Misleading White Paper Crafted to Ban Breed Restrictions in Housing
Depicted is a sampling of people in leadership roles, disproportionately white and female, at the humane groups that endorsed the white paper, along with authors of works cited in the paper.
For decades, Pit Bull Advocates have been trying to shut down any opposition to unregulated pit bull ownership with cries of racism. Right now, there is a brand-new fake racism campaign aimed at state legislatures. Pit Bull Advocates (PBAs) want to bully them into banning insurance companies from using actuarial data to determine the need for housing insurance restrictions. PBA lobbyists were recently successful in passing state laws in Nevada and New York banning breed restrictions by homeowners insurance companies. This fake racism campaign is currently being waged in Arizona and Minnesota, as well as Canada.
Best Friends Animal Society and five other agencies have produced a white paper entitled, "Breed Discrimination in the Homeowners Insurance Industry". The paper is addressed to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and contends current actuarial charts are not based on evidence. This is patently false. PBAs also contend the insurance industry discriminates against three groups of people 1.) The uninformed 2.) People of Color, and 3.) People of moderate or low means when they either deny home insurance coverage or charge higher premiums to cover pit bulls and other dangerous breeds.
The white paper is the foundation for a lobbying initiative to scare the insurance industry into abandoning actuarial data which clearly show that pit bulls inflict the most numerous serious attacks and the most costly attacks. Pit bull lobbyists allege that because pit bulls are disproportionately owned by Black people, insurance companies can effectively redline Black people by restricting coverage to pit bulls. PBAs assert that banning insurance companies from restricting pit bulls is protecting civil rights.
These fake racism claims are based on weak suppositions and 30-year-old stereotypes. One author cited in "Breed Discrimination in the Homeowners Insurance Industry" admits that there is no way to know if Black people are more likely to own pit bulls because no one is compiling those statistics. PBAs are relying on a 30-year-old, 90s era pit-bull-as-gangsta-accessory stereotype as proof of their assertion. Here is comedian Damien Lemon's take on that stereotype, "White People Have Taken Over the Pit Bull."
Damien Lemon talks about seeing white women with pit bulls and what a "rescue dog" is.
That's right, everyone but the pit bull lobby now identifies pit bulls as the darling of white female rescue angels. And young, wine-drinking, middle-class rescue angels even poke fun at themselves about this very fact. What's more, pit bulls, now associated with young middle-class white women, currently kill far more people per year than they did when pit bulls were viewed as the dog-of-choice of urban Black youths. Given all that, it is extremely odd that the pit bull lobby is hurling fake accusations of racism as a tactic to get legislation passed that bans insurance companies from implementing breed restrictions. It is even more odd that those tactics worked in Nevada and New York.
In their white paper, PBAs trot out many tired, already debunked arguments defending pit bulls. They deny the pit bull's dangerousness using old lobbyist techniques to mislead. These arguments sound silly to anyone familiar with the abundance of evidence that pit bulls are genuinely far more dangerous than all other kinds of dogs. They are just as silly as arguments made by the Big Tobacco lobby that cigarette smoking doesn't cause cancer. Today, everyone knows that smoking does cause cancer. It is easy to see how flimsy and self-serving the Big Tobacco lobby's arguments actually were. This editorial explains how the PBA lobby uses techniques that are identical to those used by the tobacco lobby for half a century to deny that smoking tobacco causes cancer despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
However, for the purpose of this white paper, those tired arguments are merely window dressing. PBA's real weapon in this current attack is the accusation of racist housing restrictions by the insurance industry. They are targeting insurance companies knowing that the industry did use racist housing policies in the past. They know insurance companies are still under scrutiny from civil rights organizations like the NAACP. The Insurance industry's history of genuine racism renders them especially vulnerable to fake allegations of racism. It does not really matter how silly the PBA's arguments are if they can scare state legislatures and the insurance industry into believing that regulating pit bulls is racist.
A Sea of White Faces
As strange as that claim may be, it becomes even more bizarre when you look at who is and who is not leveling these specific charges of racism against the homeowners insurance industry.
The white paper is authored or endorsed by The American Dog Breeders Association, The American Kennel Club, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Rescue Alliance, And the Humane Society of the United States. In addition, there has been a blitz of opinion pieces recently by members of these organizations as well as Animal Farm Foundation that push the same false and outdated narrative that regulating pit bulls is racist.
