The unbearable whiteness of the liberal corgi owner

By Aja Barber

There is no dog that I hate. I love most dogs. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners. And there’s a dog owner I loathe. She’s a neighbor; a white woman whose outrageous behavior and rule-breaking comes easy to her.

Some backstory: I live in the suburbs and my backyard opens up to a scenic public path. Neighborhood rules restrict me from having a fence. A canopy of green, many people walk along this path, and as they do I often feel my presence is a reminder of the diverse dreams Reston was built upon. My family has been the only black mainstays in the neighborhood for 33 years.

As a part-time dog caretaker of Piper, my sister’s shih zhu, one of the first things I learned is that it doesn’t matter if you think the dog is cute and harmless if someone is ultimately afraid of your dog. Piper is a harmless dog, but I always put her leash on when she’s around others. Because I am Black, and I know it’s easy for my actions to be seen as something threatening to a white person, even if it’s just my dog jumping all over them. And, besides, it’s good manners.

Last summer, my Mother and I were in the backyard weeding and mulching when we “met” Harvey. I was covered in sweat with wild allergies and suddenly there’s a strange dog staring me in the eye. In my yard. I slowly stood up and looked around wondering if this was a prank. Harvey’s owner stood on the path and smiled in an overly saccharine manner. My mother – who is fearful of dogs – had stopped weeding and frowned.

“You want to get your dog?”  I said in a calm determined voice.

“Oh, he’s just saying hello,” she replied.

“But that doesn’t matter, I don’t want him in my yard.”

She stood there and pretended that she didn’t hear us.

For most of my life, my mother would tell us she didn’t “like” dogs, which was always said cloaked in fear. As a child of the rural South, she was chased by a dog on more than one occasion, and grew up watching the police on the news terrorize black protesters with dogs as the Civil Rights movement marched on. Her life with us meant she has had to steadily overcome her fear, even going so far to love our Piper as much as I do. One time she even went on a trip and left the dog a note. But just because she’s overcome her fear of “some” dogs doesn’t mean she enjoys strange dogs jumping up on her.

To have someone’s dog thrust upon you while you’re standing on your own property is disrespectful, and this particular rudeness is what white entitlement allows for. And let’s also remember that the US has a loooooooooong history of terrorizing black people with dogs, even to this day.

My neighbor’s corgi isn’t terrifying. He’s obnoxious. But her keenness to ignore two black people who have told you your behavior as a dog owner is upsetting them – on their own property –  speaks to some very ugly white privilege and entitlement. In a “liberal” neighborhood.

A few months later, I was at a summer party a neighbor hosted and I helped plan. The back door was open and as we socialized, I saw the head of a corgi come straight through the open screen door. I almost dropped my plate of food on my party dress in absolute disbelief and disgust.

“Not this fucking dog,” I muttered.

Here’s Harvey! And that’s not all. In walks Harvey’s owner like the guest star of the White Privilege Show. Into someone else’s house. Because the door was open, I guess?

She then has a mock conversation with the damn dog about how “you can’t just walk into other people’s houses, Harvey!” (But it’s okay if it’s a black person’s backyard and they’ve asked you repeatedly not to, apparently.)

The joke fell entirely flat. We all just stood there horrified by her rudeness that she would let her dog come so far up into a stranger’s yard and come indoors.

But remember that black women get shot for banging on a person’s door to ask for help after a car accident.  

Can you imagine what would happen if I chased down Piper and let myself into someone’s house? The cause of death would be “breaking and entering” not “gunshot wound.”

Of course I’ve had more interactions with Harvey and his owner. I have told her on several occasions that her dog really needs to be on a leash because, well … there are leash laws. She continues to ignore me and has made it her goal to parade her leashless dog past the house as often as possible.

But the minute I raise my voice at her, then I become “the mean black person.” That’s how this story works.  

Her unbearable white privilege makes my blood boil.

In such a liberal neighborhood, not a single person feels it’s their responsibility to call out the bad behavior of a fellow white person even though everyone knows it’s out of control.  I’ve actually heard a neighbor congratulate me on calling out nonsense while admitting he doesn’t feel comfortable doing it. Well, thanks for putting the onus on me – on black women.

