Thursday, July 29, 2010

What kind is he?

I rescue pit bulls (sometimes they’re pit bullish). Further, I am a foster mom to up to four furbabies at a time and countless bottle babies, Bandit being my current. Of the little ones, always I am asked, “What is it?” (Sarcasm answers, “A dog.”) Notice the picture of Bandit in this post. Can you tell what he is? Better yet, how come it matters? Am I going to change my mind about helping him just because he might be a breed I don’t particularly care for?

Nope. I save all dogs, regardless. I pick up strays regularly. I have been known to chase a dog around my neighborhood for hours, hoping to get close enough to grab its collar. I believe every single animal on this planet deserves a fighting chance at a safe and happy life. Bandit is a baby who needs a little extra attention and I’m more than willing to help.

The constant inquiry about his breed got me thinking about humans and how we place people into categories, race and gender being the biggest, most obvious examples.

Think about it.

When we meet someone new, most of us try to “place them”, or slap on a label that often pigeon holes them into a type. Then forevermore we use those basic assumptions, aka stereotypes, to inform how we are to deal with them and others like them in the future. On occasion, when we find someone that doesn’t fit into a single category or for whom labels don’t apply, we cast them off as strange, weird, odd, and even scary. The propensity for ignoring said person is high because they make us uncomfortable.

Many of us feel a strong urge to ask about an individual’s ethnicity when it is not immediately obvious. When other aspects of their self are visually and/or audibly accessible yet we cannot place it, such as an accent or facial feature, we may feel a strong urge to ask.

Once I attended a camp session where a young British man was also in attendance. My friend kept asking him to say her name every time she saw him because she liked the way it sounded. After a full day of this, he grew weary and she didn’t get the hint. Noting his fatigue, I asked her to chill out for a bit, to give him a break, then reminded her she would have gotten equally as frustrated at being asked to repeat something over and over again just because she sounded cool.

In my own life, I do not like to be labeled. However, I’m easy to peg: white, lower middle class, single mom. On the outside, I took like the typical WASP. On the inside, I am anything but. Many of us attempt to project a certain appearance so as to fit in, keeping our inner most selves a secret until we get to know one another better.

And that is something I try to keep in mind when meeting new people as should you. Worry about labels later, if/when they might actually apply.

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