The joke is important because it has the potential to help everyone — especially your husband — relax. Which is all part of the plan. I’m no dog behaviorist, but the fact that these situations cause enough stress in social situations to inspire this letter suggests to me that it must get pretty tense in the moment, too. And that the animals involved can tell. Here’s what Dodson said about that:
If the dog barks and the person recoils, the dog registers a victory … And even if the person doesn’t recoil or show fear visible to the human eye, the dog’s sharp eye and sharper nose can sense fear in a tiny gesture or a whiff of sweat.
In other words, if your nice, friendly husband is as concerned as you are about the right way to deal with the barking, all that tension is making the situation worse (he’s not scared of being attacked, but he’s scared of making a scene, which I’m guessing registers about the same to the dog), and I can’t think of a better way than a joke to defuse it.
But I think there’s an additional and maybe even more important benefit to a lighthearted public recognition of what’s happening — one that will carry over even after the dog calms down: It makes you and all of your friends acknowledge that your husband has a different background, and sometimes it might matter.
That you understand the doggie racism that’s at play here but want to be “polite” and “alleviate this socially” suggests to me a certain tentativeness and self-consciousness about tackling even the most innocent, comedic way that race has inserted itself into your circle.
That’s understandable, because this topic — even when it also involves puppies — is infamously touchy, scary and dangerous. But you should try to get past it.
I’m not asking you to sit down and have “Race in America live,” but I’m encouraging you and your husband to apply some humor to this situation — one that’s no one’s fault — and practice gently acknowledging race, and your husband’s race in particular.
Why? Because even if his Filipino heritage isn’t central to his identity, I can bet that if dogs are noticing it, they’re not the only ones. And that has almost certainly led to an experience that he’d like to be able to vent about, to be asked about, to at least not have to politely conceal among friends. To me that’s an essential part of high-quality friendships between people of different races.
Small nods to race and identity can strip away shame and secrecy and lay the foundation for a friendship that can weather something more serious, if it ever comes up.
Maybe the dogs are doing you a favor by setting this up. Becoming comfortable with talking about race might not be the easiest thing, but tiptoeing around it and suppressing it in an effort to be polite is about as unproductive as collectively trying to ignore a barking dog.
The Root’s staff writer, Jenée Desmond-Harris, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life — and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. Follow her on Twitter.
Need race-related advice? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously in Race Manners: “I Hate My Ghetto Name. Can I Change It?“