Over the past week, my social media feed has been flooded with pictures of dogs. OK, I’ll be honest, it’s always flooded with pictures of dogs in general because I’m surrounded by dog people, but it was different this time. They were pictures of dogs with captions related to race relations and the Black Lives Matter movement.
I’ve been online for a long time; pretty much forever as far as social media goes. Let me lead with this: Like many people who have been online forever I have a lengthy list of problematic things I have said and posted, so please take what I am saying not as a “how dare you” so much as a, “Hey, let’s reconsider together.” I am, and will always be, far from perfect and will continue to get things wrong, despite the best intent, and will correct as I go. It is in this spirit I’m writing the following:
When talking about Black Lives Matter, don’t illustrate your point with pictures of animals.
That’s the TLDR and I can pretty much full stop right there, but I’ll continue as I think it’s important that as a profession, we all be on the same page here.
Photos are impactful. Visual storytelling changes the world, as we know very well right now. One picture, one video, changes everything. When it comes to photos, they always tell a story whether we like it or not, and they reinforce key points that we think are important whether explicit or implicit.
So what are we saying when we write “We’re all the same breed” with a cute photo of Labradors?
If you’re thinking, “but I’m included in there as well as a white person, and I don’t find it offensive,” I ask you to consider the fact that you haven’t been part of a group with a long history of being lumped in with animals as a way to dehumanize.
I know this is uncomfortable. I know this is not your intent. But now that you know this, would you do it again? Because, unfortunately, it gets worse.
I’m not an expert on this, but Dr. Benedicte Boisseron is, as Associate Professor of Afro American and African studies at the University of Michigan. She wrote an entire book, Afro-Dog on the history of the very specific association in American history between black Americans and dogs.
Her point, and it’s brutal, is that we (white America) often use our love of dogs to elicit more empathy for black people, because it’s easier to access the first than the second. It’s been happening since the abolitionist movement.
That is hard and uncomfortable and nonetheless, no matter what you’re thinking right now, I really challenge yourself to let that sink in with your experience of veterinary medicine.
Read the transcript or listen to this interview with Dr. Boisseron where she describes this issue as a knot, a deep and complicated one, that needs a lot of voices to untie. To my colleagues in veterinary medicine, if we mean it when we say we care, we need to be a part of that conversation which starts with unpacking some shizz. Goodness knows I have a lot to work to do on myself. Follow Dr. Lisa Greenhill on Twitter, or subscribe to her podcast Diversity and Inclusion on Air that is specific to veterinary medicine.
I didn’t know. You probably didn’t either. I didn’t know because I didn’t look, and now I did, and now I know and now you know. And now I know you know and that means, let’s keep each other accountable.
I’m not expecting us to solve these problems in the coming weeks, I’m not pretending I am capable or competent in suggesting how, I’m not saying any one person is personally responsible for history here. But I know what baby steps look like, and this is one of the easiest asks out there. Scrub the lab photo.
If you are going to talk about black people, our colleagues and friends and neighbors and loved ones, use pictures of people, or words like the one I’m using created by Dr. Kaya Bryant, or no picture at all. Just don’t use animals.
It is a start.