When my daughter was 11 years old she begged to have a dog. The rest of the family was not too keen on the idea, but she was persistent and for her 11th birthday she picked out a new-born Shih Tzu puppy from the litter. She was disappointed that she would have to wait 6 weeks until Snickers (that was her name for him) was old enough to come home with us. In the ensuing weeks, I learned that the breeder had a partner in another state who objected to us purchasing the dog. Initially not understanding why, I contacted the out of state partner who, using profane language, told me that it was her right to refuse to sell the dog. Later I learned from my assistant, who is white and was assisting me in finding the dog, that it was because we were black. It was 1990 and I was shocked that anyone would refuse to sell a dog to a family based on their race.
Fast forward to 2017. My son and daughter-in-law just welcomed Huey, a Shih Tzu puppy into their family (see photo above).
In their search for an appropriate “doggy day care” facility, they wanted to explore in-home arrangements and made appointments with two different providers. At both places, my son and daughter-in-law were not invited into the homes. The owners met with them outside. They thought this to be a bit strange because of course you would want to see the environment that the dog would experience. My son is African American, 6’ 4” and about 200 pounds. He is an assistant professor of Religion at Duke University with degrees from Harvard, Duke and Princeton. My daughter-in-law, also African American, is about 5’5” and maybe 125 pounds. She is also a PhD and employed in a post-doctorate fellowship position at Duke.
We discussed the reasons why they may not have been invited into the homes of the doggy day care establishments and of course race surfaced as a possibility, especially related to my son, a tall “imposing” black man. They decided to do a little experiment where only my daughter-in-law would visit the next potential care giver for Huey. And sure enough, she and Huey were invited inside. Of course, our research methodology is a bit flawed. We should have tested the same homes with and without my son being present. We will never know for certain if “the fear of black men phenomena” was at play with the first two homes. However, we will always wonder, and that is just a part of life for most black people. You so often are left to wonder, was it my race or something else? Sometimes you know for certain, like my daughter’s situation with her Shih Tzu in 1990; sometimes you are just left to wonder.