When my parents first moved into the neighborhood, the front and back of our house looked like a dog toilet. But after years of vigilance, the behavior has curbed only for us to now see an uptick again. Harvey urinates on the hostas and his owner doesn’t always pick up his poop. There are other dog owners that don’t always walk their dogs on a leash, but this doesn’t actually bother me because their dogs never leave their side and don’t go into stranger’s houses.  Harvey and his owner ruin it for everyone.

Turning a blind eye to leashless, well-behaved dogs is minding my own business. You don’t bother me, I won’t bother you.

But the minute you come into yards and houses that no one’s invited you into, that’s when it does become my business.

Not to mention, her careless behavior also puts Harvey in danger. A bigger dog could attack him and kill him. And if that dog belonged to a black person, we know how that story goes.

I’m generally not a hard and fast stickler for the rules, but I’ve reached my breaking point with this white woman’s callous disregard of two black women asking her to remove her animal from our property as one has a fear of dogs.

And the weekend following the Women’s March in DC, I happened to catch her strolling her leashless poorly behaved dog through the neighborhood while proudly sporting her Women’s March t-shirt. Typical.

Aja Barber is a writer (and sometimes television producer) who is living in the Washington DC area while occasionally living out of a suitcase in London.  She is passionate about fashion, ballet, books, social justice and destroying white supremacy.   She likes earl grey and almost every dog she meets.  You can find her writing all over the internet and if you follow her on Racebook, you can tune into a daily video chat which covers most of her passions.

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  1. I’m afraid of dogs too but my question is what’s the plan of action? Do you intend to send her a certified letter notifying her that after repeated conversations, if she continues to allow her unleashed dog to be on your property, you’ll call the police?

    What’s next?

    • Exactly
      You’re leaving lots of stressed out Blk folk wondering here…

    • If it were me, I would call animal control the next time the dog was being walked without a leash. It is their job to enforce leash laws and usually the fines are hefty. I have done that in my area twice and I’ve also attended a town meeting about enforcing the leash laws. I am white but I am afraid of dogs – and the fear is a rational one when you have young children; I wrote my law firm’s primer on dog bite law (we were on the defense side), it happens a LOT and it can scar, severely injure, or kill.

      This article does a great job of illustrating the racial double standards that most white people are not aware of.

  2. This problem seems to be coming up more and more on my newsfeed. Just yesterday i saw a video with somebody’s large unleashed dog literally attacking another dog repeatedly until and officer had to shoot it because the owner wasn’t anywhere to be found to restrain it. I really wish people would leash their dogs. Because even if the dog is nice and friendly towards anybody and anything, you never know what could be the thing that triggers that dog to attack. I think the proper action would be to notify animal control or the neighborhood police, only because I’d be worried about your mom’s safety. Corgis are definitely the type of dog that likes going for people’s ankles and I’d hate for her to be scared for life

  3. Sprinkle black pepper around the perimeter of your yard and on your plants. Dogs hate it because it makes their noses itch without actually hurting them. Little Harvey will keep his buff home after that.

  4. While not everyone’s forte, I tend to resort to subtle sarcasm in these situations. It’s very difficult to stay calm when someone is violating your legally private property and societal norms typically afforded people, but I would have started in on her the moment she followed her dog into the yard the first time.

    “So, OUR property line extends from here to here and over there,” I’d say, making the appropriate motions with my hands. “We’ve lived here for 33 years. How long have you been in the neighborhood,” I would ask, pointedly standing an extra foot away and not extending a hand.

    There are two answers to that, either shorter or longer. Shorter, and she might be excused. Longer, and shame on her for being so brazen. Walking in my home, though? That affords some stronger, more direct sarcasm. Remember, smile gently.

    “I see you’ve never been taught not to walk into someone’s home uninvited,” I would note. “That’s okay this time. Just remember next time and maybe we’ll have you over for tea.” Of course, you don’t mean that.

    Of course, being white, I could get away with saying all kinds of things to her, but she might not do these things in the first place. All this hate, dominance, entitlement. It makes me so sick and it just seems to be getting worse now that we have the Idiot in Chief in office. I feel bad for all my brothers and sisters from everywhere.

    Sorry for the ramble. Angry and sad and not sure how to get my feels down. Thanks for the amazing piece 🙂

  5. Have you all thought about hedges?
    You’ve indeed left us with a cliffhanger here.

    Also, this is Richmond, VA all the way. When I was at VCU, I had to confront white folks while I’m walking down the dang sidewalk about letting their dogs come up to me! They don’t even think!

