An Inappropriate Topic

It was the year before last, toward the end of September when a community agency referred me to a prospective service animal client. She is someone who I’m aware of,  contacted the agency that referred her to me and yelled over the phone, “Dennis Owens is Black! I didn’t know that he’s Black. If you had told me, I wouldn’t have met with him!” My client accused the referral source of being deceptive. After all, she failed to disclose my Blackness.

blackfaceironThere have been instances, over the years. Comments about my voice – “He didn’t sound Black, on the phone! I’m usually very good at detecting them!” Once, and I won’t tell you what I did with this, internally… “It was weird! He seemed to really understand what was going on – he knew what my son needed from a service dog, without us knowing how to articulate it. Of course, when he showed up and we saw him, it kind of broke the spell!” This client gem was relayed to me from a colleague (who had referred me). Apparently, our (now) mutual client had called and gossiped about how I had shown up at their door in blackface.

Just yesterday, I was speaking to a ‘friend’, who is both of Dominican/Puerto Rican descent and disabled. She was speaking to me about a possible referral and said these words to me, “Well, when I speak to her, I’ll find out if it’s going to be a problem that you’re Black.” Did you hear the mic drop??? I started to think about it. Conversations about differences are all around me. I circulate among disabled person, frequently – and discussions of inclusion, bias and segregation are common. There are and have always been people with the outlook that certain ethnicities and cultures could be considered ‘disabled’ in the USA. I won’t travel too far down that path, but I have considered what task training for these dogs might be.

The person mentioned above, who called the referring agency and reamed the person for ‘hiding’ that I’m Black – she’s renewed contact and this time, she wants me to come to her home. In 2014, I had asked her to allow me to help her locate a candidate dog, that I would prepare for her particular needs. After the trauma of our meeting, she independently acquired two dogs – one is suffering from a chronic orthopedic issue and the other (the one that she wants to be her service animal) is an older puppy from an out of state breeder. Without going into specifics, and sans psychobabble, this client shared the various factors in her life that contribute to her prospective service animal candidate being “a total mess,” today. Her dog has been living as a pet in her home, for the better part of a year. I can imagine there being factors that contribute to the dog being a mess.

Anyone have any white makeup that I can borrow?

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2 thoughts on “An Inappropriate Topic

  1. Gosh, when I first met you I also noticed that you were black. So was my dog so I guess it was OK. Above person sounds like a nut but I guess we nutty people can need service animals too.

  2. This isn’t an “Inappropriate” topic—but rather an “Inconvenient” one—and unfortunately, one that isn’t at all new. I know what it’s like to communicate with a potential client, and then watch the facial twitching occur as their mental hard drive crashes at our first face-to-face meeting. They struggle for the right words, I laugh—but I didn’t always. I’m the Wedding Planner at a large church, and I recently assigned a minster to a couple—one I’ve worked with many years—a highly educated, experienced and compassionate pastor, teacher and musician. Unfortunately, he happens to be black. Without even meeting him, the client called me and asked to be reassigned to “someone a bit more European”—-yes, the groom used those exact words. I’ll keep the outcome of this juicy saga to myself. But as it relates to your post, let me say that I’m sorry you have had to experience that kind of thinking.
    Your gifts are extraordinary—and if someone cannot get free of that small space in their heads to appreciate them there is very little you can do. Continue to show up, be the awesome professional you are. As we have seen from the events in the world this week, change doesn’t come from the outside – but from inside each of us. In one moment, in one breath, laying aside what we think we know about someone can open our lives to their magic. Our companion animals, our service animals, have the amazing ability to change our lives regardless of how we look. Too bad some humans aren’t able to exercise that kind of magic. But fear not, your magic isn’t diminished, my magic isn’t diminished, and the world’s magic isn’t diminished.
    Oh yes, and the next time you have the audacity to show up to someone’s door in blackface, wear your Trump wig, perhaps it will soften the blow.

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