First Lecture

Day one of specialized courses on human awkwardness and uncomfortable situations.

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Welcome, everyone, to our first lecture of “How to Apologize for Your Racist Dog”!

It’s wonderful to see such a diverse array of students in our front row. As with any course, particularly a course involving race, discussions are much more enriching when we can hear from many different perspectives! Wonderful! I’m your professor, Dr. Julian Assuage, and this fluffy fellow here is my Golden Retriever, Jefferson…

Calm down, boy! What’s happening?! Easy, Jefferson! Sit! Down! Quiet, Jefferson! Mindy can you please take Jefferson for a short walk? Thank you. My god…

While my teaching assistant is taking Jefferson—who doesn’t normally act like that, by the way—for a short walk around campus, please allow me to clear up any confusion. It may have appeared that my dog was lunging for the jugular of this young African-American man here, but it was really more of a general lunge towards the entire class. It happened to be pointing at one of you. That’s all. Jefferson was expressing hostility towards all of you, equally, and he just happened to be closest to a Person of Color.

Also, I don’t know if I mentioned it but he doesn’t normally act like that. He must have a tummy ache, the poor thing.

You’re not racist, Julian, okay? You’re a good person.

Now—show of hands, how many of you own dogs? Everyone, good. This class wouldn’t be very useful to you if you didn’t own a dog. Also, how many of you have dogs who display selective aggression towards people of races other than your own? Everyone again.

Dogs do have a tendency to be racist.

Frustrating, isn’t it? You put in the work to understand power, privilege and oppression. You approach people of other racial identities with compassion and understanding—and, when necessary, the righteous anger of anti-racism. You watch Hamilton and sincerely celebrate the nearly all-minority cast. Hamilton’s glorification of slave owners is somewhat problematic, you admit, and you even talk about it with your Black and Asian friends. They even say, “You know, Julian, for a White person you really get it.”

And it feels good, you know? It starts to feel like maybe all those Black comedians, when they make fun of White people, aren’t actually talking about you. They’re talking about all those other White people. You, Julian, are a part of the solution, is what you tell yourself when you’re feeling self-congratulatory, which is frequently.

And then out of nowhere Jefferson viciously goes after the neck of one of your Black students. Appears to, is what I meant to say—your dog appears to go after the neck of one of your Black students. And suddenly, all of the effort you’ve put into racial conscientiousness is completely invalidated. To anyone in visual range, you are the owner of a racist dog. And they always think the same thing:

That dog picked up its racist attitude from you. I bet you named that dog after Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, or Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves but definitely not for George Jefferson of the hilarious African-American–focused sitcom The Jeffersons.

What, then, do you do? I’ll tell you. These are the A, E, I, O, Us of apologizing for your racist dog.

  1. Act surprised: What? What’s happening?! Skittles, calm down! Sit, girl, sit!
  2. Express the incredulity: Lancelot isn’t normally like this, I swear! I don’t understand why he’s acting this way! I am so confused by this atypical behavior!
  3. Invent a health problem: It must be her sciatica acting up again. It makes my Donut very grumpy, the poor thing.
  4. Obfuscate discriminatory behavior: Ranger wasn’t exclusively barking at the White UPS driver—he was barking equally at the brown truck behind him.
  5. Utter racially self-soothing statements under your breath: People think you are super woke, Julian. One incident doesn’t change that. No one will hold it against you that your golden retriever definitely tried to murder that African-American gentleman over there.

As long as you follow these steps, your dog’s overtly racist behavior will slide off of you like Jackie Robinson sliding into home base, and he is a person we don’t celebrate nearly enough if you ask me. Oh look, here are Mindy and Jefferson back from their walk. Come here, boy!

What?! Jefferson, stop! Settle down, boy! I swear, this never happens twice in one day! I am so confused by this atypical behavior!