Growing up black means you saw a lot of strays running around the townships. Even if you had a dog at home, it never set foot in the house, it ate leftovers and its main job was to stand guard. Basically, the dog had to know its place. Cats on the other hand, especially black cats, were and still are feared and if anyone in the neighbourhood dared to own one – well, dare I say they had a ‘witch-crafty’ vibe about them.
My yard has a good six hunting dogs roaming around, and I make this disclaimer all the time, ‘Those are my dad’s dogs, guys – dad, not me!’ I could not tell you if they were the same breed or not, naturally, my excuse is that, “I’m black, why should I care?” This is common in our communities but wrong to a degree because not all black people are as ignorant as I am about dog breeds, despite having grown up around them my entire life. A common saying that dogs are “men’s best friend” is wildly spread across the globe, but let’s be honest, it did not come from a black man. Our history with dogs is a more painful one.
Dogs are associated with painful memories of segregation and abuse towards the black man. We remember many moments such as the June 16, 1976 Soweto Uprising where attack dogs were unleashed on the young protesters, leaving fatal and emotional scars on their victims. The theme was carried out world-wide in places like the United States of America, where again, police would send out attack dogs on peaceful civil rights protesters. In the dog’s defence, they had to be trained to viciously hate black people, however, how does one psychologically disassociate dogs with their owner? The damage, undoubtedly, is done.
Cats seem to have a more royal history. It is universally known that the ancestor of the domestic cat is most likely the African wildcat honoured by ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians held cats at the highest esteem because of their incredible hunting skills. They were revered for killing venomous snakes and rodents. The Egyptians even had a goddess, named Bastet, who had the head of a cat. The killing of a cat was punishable by death, yes – it’s that deep. So how did we move from a cat goddess to believing that cats are evil? Cue Christianity becoming the state religion across the Roman Empire, let me explain.
According to petfriendly.co.za, the Roman Empire outlawed the worship of the female cat goddess, Bastet. “The usurped religions were demoted to cults and their gods and goddesses relegated to demons and devils,” the site states, “when Christianity became the dominant belief system, references to and involvement with cats radically diminished, there is only one cat species mentioned in the Bible – the lion.” Again, friends – the damage is done.
Although people have taken a less superstitious view to life, cats can still raise the hairs on a black man’s arm. They are cute, but please keep them across the road, thank you very much.
Technically, I guess one can argue that maybe we are more cat people than we realise, as history would have it. But a lot of what we know has gone through the ‘broken telephone’ and has been tainted by years of ‘evolution’. So here we are, my black brothers and sisters, neither dog nor cat people.
It’s the 21st century though, so I say “to each, their own.”