Friday, August 15, 2014

Coffee, Culture, Canines... and Mycroft Holmes

If you know someone drinks a lot of coffee and owns two or three pet dogs, it's a safe bet they are white.

I mention this because I once started a talk about dogs by observing that nearly everyone in the room was white.

How did I know that?

I had not, after all, spoken to this group before and I was, in fact, not even a member of the Association.  I had asked no one about the demographics of the room.

I just knew.

I knew because pet dogs are a particular affliction of white Europeans.

Not all dog owners are white, of course, and not all white folks own dogs, but the balance of probabilities, as Mycroft might say to Sherlock, leans that way.  In the big list of Stuff White People Like, dogs come in at #53 of 136.  Coffee comes in at #1. 

And so I started my presentation:

Look around.

How many people in this room are non-white? A strange question, eh? You thought this session was about dogs, didn’t you?

The point is that for most of the world, this discussion is strange. In much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, dogs are not allowed indoors. Who lets an animal indoors that may have fleas and ticks, and that may eat its own feces? Who allows such an animal on the bed? Who lets it lick a child in the face? No one!

So, to put a point on it, this obsession with dogs that we have is, for the most part, a European cultural affliction. Most of the world, believe it or not, does not have this affliction.

So I am odd, and you are odd, and we are odd together!

What we think about dogs is shaped by culture, which in turn is shaped by economics, history, religion and even geography.

So, this love affair with dogs that we share is a bit strange to those that may come from a different culture and a different place, that have a different religious background, or who might be somewhere else on the economic ladder.

So did I close by noting that the coffee pot was out the back door and on the left?


But I could have.


aonian said...

The last few years, I've bounced around a few very multi-cultural communities and haven't noticed a difference in dog ownership based on race. Even when living in a California city that was predominately African American, it seemed like everyone had a dog.

Of course, nobody I've ever heard of from that neighborhood belongs to dog-based clubs. That definitely seems to be a white people thing. So while I'm not surprised that the only people attending a formal talk on dogs were white, I don't quite believe that dogs-as-pets is uniquely European. Historically, that has not been the case and I doubt it's true now.

PBurns said...

I am not sure what "multi-cultural communities" means. Mostly it means you are poor, and so there are minorities in the neighborhood. i.e. for the first time in your life you are in a community that looks a bit like the world, but if you are white and in that community, it's probably a transitional neighborhood and, of course, it's still very much in America.

I was born and raised in Africa, have Korean kids, an Arab neighbor, Jewish friends and relatives and yes, quite a number of everything else too.

Trust me when I say dogs and culture are linked. Yes, there are dog owning people in all cultures, but in most cultures those dog-owners are a great deal rare than they are in the world of white Europeans.

India, for example has a population four times that of the United States, but it has less than one-seventh the number of dogs. To put it another way, Americans are about 30 times more likely to have a dog than an Indian. The same is true for China, but the number here is about 20 times greater for an American. India and China, for the record, have about 1/3 of the world's population between them.

In Muslim countries (23% of the world's population), people simply do not own pet dogs at all -- it is Haram, or dirty/sinful, same as it is in Judaism. The only dogs that are allowed in Islam and Judaism are dogs that hunt or guard and they must be kept outside and never in the house.

Japan, with a population of about 125 million, has 10 million dogs as against the U.S. population of 315 million and about 76 million dogs. You can do the math, but I think you will see dog ownership in Japan is quite a lot smaller than it is in the U.S.

In the U.S., while 51 percent of whites own dogs the number is 24% for blacks.

As you note, when people in different cultures do own dogs, their relationship with those dogs may be very different, ranging from an animal chained in the yard and deemed expendable if veterinary care is needed, to a canine "surrogate child" fed steamed rice and boiled chicken mashed to a fine pulp. Different cultures also have different levels and types of human fraternity, as anyone who has attempted to do community organizing can tell you. The bottom line: do not expect too many minorities in any organized group of dog owners. There will be some, and they will be welcomed, but the idea that dog ownership is equally common across culture and race is simply not true.