Pit Bull Stereotypes

June 20th, 2012 | Categories: Other

Angelo Scuderi is The Communicated Stereotype’s guest blogger for today’s WEblog Wednesday. In his post, he discusses how people steadfastly hold firm to their stereotypes even when confronted with counter-stereotypical information. Through his discussion, Angelo shows how stereotypes of pit bulls can help us understand stereotypes in general. A special thanks to Angelo for sharing his insights with TCS!

Can a stereotype be so powerful that it supersedes a person’s ongoing experience? The immediate response to that question for many people would be “No, of course not!” and, had I been asked a few years ago, that would have been my response as well. That was until I saw it happen with my own eyes.

I’m the proud owner of a 65 pound mutt named Edward that I adopted from the ASPCA 3 ½ years ago. Like many dogs in shelters in large cities across the United States, my dog was listed as a pit bull terrier mix. For many people the words “pit bull” inspire fear and conjure images of vicious, unpredictable dogs that turn on their owners, attack strangers and maul other dogs. I was well aware of this stereotype when I adopted him and it factored into my decision on whether or not I was going to adopt him. I didn’t buy into the stereotypes and wasn’t concerned about him harming anyone but I was concerned about the way we would be perceived when we were out in public. After much deliberation, I decided that I would adopt him and try to make him a pit bull ambassador wherever and whenever I could.

In my efforts to make Edward an ambassador for bully breeds (pit bull isn’t actually a breed but a classification) I expose him to people and other animals any time the opportunity presents itself. Most of the time this involves us greeting people and/or their dogs on the street while we are on our daily walks. Many people will happily greet us, pet Edward and talk with me.

After having interacted with Edward for several minutes the question of Edward’s breed inevitably comes up. When asked I will answer people differently depending on how I read the person or just based on my mood but I will often respond “He’s a pit bull mix.” just to see how individuals will react.

The reactions vary but many people react in one of two ways. Some will people will step back, take a good look at him and continue petting him and talking to me. I will then often get a barrage of questions about pit bulls, the things they’ve heard and how Edward does not seem to embody what they’ve heard about these dogs. In that moment of hesitation I imagine that these people I meet are weighing what they’ve heard against what their experience has been for the last few minutes. For this group the reality in front of them outweighs the stereotype. This is not always the case.

Many people I encounter under the same circumstances I described in the previous paragraph will take that same step back, recoil in fear and refuse to interact with Edward anymore. They will recite all of the stereotypes they’ve heard, how afraid they are of “those dogs” and they will completely ignore what their experience has been for the last several minutes.

The first few times this happened to me I was really taken aback. After all, neither I nor Edward had changed during the course of the conversation. What changed was their perception of us based on a stereotype – a stereotype so powerful and so often repeated that it is able to shape people’s perceptions and inspire fear in spite of a living, breathing example to the contrary.

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  1. Siobhan
    July 13th, 2012 at 11:00

    So interesting! My dog gets stares and brings fear to people every day. She doesn’t bite or even give a mean growl. She just loves to play all the time and loves meeting new people. What is interesting is that this guest blogger spoke about how he had described the breed to the people and they backed off and got scared. My dog doesn’t even get that chance. lol. She looks so much like a pitbull that she is immediatley associated with the sterotypes unless it is a very young child who has not recieved the knowledge of the fear or someone who has interacted with a friendly pitbull before. Of course, all of these interactions do not come without hesitation. I feel bad and I end up looking at the people funny. I do take into consideration how bad her breed’s reputation is, but some people would go as far as running into traffic to avoid my sweet dog just because of her appearence. It is very interesting. Thanks for the blog post! I enjoyed it.

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