by Racialicious guest contributor Luke Lee
“Who’s doggy’s daddy? A DNA test can determine the breeds that make your mutt”
Making its way to the very front page of Yahoo! on Monday night was a video and a news article about a DNA kit which, as the folks at Yahoo! so eloquently put it, is able to tell dog-owners the different breeds in their “mutt.”
Now, I realize that we’re talking about dogs here but the word “mutt” is one that makes me wince no matter what the context. And though the word, when talking about dogs, is in supposedly a completely canine context, I don’t think it’s in an entirely different context without any sort of implications of cultural attitudes that carry over to the ways in which our society sees and talks about mixed race folks.
The most glaring aspect of the word and it’s popular usage when it comes to dogs is that people, dog-owners just don’t know what the dog is which results in the “mutt” description. There’s nothing wrong with this because god knows that a lot of dog-owners don’t know what their dog is but at the same time, many dog-owners do know very well. “Mutt,” to me, implies very much a sort of hairbrained “I don’t know. It’s just a bunch of everything thrown in there. I lost track” which is fine if people want to talk about their dogs like that, if people want to talk about themselves like that but its lackadaisical presence in the way people talk about race and in this case, dog breeds, fosters a sort of “don’t know so reduce it down” attitude. Don’t get me wrong, people should identify however they want to and if someone identifies and calls themselves a mutt “because it’s simple” then that’s great for them. However, as the word has the overriding suggestion of a lack of knowledge when it comes to one’s background, it’s not the most sensitive term to be flinging around at least when it comes to real people. I know this isn’t a perfect comparison, but it’d be like if I proudly told people I was “Oriental” and preferred the term over “Asian” or “Asian American.” If I did then that’s my business but it would inevitably give people the idea that it’s an OK term to use when describing
Orientals Asian Americans. And also, I’m not saying that dog-owners who use the term are somehow insensitive and subtly racist when it comes to issues of race but rather the culture in our language perpetuates the idea that mutt=potpourri and if to be mixed is to be a mutt then to be a mutt means to not know what you are (and not care) which I don’t think is remotely the case for many, many mixed people. Continue reading