I’ve been thinking and talking alot lately about the lack of color diversity in the dog world.
A couple of weeks ago, after a very long discussion about life, dogs, racism, and the general state of the world, my friend Perri asked me what she could do help a person of color feel welcome at dog show.
What a great question!
We’re talking alot about systemic racism and changing policies these days, but we all know that if we wait for policy change to start changing our behaviour, we might be waiting forever.
What can we do instead of twiddling our thumbs while we wait? We can start changing our own behavior at the most basic level in our communities, the interpersonal level.
If you notice a person of color at your next show or trial, here are some free and easy ways to make them feel welcome.
- Make eye contact, smile, say ‘good morning’, or ‘hello’. This sounds ridiculous at first, until you consider how much we cling to routines, getting set up, staying in our comfort bubble and never actually connecting with others at these events.
- Give an honest compliment. If someone has an awesome shirt, a cute dog, cool equipment, or spectacular handling, an honest compliment goes a long way towards making people feel seen, and welcome.
- Watch their run. Bonus points for clapping or cheering.
- Offer to videotape their run, or take pictures. If you are traveling to a trial alone, it can be really hard to get video of yourself for review. Also, who doesn’t like photos of working with their dog!?
- Ask them to join you at the canteen for lunch, or a restaurant for dinner. If you see them sitting alone, ask if you can join them.
- Ask questions that show you are interested. This doesn’t need to be an interrogation, but if you find speaking to strangers difficult, here is my advice as an extrovert: The easiest topic to discuss with dog people you don’t know is Dogs! Ask them about their specific dog and where it came from. Ask them about their breed, ask them about where they train. Ask them how long they have been in the breed or sport. If you run out of dog talk, ask them where they are from (Don’t be weird about this and assume they are from overseas because they are not white). Ask them about their family, or their work. These topics should carry you through a meal.
- Offer assistance. Helping people is a really easy way to make anyone feel welcome. Helping can be as simple as holding a door or offering to take a dog back in the ring. Helping can be giving them good restaurant reccomendations, or letting them know a good place to walk dogs. One caveat about helping, it’s probably wise to stick to offering non dog related help until you know someone better, especially if your idea of helping is offering unsolicited advice on dog training and grooming. I can attest that there is absolutely nothing worse than a random person who doesn’t even know you offering training advice the second you leave the ring after losing, or not qualifying.
- If you are a judge, steward, secretary or member of the host club at an event, thank them for attending. No one is obliged to attend your event. This person chose to spend their time and their hard earned money on you/your club. The least you can do is thank them.
- If you witness racist behavior from other exhibitors, intervene. Intervention can be telling the offender that their behavior is both unacceptable and evidence of poor sportsmanship. Intervention can be filing a complaint about the behavior to the show/trial superintendent. Intervention can also literally helping a victim to get out of the situation and to a safe place. We are often so stunned by people’s hatred that we freeze. Regardless, we CAN NOT allow racist behavior to happen without consequence at our events and people of color need to SEE us denounce it to know they are welcome.
If you have gotten this far, you might notice that here is not really a super secret way to help people of color feel welcome. You don’t need to quote Malcom X to show them you’re an ally. You don’t need to share your black history trivia skills. You don’t need a diversity course. All you need to do is treat them the same way you should treat any newcomer…and intervene when you witness racism.