In October, we got Eloise, a labradoodle puppy untrained in every possible way. Both of us needed a puppy training course, so we enrolled in a class consisting of 10 puppies of varying breeds, sizes and temperaments. Basically, the dogs frolic together, and then play is interrupted with commands – sit, follow, leave it, take it, come, etc.
The pups are off-leash because they have to learn to pay attention amid temptation, distraction and a little bit of chaos. Some puppies readily snap back into heeding their humans, others want to keep playing. Eloise occupies the latter category. However, we owners come equipped with tasty bribes to ensure that when the instructor interrupts play and orders us to practice a particular command on our dogs, Eloise and her classmates will fall in line.
During one such interruption, another puppy either wanted to keep horsing around with Eloise or wanted the treat being offered to her, so she literally kept nosing into Eloise’s face. Because the other dog wouldn’t leave Eloise alone, I pushed that pup’s head aside so that Eloise could better focus her attention on me.
That’s when the other dog’s owner stood over me and said quietly, “Keep your (expletive) hands off my dog, you stupid Chinese.”
I was stunned. But I got up off the floor, met his eyes and responded in the loudest, most dramatic voice I could muster, “Excuse me? Did I hear you just say, ‘Keep your (expletive) hands off my dog, you stupid Chinese’?”
The class stopped. All eyes went to our section of the room, and the instructor hurried over. The man explained to her that I had shoved his dog twice. The instructor clarified that gently nudging another dog over was acceptable, and that his response was inappropriate. The man disagreed, the instructor requested he leave, the man inquired about a refund, the instructor reminded him that neither his dog nor his wife was being thrown out, implying that a refund wasn’t applicable under the circumstances. The man left, threatening to take the instructor to small claims court – on exactly what grounds, he did not explain.
The episode was over in less than five minutes. Class continued for another 10, during which time Eloise and the other dogs resumed their happy play. It was as if nothing had occurred at all.
However, even after I had returned home, I remained upset. That’s the thing about bigotry: It can get under your skin. And it wasn’t even my first rodeo, so to speak, with this type of behavior. However, it’s been awhile.
But that’s the point: It’s been awhile, and I had almost forgotten what it felt like to be called out racially. It made me feel disrespected and inconsequential – my feelings, my background, my character, my humanity did not matter a bit to this man, therefore he could speak to me in the rudest possible way. That’s humiliating, and it hurts.
Unprepared as I was for hostility amid wide-eyed puppies and their earnest human caregivers, I did the only thing I could think of on the spot: I protested. Loudly, clearly, unapologetically. Granted, it wasn’t on the level of marching from Selma to Montgomery, and I wasn’t speaking on behalf of my people, who, by the way, aren’t Chinese.
But I did make it clear that racism is worth making a stink about. Overbearing behavior should not be rewarded with tolerance. Even if a person is a juvenile ignoramus, he’s still responsible for his words. And I have a right to speak up about that. Always.