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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Add yours →

  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?

  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.

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