We see what we want to see.
Our vision tends to be our number one sense in determining danger, assessing risk, and making judgements. But at what point does it cross over into discrimination?
Perspective is subjective. It is ours and ours alone. We do not look at the world through a pane of crystal clear glass, but a pair of glasses clouded by previous experience, scratched up with prior knowledge, and shaded by emotion. I, as a middle class white woman in America, seldom experience unjust prejudice. I was lucky to born after women received the right to vote, Roe v Wade was a set precedent, and the ERA was at its height. It’s true, I still make 70 cents on every dollar a man does because I don’t have a penis. And granted there are still businesses and people who think they have the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body and will not give me equal health coverage as a man. But I make do; I choose not work for Hobby Lobby.
Tucker, however, cannot choose where he is. He—and therefore I—suffer discrimination on a fundamental level: what he looks like.
People see what they want to see.
A few months ago, I was waiting for Tucker’s class to begin at his school when a white man in his late twenties wearing an over-sized baseball cap, short sleeve shirt, and baggy pants strutted in with a grimace. His tattoos could be seen down his exposed arms, as well as up his neck and onto his face. I took in the moving picture and made a judgement: he didn’t belong here.
I was suspicious because he didn’t fit the visual rundown of the usual clientele: single white middle class women ranging in age of 20-60, or the boyfriends and husbands of said middle class women.
But then he walked up to one of those women and pulled a bag of treats out of his pocket. She smiled, thanked and him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
I was ashamed of myself for making such a judgement. I had discriminated against him based on his look, his swagger, and his attitude. He had every right to be there as I did.
He was about to walk up the stairs in my direction where Tucker was sitting by my side. He called up the stairs hesitantly, “Is it okay if I walk up?” he asked.
I was snapped out of my shame. “Oh, um, yeah. Sure.”
He laughed nervously. “Cool. Cool. I just wanted to make sure he’d be okay. He looks mean.”
His comment doesn’t make my own judgement any less shameful. But it does demonstrate that even the victims are guilty. We’re humans. We see what we expect to see.
Tucker elicits one of two reactions in people: 1. The face-tattoo man’s reaction either verbally or physically by staying clear of Tucker or giving him the stink-eye, or crossing the street, or just plain asking, “Does he bite?” or, 2. “Oh my God!!! He’s beautiful!!! Can I pet/hug/kiss him!!!?!?!?!”
We see what we want to see.
After not getting a return call from the top dog liability insurance company, I called my own State Farm representative to see if they had such policies. This is where I learned that Tucker is covered under my homeowners policy wherever I go. Fabulous! Not only is State Farm non-disciminatory when it comes to breeds in houses, but they cover him out on the street too.
With this new knowledge, I started calling around for housing in Atlanta, Georgia.
When I read, “No aggressive breeds,” it might was well say, “No unicorns” because neither truly exists. [Note that one could argue that at one point unicorns might have existed, but for the purpose of this statement, right now in the history of earth, they do not.] By not replying to those ads, I feel like I’m somehow passively admitting to the existence of such a thing and Tucker’s inclusion into that category.
I began with the corporate housing facilities for furnished rentals. Most simply state “restrictions apply” when it comes to allowing dogs since they’d rather sound like a sweepstakes than a discriminatory legal practice. I explained that I had not done genetic testing on Tucker, and although I believe he’s a Presa Canario/Bulldog, most laymen would call him a pit bull mix. Tucker can’t get away with being a “lab mix” like black pit mixes. He doesn’t have the bug eyes and boxy face as a Boxer. He a stocky, athletic, blocky-headed brindle dog. AKA: pit bull mix.
I’m not going to lie about what he looks like and then show up and get kicked out the moment I arrive. My friend told me that pits had to be allowed where he lived in corporate housing because he saw them all the time. When I inquired, I was told that Tucker was “an aggressive breed and none of our apartments allow them.” She claimed it wasn’t their policy but the apartment complexes’. I told her I’d be willing to sign any liability waiver necessary since Tucker was covered under my own insurance. I was denied.
The rest of the corporate housing search continued in the same vein. Despite me releasing them of any liability, Tucker was banned because of what he looked like.
I then moved onto Airbnb, Homeaway, and Craigslist, hoping individuals with property were more flexible than large corporations. I respect that some individuals don’t allow pets at all. Dealing with pet hair when turning over leases is a pain. And some people don’t want to deal with complaints about barking dogs or cat allergies. I totally respect the decision not to allow pets. But to not allow “certain” dogs even after I have solved the legal ramifications… well, that’s when take it personally.
Tucker outweighed many dog restriction limits, so his looks didn’t come into play. I used to think the 35 pound limit on apartment dogs was simply so you had a dog that comfortably fit in the apartment; now I think it’s a catch-all to avoid those commonly-banned breeds.
When Tucker did make it into the weight class, it was a whole new line of questioning. I offered up that he is covered under my policy should it be an insurance issue. I also offered up his training and job history—a resume of sorts. But when all was said it done, before we could be considered tenants, this request was made: “Send me a picture of him.”
We see what we want to see.
So what would they see in Tucker’s photo?
What do people see?
They see what they want to see.
They see what they expect to see.
We all do it. And now I am prepared for it at every turn. I am shocked each time I meet someone new and judgement isn’t passed upon him one way or the other. In our dog-friendly office, I’m beginning to relax and people just want to say hi to him as they say hi to every other canine in the office. But I know it’s just a matter of time before someone, somewhere, will only see what they want to see.
Tucker and I were walking down the Chandler bike path on one of our nightly walks, and a grey-haired woman in her sixties with a beagle was busily texting away on her phone as her dog sought out the perfect pooping spot. I planned on just walking by, but Tucker took an interest in her dog’s poop-spot quest. She looked up from her phone, down at Tucker, and I think her heart might have skipped an important beat.
Tucker and her dog said hello to one another and then she asked me if he was a pit bull. I said, “Yes, most likely.”
“Wow. I’ve never seen one up close.” She hesitated for a moment. “Is he friendly? May I pet him?”
I told her sure, and tried to get Tucker to be polite and greet the human for a moment. Tucker was a gentleman and accepted her pet.
“You know, I watch all these court shows on TV where people’s pit bulls have attacked people. And I read the news and all you hear is bad things about them. But… he’s so sweet. I’ve always been scared of them. Until now.”
She looked Tucker in the eye and smiled warmly as she said to him, “You know, you’re the first pit bull I’ve ever pet, and I’m sixty-seven years old. Now I’m not afraid of pit bulls anymore. Because of you.”
We see what we want to see. Education replaces discrimination. The more we know of the truth, the less we judge through clouded vision.