The faces of leadership roles in all of these organizations are starkly white and predominantly female. A sea of white faces in the upper and middle ranks of humane groups has been true for decades as well. The "very white" humane movement has mostly ignored its own lack of diversity since the 1990s, according to researchers. Blacks made up only 4% of employees at animal welfare organizations when surveyed in 2005 (less than half of the 32 organizations responded to the survey at all).1 Fast forward 15 years, when two surveys conducted by separate groups showed no progress since 2005 either. Today, Blacks account for less than 2% of workers and volunteers within the animal welfare industry.2
These organizations who decry racism in the home insurance industry have made little effort to recruit for diversity in the ranks of their own organizations for over 15 years. They didn't feel the need to have diverse voices informing their initiatives in the 1990s and they barely do today either.
Could these Pit Bull Advocates be white allies to people of color? Could they be amplifying the voices of Black activists and academics in their calls for racial justice while uniting anti-discrimination initiatives to pit bull initiatives? No. When you look at the authors cited by the PBAs to accuse the insurance companies of racist housing discrimination tactics, the sea of white only grows.
- Erin Tarver, The Dangerous Individual('s) Dog: Race Criminality and the Pit Bull Culture, 55 Culture Theory and Critique 273, 281 (2013)
- Ann L. Schiavone, Real Bite: Legal Realism and Meaningful Rational Basis in Dog Law and Beyond, 25 WM. & MARY BILL OF RIGHTS J. 65, 111 – 12 (2016)
- Ann Linder, The Black Man's Dog: The Social Context of Breed Specific Legislation, 25 Animal Law 51 (2018)
- Colin Dayan, "Dead Dogs: Breed bans, euthanasia, and preemptive justice", Boston Review, 26-28 (2010)
- Karen Delise, The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression, Anubis Publishing, (2007)
- Bronwen Dickey, Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon, Vintage Books (2016)
Together, these authors have created a false history of the pit bull in America to support the proposition that pit bulls were once beloved, "All American" dogs at the turn of the 20th century when white people owned them. These authors assert that pit bulls only became vilified when Black people began owning them in the 1970s. The false history in turn allows these authors to contend that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) banning or regulating pit bulls only was implemented when pit bulls were associated with Black owners. Both of these assertions are false. Pit bulls have always been regarded as dangerous. Breed Specific Legislation was in fact called for and enacted at the turn of the 20th century.
The PBA's version of history is demonstrably false. News archive searches turn up opinion pieces calling for bulldogs to be banned in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the dogs were associated with white owners and white dogfighters. The first BSL was implemented in the late 19th century, with several cities adopting some form of BSL in the early 20th century, the period that was supposedly the heyday of the pit bull as "America's Dog."
Karen Delise created the first version of the pit bull's fake history as an "All American" pet in her 2007 self-published book, The Pit Bull Placebo. She maintains that pit bulls of the 19th and early 20th centuries were loyal farm dogs and universally beloved pets. She claims that by the late 19th century pit bulls were no longer used for dogfighting, which is ridiculously false. News archives of the era are full of features praising the ferocity of the bulldog as a fighting machine and condemning bulldog attacks on innocent people. Check out what turns up in news archives from Baltimore, just one city from that time period.
Delise blames the pit bull's negative image on modern media bias, politicians, and ignorance, but she does not blame racism in The Pit Bull Placebo. She likens the change in the 70s through the 90s to the Salem Witch Hunts and McCarthyism. She references race by saying that when people say pit bulls were different than other kinds of dogs, they were "removing their canineness". Without mentioning race directly, she compares recognition of the pit bulls' inbred dangerousness to race, but she does not assert that racism was a motivation for the supposed change in public regard for the pit bull.
Erin Tarver accepts Delise's false history of the pit bull's glory days and subsequent fall from grace without question in her 2013 paper, "The Dangerous Individual('s) Dog." And, she adds a new motivation for the changed attitude towards pit bulls: racism. According to Tarver, pit bulls were beloved pets in the early 20th century because white people owned them, but became reviled when pit bulls became associated with Black owners. Tarver suggests that the pit bull only became "pathologised and criminalized" once they became associated with Black people in the late 20th century, as if the original function of pit bulls -- dogfighting -- was not always considered criminal and pathological by the vast majority of people in the 19th an early 20th century.
Bronwen Dickey's 2016 book, Pit Bull: Battle over an American Icon, shares all kinds of evidence that pit bulls were beloved in the early 20th century to expand on Delise's false history of the pit bull. The problem is that when pit bulls became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they were just as controversial then as they are today. Dickey's "research" into the history of the pit bull consists of cherry picking tidbits that reveal that there was indeed a fad for pit bulls in the late 19th and the very early years of the 20th century. She presents the evidence of the pit bull fad without showing the inevitable and immediate consequences -- the news reports describing attacks on people and pets, the surge in casual dogfighting for entertainment, the opinion pieces about the bulldogs' dangerousness, and calls for breed bans.
