Every Dog Walk Is an Opportunity for Casual Racism

There’s nothing quite like the mental calculus around a chance meeting with strangers

Shane Paul Neil
Published in
5 min readNov 17, 2020


Our little Bean. Photos: Shane Paul Neil

When we got our Dalmatian puppy, Bean, I learned one quick and hard lesson: To own a dog is to reconcile with the prospect of forced socializing.

Crossing paths with another dog owner often means engaging in stilted conversation while the dogs sniff butts.

“Nice day, isn’t it?”

“What breed is your dog?”

“How about those [name of a local sports team]?”

Meanwhile, you pray the conversation doesn’t turn political.

Life as a first-time dog owner reminds me of when my son was in preschool and we felt like we were essentially dating his friend’s parents. All you can really do is hope little Phillip’s mom and dad aren’t dicks.

For me, the social aspect of dog ownership is even more ramped up. I live in a huge building that is extremely dog-friendly — there are more than 100 dogs, all told — so just about every walk is a conversation with a new stranger.

Last night, while on my eleventeenth walk of the day (puppy bladders, man), Bean and I crossed paths with an older White woman and her French bulldog. The two dogs stared at each other, their tails wagging, anticipating a mini-playdate.

“Is it okay if they say hi?” I ask.

“I would, but we are in a Covid spike,” the owner replied.

We were both wearing masks, and between our leashes and our dogs, I don’t think we would have gotten within 12 feet of each other.

“No problem. I understand completely,” I said to her.

“Completely” was a slight exaggeration.

Being Black in America often means having an “Is this racist?” algorithm running in the recesses of our minds. I believe this process is carried out by the part of our brain that manages breathing and our heartbeat. It’s an essential function that runs on autopilot.



Shane Paul Neil
Writer for

Writer (duh) and photographer. Bylines @levelmag @complex @ebony @huffpo shanepaulneil.com