country without assumption about legality and/or citizenship. 
  • The disabled are labeled nuisances.

These systems of oppression exist today and can trickle down into pet ownership and how certain dog breeds are perceived and treated.  Dogs like golden retrievers and labradoodles are considered royalty among dog breeds.  Meanwhile dogs like pit bulls and rottweilers are seen as deviants, right alongside their owners.

What do you envision when you think of a golden retriever?  What does the family of a golden retriever look like to you?  Now what do you see when you visualize a pit bull and their family?  How do those two pictures differ in your mind?  An obvious generalization that certainly does not apply to everyone’s perception of dog breeds and who owns them, but these stereotypes exist and there is a correlation between assumptions and the discriminatory biases that dictate dog ownership in cities all across the country.

There are roughly 300 distinct dog breeds in the world, with only a handful being continuously discriminated against.  Pit bulls have topped the list for decades despite once being America’s favorite breed.  They were revered as loyal and loving companions, seen as prized family possessions; a symbol of American pride.  After World War II, their popularity began to decline but they were not feared or maligned until the 1980’s when the myth of the dangerous fighting dog began to take hold.  Their reputation for being predators emerged after gangs began to assimilate pit bulls into their operations and became guilty by association as violent and criminal in nature.  Activists have since devoted their entire lives to combating the image that has shadowed over them ever since.  

Yes, it is true that the reputation of the pit bull evolved from their exploitation by a small sector of criminals within the U.S. population.  But as the fight continues to do away with the grossly misaligned view about who and what pit bulls are, it is important to remember that stereotypes are oversimplified images or ideas that are not always anchored in truths.

Hundreds of years after the founding fathers of America made the willful choice to alienate people of color (POC), and all the decisions that have since been made to eradicate those perceptions, people continue to cross the street when they see a black man walking towards them along an empty sidewalk.  Car windows are closed and doors are locked subconsciously at the presence of dark-skinned African American or Latino males in vacant parking structures.  They’re depicted as violent, brutish, menacing…  whole races of people are rendered lazy, uneducated, angry and aggressive.  They are pigeonholed into low-wage positions, have a harder time finding safe and affordable housing options and are left with poverty-ridden communities as their only recourse.  These stereotypes are intensely embedded into the brains of the American people often among the very same groups facing said discrimination, and they seep into nearly every facet of life for POC.

Many of those very same stereotypes affect the lives of pit bulls and their owners.  People cross the street when they see them coming.  Housing and homeowners insurance are hard to come by where families of pit bulls are forced to pay outrageous prices or are reduced to unsafe neighborhoods.  People are unkind, judgmental, and assume they are aggressive in nature or will snap at any given moment.  And what happens when a POC also happens to be a pit bull parent?  The racial bias towards them and the discrimination against the breed doubles down.  "Oh... there goes a thug with a pit bull....."

There are “bad eggs” among every social class, every race, every gender and every breed of dog.  Yet people of color and certain breeds are regarded to a different standard at disproportionate levels compared to white Americans and those dogs deemed lovable..  And so the fight for justice and equality continues.  The movement towards achieving a truly equal nation, where all lives are upheld to the same standards and laws without bias, without prejudice, is unrelenting and carries on.  But are we where we’ve always been?  Has the America of today gotten it equally as wrong as the founding fathers did?  No.  Progress is progress, no matter how slow.  Choose to believe and trust that America will get it right.  Because people and dogs alike are inherently good.  They are kind, and generous and deserving of all the “good” life has to offer regardless of color, gender, class, and breed.  And one day, the entire nation will agree conclusively.