Just one example of her one-sided "history" is her treatment of college fraternity mascots from the chapter "America's Dog." She shows that fighting pit bulls became very popular as college athletics team and fraternity mascots for a short period of time in the early 20th century. She doesn't mention that those mascots began to be banned from colleges because they attacked people and the fraternity boys used them for dogfighting.
Most importantly, she neglects to mention that the first BSL regarding pit bulldogs was enacted during the period that Dickey hails as the heyday of the universally beloved pit bull. If she bothered to include these facts, she would have to conclude that then as now, when pit bulls become more popular as pets, pit bull attacks skyrocket, draw a tremendous amount of controversy, and cities move to regulate them. It was then, as it is now about the dangerousness of the pit bull breed.
As background for her study, Ann Linder retells the same false history of the pit bull in, "The Black Man's Dog: The Social context of Breed Specific Legislation" to assert that pit bulls are viewed as great pets or dangerous depending on who owns them. In a study about "the social context of BSL", it is odd that Linder seems to be completely unaware that BSL regulating "bulldogs" (pit bulls) can be found as early as 1893 and throughout the early 1900s when they were "the white man's dog." She seems to mistakenly believe that BSL only began being enacted in the late 20th century. In addition, Linder fails to mention that many opinion pieces and editorials can be found advocating for bans and regulation of bulldogs in the late 19th century and early 20th century when pit bulls were associated with white people. That is a tremendous amount of "context" that was left out of her study of "context."
Linder's study looks at scant evidence from a single, small-scale examination that she administered to reach very weak conclusions. Linder claims that people believe pit bulls are more likely to be owned by Black people. She then claims this "might" mean that pit bull bans and home insurance policies excluding pit bulls could possibly also disproportionately restrict Black people from housing. She says this "possible" racial discrimination "might" be intentional, but she has no evidence of any of these suppositions.
Linder's study concludes merely by saying, "At this time, more research is needed…" and "…such findings would not be sufficient to challenge legislation legally…" Linder admits that "at the present time, actual ownership (of pit bulls by race) data is not available, (but) if true ownership resembles the perceived distribution measured here" they might be able to prove her claim. So, Linder cannot establish if pit bulls are more often owned by Black people. And, she established that the insurance companies and city councils have no way of knowing that either.
This false narrative about the once universally loved pet bulldog is the foundation for the claim that pit bulls have a bad reputation only because white people are racist. All that follows depends on this false narrative and premise. Once the full history of the pit bull is revealed, the actual reasons for breed restrictions in housing also emerge. Pit bulls are dangerous no matter who owns them and need to be regulated. There is nothing racist about wanting to remove the danger we see in these videos from our neighborhoods.
Activist groups such as the NAACP are currently seeking reform in the insurance industry to assure racial equity. However, it seems pretty strange that only white people are leading this particular charge of discrimination and racism against the housing insurance industry. That is, until you remember that these people are not anti-racism advocates. They are pit bull ownership advocates using the contrived claim of "possible" racism as a hammer to ban insurance companies from implementing breed restrictions. PBAs know that the insurance industry is vulnerable to this particular attack because the insurance industry participated in devastating racist policies like redlining in the past.
"Sea of White" Not Unnoticed
Essentially, "the sea of White," are PBAs and humane groups disproportionately represented by white women who are co-opting diversity, equity and inclusion messaging in order to advocate for dogs generally and pit bulls specifically. This phenomenon is not exclusive to PBAs and humane groups, though.
In 2018, Travis Wood was looking for a job in the field of video production, advertising, and design. While checking out the "Who We Are" pages of companies he was considering, he noticed the sea of white faces. And more than that. Those white people seem to be more willing to include dogs in their work space than to hire Black people. Since he works in video production, he used his skills to create a rather compelling illustration of what he found. Don't miss the pit bulls, bully breeds and pit bull-mixes in the video. Owned, of course, by white people.
Affurmative Action, a Short Film about workplace diversity told through "Meet The Team" pages.
Misusing Race Comparisons
Dr. Benedicte Boisseron, author of the book, Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question, discussed the way white people tend to misuse race comparisons to promote animal rights with fellow academic Brigitte Fielder, associate professor of US & African American Studies. Afro-dog explores the relationship "between race and the animal in the history and culture of the Americas and the Black Atlantic, exposing a hegemonic system that compulsively links and opposes Blackness and animality to measure the value of life." Boisseron notes that white people have associated Black people with animals from slavery times up to the present day.
From the discussion:
Fielder: Using histories and theories of racism in service to animals, many animal studies scholars and advocates have failed to show similar investments in the critical study of race, histories of racist oppression, and the nonwhite people who still experience racism in the present. In their use of racist oppression as a metaphor, they fail to address its historical complexity and continued resonance. They sometimes also repeat racist tropes of human-animal comparison.
