*Content Warning: discussion of systemic and interpersonal racism and other forms of oppression, with specific examples.*
Dr. Katherina Alvarez has conducted fascinating and powerful original research to explore inequities in the dog training/behavior industry and what we can do about it.
This is her first article about her powerful qualitative research on this subject. I’m publishing it here on my site (and Katherina will do the same on hers) because it was surprisingly challenging to publish in a dog trainer organization’s journal (we did only try one journal and plan to share to others). That’s all I’ll say about that, except that I’ve never faced this type of difficulty getting my own work published, as a white person, and it kind of proves exactly it needs to be published and READ. That last part is up to you. 🙂
Here’s the link to Dr. Alvarez’s article if you want to go right to it: “The Reality of Being a Black, Indigenous, and Global Majority Dog Professional.”
[When you share this, please link directly to the page my site, grishastewart.com/racism, or Katherina’s (preferably hers once it’s posted on katherinaalvarez.com). Thanks!]
I’d also like to explore why I think her article so important for you to read, especially if you are white and thus have the privilege of not having to think about how race affects your role as a dog professional. My comments are below. -Grisha
Katherina also has a webinar coming up: Social Justice: Cultivating Equity for All Dog Professionals on May 31.
When Katherina and I first began working together on her research project well over a year ago, the first question was “Does race affect the experience of BIPGM dog professionals” and “If so, how?” She explained that without asking BIPGM trainers and behaviorists their experiences, any attempts to address inequity could fall flat, or worse, cause harm. We needed data.
Katherina weaves quotes from one of the interviews into her article. The experiences of a Black veterinarian and dog trainer pain a clear picture. Thank you Alicia* for boldly sharing your story. And thank you to the many others who also shared their experiences for the full project.
“When I graduated, I couldn’t get a job at first, although my classmates had jobs before we graduated. I was even flown, all expenses paid, to interview for jobs only to be told within an hour of arriving, they had filled the job, or ‘our clients would not accept a Black veterinarian.’I had not put my photo on my resume.
Once I did that, I was not able to get an interview for a few months. I finally was hired at a hospital, where it turned out the owner was a staunch racist and hired me because he could pay me half what my classmates were getting. I couldn’t stay there…”
We dog trainers and behaviorists have such an opportunity. We are uniquely educated to see patterns of behavior and understand systems.
Opportunities aren’t equally distributed in our human world. Yet.
If some aspect of your identity is marginalized, you already know that, of course.
If you’re white, even if you have other marginalized identities, you may not really fully understand the extent of systemic oppression, even if you think you do. It’s a deep, deep well. I ask you to take special note and really read Dr. Alvarez’s article carefully and attend her upcoming Social Justice webinar, which includes all forms of oppression, all the -isms, with a special focus on systemic racism. I can attest that I’ve personally learned a lot from this collaboration and hope you will, too.
How does privilege show up in dog training? What systemic changes would remove unequal obstacles for BIPGM people to thrive as dog professionals? Katherina’s research conducted interviews with BIPGM dog professionals to work toward understanding that, at least within our industry.
As Katherina explains in the article, privilege isn’t about having everything you want, or for things to be easy. It means having what you have is unfairly easier for you than it is for others.
The rules of the ‘game’ of life aren’t the same for everyone, and that needs to change. [To see that in actual game form, check out Disparity Trap: The Unfair Game of Life]
Part of my success as a professional dog trainer and author is due to the connections I’ve made. Learning about social justice and doing the work helps me acknowledge that the ‘doors’ that my network opened along the way are harder for Black, Indigenous, and People of the Global Majority (BIPGM) to open. Networking matters. Go out of your way to expand your network. This need for better networking opportunities for BIPGM trainers is something that came through in Katherina’s research.
[Attend Katherina’s Social Justice webinar to help learn what doors are shut for other people because of the various -isms.]
Here’s an example of what can happen when white people don’t actively work to expand their networks. In 2022, I signed the Minimum Viable Diversity pledge, which is: “I will never speak at any paid conferences or panels as part of a homogeneous group of speakers” – and I also pledge the same for free events. I was told by multiple hosts that they couldn’t find enough speakers from diverse backgrounds, so I declined their invitation to present. I’d like to say to every host out there: go out of your way to expand your network. I invite you ask me if you need help finding speakers.
[If you’re a speaker with marginalized identity and want to be on my list to share with hosts, or if you’ve got some sort of obstacle and want a connection I may be able to make from my network, I invite you to get in touch with me (or just message me if we’re already friends on FB or Instagram.) This is me going out of my way to expand my network.
And it’s not a big ask to contact me if you’re looking for a seminar host in a certain country or whatever else. It’s super common to tap into one’s network to ask for connections. I imagine most of the other dog speakers would do the same for you, too. None of us do this alone.]
