Pondering Race While Walking the Dog
As a White person, I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to recognize how race impacts my life. But the one place I do notice my Whiteness is when I walk my dog at night. While my neighborhood is changing, it’s still predominantly White. The fellow dog walkers I encounter are White, at least after 10pm. The few Black dog owners in my neighborhood walk their dogs earlier in the day.
It was the summer of 2017, and I was minding my own business, probably around midnight, walking my dog on a mostly empty sidewalk. This was the summer of the St Louis riots, and racial tension was high. Suddenly a young Black man called from behind me that he’s not following me, just visiting someone in the next building. He pointed to the doorway he was headed toward. I hadn’t noticed him, frankly. I certainly hadn’t been worried he was following me. But he was worried. He was worried that the White woman with the dog would be afraid of him. And call the cops. (Or have a gun?)
Funny. I’ve never worried about anyone being afraid of me following them. And they should be. My dog bites!
But that’s what it means to be White.
Some months later I was again walking the dog at night. I wanted to take a shortcut across private property toward a back parking lot and into the alley. I knew that would be trespassing, but I didn’t think anyone would care. A security company car was parked in front of the building. Perhaps to deter trespassers? I saw the car, walked in front of it, up the stairs, through the passageway, through the parking lot, and into the alley. The security guards didn’t even get out of the vehicle. Would I have gotten away with it if I weren’t White?
If I weren’t White, I probably wouldn’t have dared even try.
I thought about my Whiteness again when a curfew was implemented in early June, during the protests against police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. I ignored it. I walked Sadie as usual, well after the 6pm curfew. Closer to 11pm, actually. I knew the police wouldn’t stop a middle-aged White woman in her own neighborhood. If for some reason they did, I’d apologize and go home. I wasn’t worried about a concerned neighbor—or police—harassing me. I guess you don’t have to when you’re White.
A few days later, I was talking on the phone to a friend in another state.
Me: I walked the dog after curfew… Them: Wasn’t that dangerous? Me: No… Them: But you could have been shot! Me (assuming the reference was to police shootings): No, the police don’t shoot White women walking their dogs… Them: No, I mean the protestors could shoot you. Me (confused): But the protestors don’t shoot anyone...
Ironic, isn’t it? I disobeyed curfew and deserved to be stopped. Images of police brutality were all over the news. But no, my relative wasn’t concerned about the police bothering me after the curfew. She was afraid that the protestorsmight. Perhaps because most of the protestors were Black?