  6. i love dogs too May 25, 2017 — 3:22 pm

    culturally oblivious white people exist in myriad quantities. the blog is great and worthy of sharing to all of my white friends and neighbors but you still have to hit the problem head on. sit her down, explain the deep-seated, culturally driven and well justified reasons for your mother’s fear, and i’m guessing this friendly idiot will fully understand and stay in her lane. no reason to let your blood boil over it.

  7. I vow to claim my people and confront them when they do this. You and your mother should never have had these experiences in your own home.

    Is there anything a Californian can do to help you?

  8. Okay, I’m white and I understand that white privilege exists. I also understand that those of us who are white frequently fail to recognize white privilege when its right in front of us, so maybe that really is what this is about and I just can’t see it. But it seems to me that this woman is a boorish, rude person inflicting herself and her dog on others, and I’m guessing that she is boorish and rude to people of all ethnicities. She could just be one of those people who feels overly entitled personally and who annoys everybody, since you’ve been congratulated by others for calling her out and state that “Harvey and his owner ruin it for everyone.” Many people are not comfortable with confrontation, so your ability to speak up should be commended. I guess I just don’t see where race or white privilege comes into this particular situation. (But then I’m not the one experiencing it). I hope a way is found to enlighten her as to her boorish behavior and its impact on others, and I sympathize especially with your mother who should not be subjected to Harvey given her fear of dogs.

    • ” I hope a way is found to enlighten her as to her boorish behavior and its impact on other”

      It is not the responsibility of adult black women to educate/enlighten adult white women about the offensiveness of their behavior.

      Also, if you don’t understand the nuances of white privilege, why try to tell someone that *maybe* that’s not what’s going on? Do you not believe she’s intelligent enough to consider all the angles? Do you EVER see black women jump into white women’s conversations about sexism and say “hey girls, maaaaaybe this isn’t about gender… I mean maybe men do this to other men.” I don’t routinely see that behavior. But I ROUTINELY see white women inserting themselves into black women’s conversations about racial micro aggressions, primarily at the hands of other white women, and start playing the “I might be wrong, but maybe it’s not race.” WHY though? Just respect her perspective and accept it as valid.

    • The privilege is in the fact that she can keep on doing this when a POC in her situation may well have been in serious trouble or even dead, as the author describes. Her privilege is in the fact that you call her rude and boorish and not something worse. It’s in the fact that you can consider her behavior a personality flaw.

    • It seems to me like the privilege part is about how a black person exhibiting the same behavior would not only not be tolerated but would actually be at risk. Privilege causes shitty people to not consider negative consequences of their shitty behavior.

    • Hi Barb, the white privilege comes in because the woman continually engages in inappropriate behavior with no adverse consequence, whereas a person of color would likely face negative repercussions if they engaged in the same behavior (walking uninvited into someone’s house, not controlling their dog, etc.) If you re-read the post you’ll see several times where the author points that out- those are the examples of where white privilege is at play.

    • White privilege comes in when, as stated in the article, a black woman would likely get shot for acting like Harvey’s owner. I mean, walking into another person’s home uninvited like that? Not even just coming up to the door and apologizing from outside while calling the dog over to come out and learning to put a damn leash on it? A black woman just knocked on a door to request help for car trouble after her phone died and she was shot dead by a man “standing his ground.”

    • I don’t typically comment, but I just came across a post from a friend on FB that summarized what I think- From Scott Woods “White privilege in the modern era isn’t about what you’ve been given, but what you never have to contend with; about never encountering that moment of hesitation or debilitation or evil that, in any amount, can ruin the life of someone without privilege. It is as systemic and ingrained as all of the -isms we keep telling you about. It does not require your permission to enter. White privilege is not a vampire. It is a contagion.”

      The author gave several examples of this in the article. It is not only the action of the dog owner that is privilege but the lack of reaction/consequence they receive that a person of color likely wouldn’t if doing the same thing.

