The Daily Show Asks: Can Dogs Be Racist?

Jessica Williams looks into reports that L.A. police dogs bite only black and Latino people.


Usually when we write about problems with dogs and law enforcement, the story is about a police officer who got trigger-happy in the field and shot a dog. In the video below, Jessica Williams of The Daily Show flips that dynamic around a bit. A study last year showed that in the first six months of 2013, 100 percent of people who were bitten by K-9 units of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were black or Latino.

The video is funny, but it’s a very serious kind of funny. Williams pretends to take for granted the claim that because we have a black president, racism is a thing of the past. If America is post-racial, then it logically follows that the dogs are being racist. To demonstrate, she interviews a dog trainer, and shows how the trainer’s Chihuahua barks at her and “follows the black girl around the room.”

Naturally, it should surprise no one that a Chihuahua barks at them. In fact, the one in the video seems relatively well-behaved compared with some of my acquaintance. Like the trainer says, dogs aren’t racist, at least not in the way that we usually mean it. As she says, “The problem is at the other end of the leash.”

Saying that a dog is racist implies a higher degree of intent and cognition than dogs are usually credited with. Like all great humor, the joke at the heart of Williams’ piece is essentially tragic: More than a decade into the 21st century, we’re far from being “post-racial,” no matter how good that sounds to media pundits. If police dogs are more aggressive toward black and Latino people, it says more about the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department than it does the dogs themselves.

Dog owners or trainers know that their dogs will pick up cues and attitudes from them, whether they intend to pass along those things or now. It’s inevitable. When it happens with your pet at home, it’s merely annoying and inconvenient. When it happens with dogs trained to aid law enforcement, it’s just outright dangerous. Williams’ piece is a great depiction of how prejudices seep outward from ourselves and root themselves in the behavior of our animals, and even the supposedly hyperneutral interface of our computers. (The moment when Williams types “Why do black people…” into Google is a thing of beauty.)

What do you think? Can dogs be racist? Have you ever seen a dog behave more aggressively around people of color than with white people? How can police departments avoid this happening in their canine units? Let us know what you think below.

Via The Daily Show

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