White Dog was a movie way back from 1982 featuring Kristy McNichols, Burl Ives, and Paul Winfield. I don’t remember much but Ms. McNichols’ character, Julie Sawyer, winds up with a white german shepherd that attacks only black people. Paul Winfield plays Keys, a black dog trainer who volunteers to undo the training that causes the dog to attack only black people.
At some point in the film, Ms. Sawyer asked how someone would train a dog to attack only black people. It takes two people, white and black. Typically, the dog owner would be a white person that treats the dog well and feeds the dog. Various white people would take turns caring for the dog. The dog would learn to look to white people for its social and personal needs. The white person would then hire various black people to abuse the dog and treat it cruelly. That way, the dog learns to associate pain and fear with black people. This training starts early when the dog is a puppy so that it is ingrained in the dog’s personality makeup.
In order to undo all the fear and hatred that the dog developed for black people, Keys, a black man, had to become the only person that would care for the dog for a period of time. That way, the dog would learn to depend on black people as well and not fear black people as much. For a long time the dog stayed in a cage with no interaction with anyone or anything other than the dog trainer Keys.
The detraining didn’t work. After the long period of being inside a cage the dog was released. Not fully trusting the dog, Keys had a pistol in his hand. When the dog was released out of its cage, it was done in an open area with only three people in the vicinity, Keys, Julie Sawyer, and the Burl Ives’ character named Carruthers. The dog looked at Keys and didn’t attack. He turned towards Julie and he didn’t attack her. But when he saw Carruthers the dog went for the man’s throat and Keys pulled his gun out and shot the dog dead.
I thought about this story recently. More specifically, I thought about the black people who would be willing to take a job to be cruel to a puppy or a dog and participate in the creation of a vicious animal to be used exclusively against other people in the black community. Black people who are desperate or black people who just care too much about getting paid and ingratiating themselves to the dominant community and not enough about the impact to the black community will always be able to find an excuse to justify their shortsightedness. The lesson I learned was that black people should think more about the long term and not be participating in anything that could come back to bite the black community.
The number of black people who are willing to separate themselves from the larger black community grows by leaps and bounds on a daily basis. There is the black rap artist willing to be the front man in the music industry’s pursuit to make as much profit as possible by feeding the dominant culture’s inherent need to see a picture of black culture with antisocial and misogynistic music that eats away at the fabric of the black community. There is the black actor that is willing to play the title role on a television show depicting black people as the white man’s buffoon. There is the black person in the corporate world that is quick to submit him or her self to the unspoken corporate America standard that requires the minimization of any visual ethnic reinforcement and will look down their nose at the other black people who are more willing to wear their ethnicity proudly. There is the black child who learns from the parent that the black person should not worry about the black community and focus only on the development of his or her self.
Just like the white dog our children’s identities have been manipulated from their infancy just as they are beginning to develop their personality. Before many of our children will have had the chance to develop their own natural identity they are being bombarded with the stereotypical images of black people promoted by that rapper or the actor whose strings are being pulled by corporate America. For the most part, our children have the choice of embracing their blackness as promoted by the black rapper and actor or dumping their ethnicity and taking the persona of corporate America that claims to be racially generic but is somehow, without exception, predominantly white.
Even the professional black athlete appears to be caught up in these choices. On the one hand, you have the professional black athlete who conformed to the stereotype of gangsta rap culture and becoming the super black caricature personified by such athletes as the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. On the other hand you can have the formerly black professional athlete who wants to minimize or eliminate altogether their affiliation with the black community as demonstrated by people like golfing god Tiger Woods and tennis superstar Venus Williams. On the surface, it appears that many black athletes must choose between embracing stereotypical black behavior and making the choice to leave the black community behind.
Now I know that there is an entire plethora of black athletes, actors, singers, corporate professionals, and others who are able to embrace their African ethnicity without conforming to what others deem is African ethnicity. Unfortunately, these black role models are not always promoted to be the examples of black behavior for the black community. But mainstream media, which has a virtual chokehold on the vast majority of the public’s attention span isn’t interested in the middle, only in the extremes.
The black community has allowed ourselves to ingest these images and we have developed into a white dog in need of corrective training. It would be wonderful if we could unplug ourselves from the culture that has so effectively programmed us. But unfortunately, we cannot get enough time away from the constant influences that have created who and what we are at the moment.