I am the doggie daddy to one of God’s most photogenic and delightful canines. When it comes to cuteness and personality, Lassie, Snoopy, Rin-Tin-Tin, Checkers and neither of the two Obama dogs can lick my dog’s ass. Literally. Don Cheagle is the best dog. Ever.
Don is small, cheerful and white. He can’t help it. He was born to look like Becky but I swear inside he’s Tyrone. But, at first glance white people don’t know that and I have come to accept that walking him and his lil’ cute self is going to mean that some random people – almost always white people are going to want to stop and engage him and talk to him – and ignore me.
I said I’ve come to accept this, not tolerate it.
Because white people making me a Ralph Ellison title while celebrating my dog is a trifecta of privilege, entitlement and erasure. And I won’t encourage it. Not even in the small things.
Earlier today the Very Smart Brother who goes by the name Damon Young published a few words about his feelings of this phenomenon of white people talking to his dog and not him. The piece ended with a cry for help on how to not let these white folk off the hook while still being pretty much an introvert.
Mr. Young, I’m here to help.
I’m Julian Long and if introversion was a belly button, mine is such an “innie” that it touches my backbone. I don’t like talking to strangers. I don’t care if they have candy. Even as a child that was one thing my mother never had to worry about. I wasn’t talking to strangers, I wasn’t even talking to family.
So, I kinda resent my dog, Donathan, for attracting the randoms with his ineffable cuteness. Because when they approach him it forces me to check them – and check them I do, with glee because – NO – but also because:
1. He’s not your dog – did you just click your tongue and tell MY dog to “c’mere” like he belongs to you? On what grounds? Do you feed him? Do you pick up his poop? What loyalty or obedience do you think he owes you? And you would solicit his obedience to you at the expense of his obedience to me? Fuck that.
2. You’re not the center of his world or mine – Do you know why I am out at 9pm in sweat pants and a Sponge Bob t-shirt? Because he needs to shit. The fact that this time happens to coincide with the moment you’re passing on the sidewalk is neither his nor my problem. But now because you can’t handle the fact that something you find adorable doesn’t want to just love all over you, you have distracted him with your cooing- adding another 8-10 minutes of awkward squatting and circling to this routine. I hate you for this. And I will let you know.
3. You can’t have everything you want – When I come outside with my dog I’m not soliciting your attention, nor am I presenting you with a convenient outlet for your misplaced emotions. Sure, you just want to be friendly to the cute friendly dog, but he’s not here for you. He’s here for me. His love is unconditional, but it’s not free. It cost me sleepless nights when he had pancreatitis, and two pairs of Ted Baker shoes, and a handmade, 7-fold, silk necktie that he turned into a chew toy. It cost me the heart jumping in my throat moments when a big dog rushes him in the park, and the worry when he won’t eat some days. That is the cost of love and you didn’t put in on this. No he doesn’t “look like he wants to go with you” – you’re projecting.
While I’m getting this off my chest, let me address a few other annoying things I hear said to my dog: You say “he smells my dogs on me” like you’re some dog whisperer – he’s a DOG. He smells EVERYTHING. Stop saying that.
You ask him “Aren’t you cute?” like he’s supposed to answer. Yes. He’s cute. He knows this. Trust me. You are bringing nothing to this conversation. Make yourself useful and express his anal glands or something.
You ask him, “You wanna come live with me and be my dog?” and you think that’s cute. It’s not. It’s insulting.
Here are 5 simple “shut downs” that I’ve used to end these interactions that result in little to no unwanted further engagement.
This is a compete sentence and remarkably effective when deliver it in my Voice of God register. Nothing follows this except them drawing back their hand.
2. “Really. So what of yours can I admire and touch without acknowledging you?” – This usually results in flustered apologies – I can’t hear them. I’m walking away by then.
3. “Did he say it was ok?” This sometimes gets a smug snarky reply from the builder ones like “ohhhhh, he likes it.” which I follow with a soundly delivered: “But I don’t, and I’m the one you should be worried about”
4. “Don’t do that. I’m right here.” This simple truth disarms 99% of them so fast. Because nobody wants to admit to doing something racist, or to being an asshole. But placing an animal over a fellow human being who happens to be Black is erasure and if your excuse is you “didn’t mean it”, I’m going to do you the favor of showing you the impact. No, it doesn’t make you a racist, but it makes you an asshole.
5. “Don’t. You, don’t know where he’s been” The fun thing is when the white people respond “Oh, it’s ok…” I get to follow with: “No, I was talking to MY DOG. I didn’t know you could see or hear me.” Yes, it’s petty, mean, and nasty but it makes them think.
I promise you that none of these have ever led to more interaction than I wanted. It’s usually just me talking and them walking away in a huff. But I do this every time.
Because the truth is it doesn’t stop with the dog.
When I’m walking with my friend’s adorable toddler, the whites do the same thing. “Come here cutie! What’s your name? How old are you?” As if he’s supposed to go running to them and answer. This isn’t my child but they don’t know that. He’s with me. Holding my hand and I DON’T KNOW YOU. So what makes you think this is ok?
Sometimes they do this when he’s with his mother and she hates it, but she’s too polite. I’m not!
Them: “Hey little sweetie? What’s your name?”
Me: “He can’t answer you but there are two other people here who can. And who you’re addressing wouldn’t be a potential threat due to age discrepancy – why not try asking us? That way we don’t assume you’re a potential kidnapper?”
That’s mild for me.
And I’ll always do this. Whether it’s for dog or child – because our history has taught us that nothing we love, or hold dear is really ours and ours alone, it can always be taken if a white person loves it too, until they grow weary of it or have used it up. I resist that history and so I when I bark, heed it. Because my bite is so much worse.