I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to my white friends why I have always feared the police. I can trace the origin of this fear back to a time when my father was pulled over for a traffic ticket when I was in grade school.
I don’t remember anything about the exchange except for the sudden realization that my big, strong, all-powerful, all-knowing father was scared. Sensing his fear instantly made me terrified. I knew that the officer approaching our window was a threat to us.
Since then, I’ve been pulled over many times, and while I’ve never been physically abused, I’ve been yelled at and disrespected and felt that I was being baited into reacting. Getting pulled over by a police officer is the single most dangerous thing that happens in my life.
My white friends “intellectually” understand what I’m saying, and they sympathize with me. But they can’t quite empathize because their life experience is so different from mine.
I realized a few years ago, that two dog breeds reflect the differences between the white and the black experience.
White people in America are Labrador retrievers; black people, like me, are Rottweilers.
In our country, Labrador retrievers are beloved animals, welcome in hardware stores, parks, restaurants, the homes of strangers, hiking trails and just about anywhere else you can think of. They’re seen as kind, loving, loyal, playful, happy and completely “safe.”
I am a Rottweiler.
Society views me as a threat no matter where I am — on the sidewalk, in the street, in the park, in a car and even in my own yard. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. My mere presence is threatening enough to compel someone to call animal control to remove me.
When animal control officers arrive to capture a Rottweiler, they climb out of their truck in full protective gear, expecting the worst. They approach cautiously and tensely, which the Rottweiler experiences as stalking behavior — a threat. They use a pole to get a collar around the Rottweiler’s neck and then cinch it down tight to ensure that he doesn’t get away.
But that makes the Rottweiler feel that he’s getting trapped, so he fights for his freedom, which causes the animal control agents to use even more force to control him, which causes the dog to fight harder for his freedom.
This cycle of escalation sometimes continues until the Rottweiler is dead.
Labrador retrievers blame the Rottweiler for escalating the situation. They say, “All he had to do was wag his tail and be friendly. But he got aggressive, and they had no choice but to put him down.”
But the escalation didn’t start with the Rottweiler.
The first escalation was the universal opinion that Rottweilers are dangerous and don’t belong in most places. The second escalation came when someone called animal control because there was a Rottweiler sitting quietly outside a Starbucks. The third escalation was the animal control officers arriving with a determination that they needed to be forceful and aggressive.
The Rottweiler’s death warrant was written by these escalations before he even got involved in the situation.
Labrador Retrievers have a hard time understanding this. They believe that every dog breed can achieve the same level of acceptance in society simply by wagging their tails and being friendly.
They’re not aware that they were born with favored-breed status. It’s their breed — not their wagging tails — that drives their experience.
I am a Rottweiler, but interestingly, my fame as a former Denver Bronco, media personality and philanthropist has given me a unique status in the state of Colorado. I am so well-known and so well-trusted that most of the time, I am treated like a Labrador retriever — a chocolate lab.
I get to see the world from the Labrador’s perspective, and it is astonishing how different it is from the Rottweiler’s point of view. The Labrador is universally liked, universally accepted, universally trusted and fits in by doing nothing more than showing up.
But when I leave the state of Colorado, I instantly become a Rottweiler again. The Rottweiler is universally feared, universally suspected, universally distrusted and the Rottweiler stands out — imagine a lone Rottweiler in the middle of dozens of Labrador retrievers at the dog park.
If there’s a problem, everyone assumes the Rottweiler started it.
To Rottweilers the differences are obvious and plainly visible — especially when animal control officers execute one of us on the side of the road.
But it’s hard to convince the Labrador retrievers that it was systemic bias that caused the murder — not the specific actions of that Rottweiler.
The positive bias that the Labradors experience is so far removed from the negative bias that we Rottweilers experience that the labs have a hard time believing it exists.