Plain as Black and White

at 11:43 PM

It happens every few weeks. I'll be walking my dog through my neighborhood, and will notice a nervous look on the face of a passing stranger. Usually, the person will just give us a wide berth, but other times he or she will actually cross the street.

My dog is 12 years old, medium-sized and mostly black with a little gray around the muzzle. She greets almost everyone with a big goofy smile, and likes nothing in the world more than treats and butt scratches. She's hardly what I would consider threatening.

But I get it. Not everybody likes dogs. Maybe the passing stranger was bitten as a child. Maybe he or she is allergic, or didn't grow up with dogs and doesn't know how to interact with them.

But if that's the case, then how do I explain this phenomenon?

My friend's dog is about the same size as mine, but all white. She is scared of new people and has taken a nip at more than a few strange hands, yet whenever I take her along on a walk, people always want to pet her.

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"The white dog is shy," I explain. "But the black dog is friendly."

At this prompt, most people are happy to give my dog a scratch behind the ears and move on. But some don't seem to hear my gentle warning, and continue to reach out for the nervous white dog.

"She's not friendly," I say, a little louder this time. And still they advance, oblivious to her flattened ears and tucked tail.

Look, I understand that dogs are not people, and that racial tension in our culture is incredibly complex. But whether we are talking about dogs or of unarmed young black men being shot in our streets, it is clear to me that sometimes we hear what we expect to hear. That we see what we expect to see.

But maybe if we learned to pay better attention to one another, to take just a moment to observe each other's body language and behavior -- to listen -- maybe we would start to see things differently. Maybe we would start to recognize that our beliefs are not always our reality.

With a Perspective, I'm Lisa Thomson.

Lisa Thomson is a marketer and writer. She lives in Oakland.