    • I agree that dog owners can be incredibly presumptuous and obnoxious about their dogs, regardless of race, and that this woman sounds like she is just that type. It does sound like she lets her dog go on other peoples’ yards (and in their homes) regardless of race. However, it is possible that she would have been more responsive to two white people asking her to get the dog off their property. Of course it’s possible she wouldn’t have been, but I think the racial perspective on this article is a really good one not only because it asks that question but also because it illustrates the white privilege *of* being able to have your off-leash dog getting onto other people’s property and ignoring their requests to remove it. It’s eye-opening to imagine how differently the obnoxious dog owner would likely be treated if she were black(!!!!). And how much more it would have reflected on how people perceived her than it seems to have done with this woman. As a white person, I thought this was really interesting and a perspective I had not thought about. I *abhor* people who ignore leash laws and now I’ll abhor them all the more since I can see that it’s a white privilege to be doing so!!

  9. I know it would be a pain, but could you encourage the neighborhood to call this neighbor out as a group? People who for whatever reason (yeah, what is their reason?) aren’t willing to stand up to her as individuals should at least be willing to band together. Her behavior is shameful.

  10. Can you put up a temporary low fence? like something that’s maybe just a foot or two high? made of wire or something? i realize accommodating someone who’s blatantly ignoring your requests is frustrating. if not, you should conform to liberal neighborhoods with passive-aggressive signage. they love that.

  11. There is some “dog away” spray you could put on your lawn to keep Harvey out of your yard.

  12. My neighbors used to let their chihuahua crap in our yard daily. (They also yanked up my beautiful globe thistles by the roots and cut my lilac bush down, but that’s another story.) In this case, it wasn’t a white privilege thing…they were black, I’m white (Jewish), and my husband was brown (South Pacific Islander, but most assumed he was black). We didn’t know why. The war with them went on for the full fifteen years we lived there. They called the city on us about “weeds” when we planted wildflowers. They didn’t like that we tended for a natural look while they went for a tightly 1950’s manicured situation, so my flowers were always in danger. They didn’t mind taking vegetables over the fence, though, and things were friendly enough because they never admitted that they were the ones doing these things — took us years to figure it out.

    It wasn’t until we went to sell the house that it all came out — they were trying to force us to move because they wanted to buy the house! They didn’t want to pay what it was worth though — they expected us to give them a “neighborly” deal, after all that! Now I hear from the woman who bought it that they have upped their aggression even.

    That really has nothing to do with white privilege and Corgis…and I agree with you, white people and their dogs can be ridiculously entitled and obnoxious, and I’m sorry you have to go through this. Were I your neighbor I would confront that bitch and put a leash on her dog for her, because you’re right — its as safe for the dog as it is for the public.

    I just wanted to tell the story so I could provide context for the solution to the chihuahua poop…30,000 BTU Cayenne pepper. You can get it online. Wear a mask and gloves, ’cause its hotter than any hot sauce out there and the dust can fly. put it in some form of shaker or sieve, and make a line around your property. When we did that, the Chihuahua coughed and sneezed, ran away with its tail between its legs, and never shat upon our lawn again. Solved. If you do it once a year, you won’t have any dogs in your yard ever again.

    Thanks for the excellent essay. 🙂

  13. Since you mentioned there is a leash law in Reston, there must be a Dog Officer in town – or someone with multiple hats has that responsibility. They will serve notice that the dog needs to be on leash. There is a fine, usually, if they don’t comply. After reading your story I had two reactions; one was to think this Corgi owner needs a refresher course in good neighboring; the other was if it were me, I would get a restraining order – not for the dog – for the more than very rude woman who thinks intimidating someone with a fear of dogs is allowed. I hope you can see your way to finding a solution with the dog officer and I’m very sorry that the situation exists at all.

  14. If you have her address…. we could all write her a letter about how dangerous this is all around. Also children should not be around Harvey’s pee and poop. And it’s dangerous for a dog that is not behaving badly (as per her idiotic “oh Harvey… “) it has an owner that is BEHAVING BADLY. I mean get some ammonia in a bottle and delete it? I don’t KNOW. Because of course you would be the evil Black neighbor. But I’d be glad to write her a letter.

  15. Crappy behavior by the corgi’s owner. But what is the author’s rationale that this is a white/liberal issue?

    When my black neighbors allow their dogs to defecate on my property, despite my asking them not to, I don’t accuse them of black entitlement or aggression towards whites (I’m white). I accuse them of being inconsiderate people, in one respect.

    What does the author think of my approach to this situation? Mind you, I’ve stepped in the unwanted poop several times.

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