Many years ago, I bought my sons a dog. He was a Havanese — a ball of white and black fluff, who didn’t walk, but hopped. The problem was the dog and my boys were as good as a match as McCain and Palin: they tried to make it work, but it wasn’t a natural fit. My boys were young, adrenaline filled, imaginative, and obsessed with team sports, wrestling and Star Wars. They wanted a dog who would jump in the middle of football games and run to the end-zone for a touchdown; one they could put a cape on and would fight against Darth Vader with them. Domino, our Havanese, wanted to sit on someone’s lap all day and be petted.
Very quickly, my kids completely ignored Domino and he was figuratively tossed to the side like a toy opened on Christmas morning that doesn’t work the way the commercials promised. I agonized over what to do. I never wanted a dog; yet, I had one who sat on my lap all day. I was required to walk him and to clean up the poop that inevitably got caught in his long fur on a daily basis.
So, I started talking to people about potentially getting rid of the dog. Without even one exception, I got told off, preached to, and admonished. The essential nut of the conversations was, “you made a commitment to Domino. You can not get rid of him.” So . . . I kept unhappily walking Domino and giving him daily baths to wash the crap off of his long fur, feeding and petting him. I loved him; but I just didn’t want to put in so much work for something that wasn’t fitting in with the family the way I envisioned.
Eventually, a family friend who used to babysit Domino when we traveled (and had a dog who Domino fell in love with) adopted Domino. Initially, I felt guilty — even though it was an ideal situation (Domino was so happy). But, I felt better after something struck me one day when I was talking to a girlfriend.
“You made a commitment to Domino. How could you give him up like that,” admonished my friend.
“You know, over the 20 years I’ve known you, I’ve stopped speaking to family members and threatened to divorce my husband when we were in a fight. And you guys were cool. Never did you bring up the words “family” and “commitment” until it was a dog.”
What I realized then, was that people can sympathize with a dog more easily than a person. Domino had no flaws. He was an innocent: a big brown-eyed loving, sweet, dog. How could I turn my back on him?
On the other hand, my husband had flaws. My girlfriends had listened to my stories of crappy anniversary gifts, late nights at the office, snoring, etc. He is human. He is flawed.
I thought about this “Domino Dilemma” in connection with the recent Cecil the Lion and now the Cincinnati Gorilla vs. Black Lives Matter controversy. I had written on my personal FaceBook page:
It is interesting how when a lion is killed, we see the HUMANity in all people, regardless of race; but when a Black person is killed my feed is monocultural.
Somewhat proves the whole point of needing to say Black lives matter.
I was troubled. I could understand why people were upset about the senseless and illegal killing of Cecil the Lion. I was upset too. But, why did my White friends seem more connected to this Lion than they did to the countless Black men and women who had been murdered by cops?
Why could they feel more empathy towards a furry, four-legged animal who lives in the wild than they did about Sandra Bland, who could have been me, their friend—a fellow woman, who just happens to be Black?
Why? How could we, as a country, change if Black people’s struggle for justice was so alien to the bigger population? Were race matters truly THAT bad? Are we THAT separate?
I shared my concerns with a girlfriend, a white girlfriend. She suggested that perhaps White people didn’t post on FB or show outrage about the killings because of the controversy surrounding the killings: political, racial, criminal. They were hot button topics that many preferred to shy away from she suggested.
I understood her point. But I countered, couldn’t there still be, actually shouldn’t there be – a instinctual, gut-wrenching hurt when a 12 year old is shot when playing with a toy gun (whether you think it was justified or not—he’s dead). Did not one of the videos: Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin touch you somewhere? Did you not grieve for Mike Brown’s parents as their son had to lay in the middle of the street, uncovered, in his neighborhood for hours like a dog?
Why can’t they mourn the loss of Black lives without commenting on the issues surrounding it, similar to the way my White friends showed their pain that Cecil was dead without commenting on gun laws, hunting rights, poaching in Africa, Africa’s poverty situation that would allow people to take money for such sport, the division between the very rich and the poor, the equality of all mammals, etc.?
I want to believe that it’s because animals are seen as innocent, like Domino, my dog, where as humans are seen as flawed, so we can excuse their suffering and their murders. We can rationalize it—suggest even that maybe they deserved it somehow? “She shouldn’t have talked back. He shouldn’t have resisted arrest. He shouldn’t have had a toy gun.”
Perhaps if we said that they Lion was coming towards the dentist and he attacked him, instead of it being for sport, people would not be so sympathetic towards Cecil.
But, isn’t that what we, Black people are saying: that we feel hunted. That we feel that the police are killing us for sport? But for some reason, our message isn’t resonating. Instead of BlackLivesMatter, perhaps we should update it to say BlackLivesMatterToo—just like Cecil’s and the Cincinnati gorilla’s.