Our species is globally interconnected, now more than ever (though we still must, must, must do our individual self-reflective and learning work — especially folks with systemic privilege, leadership positions in the dog industry, or even an active social media presence, who are in a position to do more unintentional harm). As Professor Angela Davis pointed out in a recent talk on social justice and joy, we also have systemic privilege as humans, and we are interconnected to all species on this living planet.
We suffer when any other being suffers and we experience joy as a response to their joy. That’s what mirror neurons are for. We living beings feel one another. When we pay attention, we can feel ourselves. I feel you. You feel me. We, as individuals and various groups of identities, are also part of one big nervous system.
To me, caring means considering the perspective, pain points, joys of all humans (all beings, ideally), with my defenses down, in order to be part of co-creating a world in which all of us can thrive. Each of us has different information and together we have more of the whole picture. My perspective is that life is not a test, it is a lesson, and that lesson is love.
With defenses down, we can learn, and mess up, and learn, and mess up, and learn until clarity begins to emerge. That’s the personal work I’m doing on my own bias and if you’re not already doing that, I invite you to try it. It’s ok to ‘get it wrong’ and keep trying, keep learning to expand awareness of how others see the world, how they see you.
That’s why Katherina’s article is so important. It brings awareness to the million tiny cuts of microaggressions from internalized bias and the large disparities in our systems. And what we can do about it.
Microaggressions are a million small ways of phrasing things or making assumptions that come from holding some sense of superiority or exclusivity because of the color of one’s skin. And this is not because white people are bad, or we are some sort of irretrievably broken human that is a racist, but because we are learners in an evolving system that favors white skin. That system is changing, bit by bit. We are all subject to learning, every one of us.
In areas in which you hold privilege, you will make ‘mistakes’ along the way. You will accidentally do harm via microaggressions or other means. I have done so myself and unfortunately, I surely will again. One particular growth area for me right now is to note that I hold privilege in areas I didn’t have as a child. Systemic privilege is not a fixed thing. It changes, so I have the opportunity to examine my inner world and mindfully adapt.
That’s part of this work, learning how to stop bumping into walls, setting shame and defensiveness aside to hold yourself accountable for harm, restoring justice through reparations from harm you’ve done, allowing our perspective to grow from interacting with others. We can all examine our actions and learn from them.
I share some of my own story and perspective to help bridge this for white people who might need motivation to pay more attention to BIPGM people. To make it relevant. Important. Arguably the most important work we will ever do. I am not the expert in this, though I am educating myself. I am not leading anything. I am following, holding space, helping voices be heard. Using my privilege to asking questions and shift the status quo.
I also wrote this post because this is something white people don’t often talk about. I share it vulnerably for BIPGM people and other marginalized groups to know where I stand in this moment in my learning journey. I’m learning out loud. This blog post is a living document and I’m open to your suggestions to be of better service. Thank you to those who have already made suggestions, feel free to circle back.
Speaking of circling back, let’s go back to that first question. Katherina’s research clearly shows that race does have an impact on the experience of BIPGM dog professionals and it suggests very specific changes to promote equity.
As behaviorists, we understand systems of behavior. We are great at looking at the needs of each being in a family system and finding ways to create harmony. We are uniquely positioned to make the whole world better, not just our industry, but it’s an excellent place to start.
Katherina sums it up well in the article: “Remember that combating racism is an ongoing process that requires continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning. It is crucial to hold yourself accountable and be open to feedback from marginalized communities. Racism is a social problem with a social solution that requires commitment, unity, and hard work from all of us.
This conversation is constantly evolving, so I encourage you to keep up with readings and the growing collective knowledge, to be open to learning new concepts and frameworks, and to walk away with even more questions. This is only the beginning of a deeper and urgent conversation.”
If any of that struck a chord (or if you’ve even just made it this far), please download and read Katherina’s article, “The Reality of Being a Black, Indigenous, and Global Majority Dog Professional.”
Dr. Alvarez is teaching a webinar to expand on the article. Please join in and help us spread the word: Social Justice: Cultivating Equity for All Dog Professionals on May 31.
p.s. All proceeds for seminar purchases go to the presentation speakers and their NVC facilitators (not to me).
p.p.s. Money should never be a barrier to education. Academy scholarships are also available.
* Alicia is a pseudonym, for her protection.
- Replaced thought experiment with actual data from the article. That’s a way better way to amplify BIGPM voices.
- Focused the spotlight on Dr. Alvarez’s article, because getting people to read it is the whole point of this blog post.
- Doubled-down on vulnerability.
- Clarified why I am speaking about myself at all here and removed some of it.