The ‘black-ish’ Family Welcomed Another New Member — With The Potential To Improve Their Lives

Eric McCandless/ABC

The Johnson family just got a little bit bigger. After Jack manages to move heaven and Earth to get straight As, Diane's chaotic nature is the final push the Johnsons need to decide to get a dog on black-ish. But Dre proudly proclaims that he's not a dog person, and has lots of complaints about the idea, from his assertion that "real" black people don't like dogs (unlike Bow's brother, Johan, who returns from France with an emotional support pug in tow) to saying that if the family has to have a dog, then he wants a "Gucci" purebred rather than the rescue dog Bow supports.

But his biggest complaint is that, in Dre's estimation, dog-obsessed people are quicker to advocate for animals than they are for their fellow man, sometimes at the latter's expense. But by the end of the episode, Dre still decides to join the pet-owning majority, letting his concerns fall by the wayside as he decides that their chosen pet, a calm, shaggy guy from the shelter, is actually pretty adorable. But as it turns out, his initial point does have some truth to it. Some research has determined that some people do care about the fate of animals as much or more than the fates of other humans.

In a study from Northeastern University, as reported by Wired, participants reported feeling more sympathy for the victim in a fictional story about an attack on a dog than an adult human victim in an equally fictional tale. But the highest levels of sympathy were reported in two cases — when the invented attack happened to a human baby and when it happened to a puppy. Those results suggest that humans have more sympathy for creatures who they perceive as innocent, defenseless, and weak, rather than showing a specific bias in favor of dogs. And there's no study that shows that that white pet owners are more indulgent of their dogs than black pet owners, or that a love for dogs prevents people of any race from caring about abuse visited upon other people. But it's understandable that Dre be frustrated by the anecdotal evidence he cites, such as the outrage over Cecil the lion and pets made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.

However, Dre is wrong about one thing — plenty of "real" black people are dog owners. According to Pew Research, about 30 percent of black Americans are pet owners, and 20 percent of those households are dog owners. That proportion is only slightly lower than Latinx, the only other non-white group mentioned. However, urban households and low income households are less likely to own own pets, and black Americans are overrepresented in those demographics.

The show also brings up a few institutional reasons why some black people may avoid dog ownership, like the role police dogs played in the civil rights movement. According to a 2008 study at the University of Louisville, compared to white people, working class black people were more likely to be afraid of dogs, though there reportedly have been very few studies into the subject. Psychologist and head of the Louisville study Kevin Chapman told PS Mag that "conditioned fear" based on history can lead to a fear of dogs passing down through families and even entire communities.

However, according to The Washington Post, pet ownership can actually encourage empathy. So having a dog might even soften Diane — the family wild card — a little bit. While more people should be willing to exercise that empathy towards people who don't look like they do, Dre's beliefs about pet ownership are mostly unfounded. And in the final moments of the episode, it looks like even he can't resist the unconditional love of a dog.