Dr. Boisseron: One of the biggest challenges is misunderstandings. Those are very sensitive topics and people have different agendas. I've encountered a lot of misunderstandings, particularly when it comes to the question of comparison, when I try to explain that the comparison, the way it's been done in animal studies, can be demeaning or very problematic for Black studies...
Rights activist Yasmin Nair also notices this unhappy relationship. Yasmin Nair reviewed Bronwen Dickey's book, Pit Bull: Battle over an American Icon. She agrees with Dickey's assertion that pit bulls have faced discrimination because they were associated with Black people. However, Nair, looking at the issue from the perspective of a right's activist, comes to a very different conclusion than Dickey did. In her view, pit bulls and apes, another animal likened to Black people, already have been redeemed while Black people still face discrimination.
"Harambe's death and the outrage that surrounded it also reflected a difference between the value placed on animal lives versus Black lives. Once, apes were seen as contiguous to Africans and other non-white people, hence the placement of the orangutan next to Ota Benga. But apes are now anthropomorphized, and many would rather have seen the child die than the gorilla.
Contrary to previous mythology, apes are no longer signifiers of blackness. They are treated with compassion and dignity, recognized for their intelligence and sophistication. Yet no such transformation has occurred in the treatment of race for humans. Black bodies are still shot at will and caged by the hundreds of thousands. Black people continue to be treated as animals even as animals have become human.
The redemption of the pit bull shows that animals have finally transcended race. It is only Black humans who must continue to bear its burden."
Yasmin Nair is favorable to pit bulls themselves, but she also sees what Black comedians commenting on their own communities have seen. Pit bulls were once associated with a certain type of Black person, but are now associated with middle class white women. Certainly, pit bulls have not and cannot be redeemed, and it has nothing to do with who owns them. The number of fatal attacks pit bulls commit each year has skyrocketed far beyond the rates of carnage they committed in the 80s and 90s when they were a fad accessory for rappers. Years and years of pit bull advocacy have polished the image of pit bulls without changing their propensity for attacking one bit.
Now people of all races and income brackets coo over pit bulls festooned with flower crowns and tutus. Worse, they ignore or laugh at the mention of a growing number of maiming and fatal pit bull attacks. No one is more enthusiastic about this than white middle class women. Here is another comedian, SNL's Michael Che, doing a bit about white women's known proclivity for putting cute clothes on fighting dogs. White rescue angels heard Che's bit and they owned it. Proudly. Here are 1,997 videos of white women and their rescue pit bulls that a white woman gathered in response to Che's comedy bit.
These pit bull advocacy groups are helmed by white women. And white women presuming to write about Black men's dogs are the only ones who haven't yet heard that the 90s are over. Rescue and advocacy groups have pushed pit bulls into neighborhoods of all demographics. And their advocacy has helped yearly average fatality rates skyrocket.
It is important to note that there are people of all races who do like pit bulls. There are theorists and researchers of color who do support pit bull ownership. It isn't that the sea of white women couldn't have consulted with Black voices. It's that they didn't. If these pit bull advocacy groups were genuinely concerned about issues of racism, discrimination and social justice, they would have made some small effort to recruit people from varied backgrounds years ago. And not just for appearances, but because they believed that listening to the voices of people of color is necessary for any intelligent campaign about racism and animal advocacy.
The coalition of Pit Bull Advocates that produced "Breed Discrimination in the Homeowners Insurance Industry" have invoked fake racism charges to ban insurance companies from implementing breed restrictions in housing. These charges are baseless, but they hit as hard as a hammer. Fake racism leveraged to protect unregulated pit bull ownership does injustice to people of color by hijacking important discussions on civil rights. And these charges do an injustice to all people by promoting unregulated dangerous dog ownership when regulation would protect us all.
2Animal Welfare Demographics, CARE/Harvard Project Implicit Results, Winter 2020 | The State of Animal Advocacy in the U.S. & Canada: Experiences & Turnover, Faunalytics report authored by Jo Anderson, PhD, July 2020 (faunalytics.org) and the Faunalytics related Encompass Essays.
32020 Census Illuminates Racial and Ethnic Composition of the Country, United States Census Bureau, August 12, 2021 (census.gov).
4AVMA Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, 2017-2018 Edition, American Medical Veterinary Association (avma.org).
02/21/21: Barbara Kay: Academics Reframe Opposition to Dangerous Pit Bulls in Racist Terms
11/27/20: The Propaganda is All the Same: Pit Bull Lobby and Tobacco Institute by Lucy Muir
10/20/16: Back Story of the Montreal Pit Bull Ban; How the Pit Bull Lobby Operates...