Mutts, Pedigree, and the President-Elect

NPR has been talking about race and the election with a group of people in York, Pennsylvania. Has anyone been listening to this series? Great stuff.

Today they mentioned Obama’s dog situation, in light of his now-famous mutt like me comment in his first press conference as President-elect. Various voters (of varying racial groups) noted the humor inherent in his calling himself a mutt.

While I appreciate the President-Elect’s sense of humor on the subject, it got me thinking about whether I’d consider the term “mutt” derogatory, especially considering the recent activity on my posting on race. Race is complicated, racial identity even more so, but I have a hard time separating the negative connotation of the word “mutt” from the word itself. I’d have a really hard time hearing it used in the context of my kids. Is it better, somehow, if we’re using the term for ourselves?

Mutts are great. They’re the ones with character, the ones you can’t bear to leave behind in the animal shelter. They’re the pets you remember long after they’re gone, the ones that movies are made about.

My brother just bought a “Puggle”.  Super-cute as puppies (aren’t they all?) but less so, IMHO, as dogs. This is his second dog, after a purebred Boxer. My sister has a Cairn terrier (think Toto from the Wizard of Oz) that’s also pedigreed. Both dogs are great, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the Puggle measures up.

Our daycare provided breeds Pomeranians, the kind I’m always afraid I’ll step on and break. She is charging between $2000 and $5000 for hers. For a DOG- something that can be easily vacuumed up if one’s not paying attention.

And how lovely of Peru to offer a hairless one to the Obamas, even if it does look like a Nair commercial gone wrong. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder…

And to some extent, we’re all mutts. None of us can claim purebred status, except maybe the British royals. Is being purebred a thing of beauty? Perhaps for dogs, though it’s debatable for some. 


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9 Responses to Mutts, Pedigree, and the President-Elect

  1. Emily says:

    “something that can be easily vacuumed up if one’s not paying attention”


  2. I don’t like the word “mutt” much either. The word does have derogatory connotations and just doesn’t sound nice.

    A lot of groups reclaim derogatory names for themselves and use them freely. That being said, I don’t think I’d like it either if my hypothetical future children called themselves “mutts”.

  3. antropologa says:

    Well it was funny from Obama as a very contextualized joke, but I certainly wouldn’t use it to describe someone in real life.

  4. badmommymoments says:

    I have to second the “something that can be easily vacuumed up if one’s not paying attention” line. Awesome.

  5. Mary-LUE says:

    I would love to have one of those DNA tests that can tell your ancestry. I am white as white can be, but supposedly I have Native American blood in my background. I would love to know what “ingredients” went into my mix.

    Your right that mutts (dogs) are in many ways stronger, healthier, etc., if not always superficially as attractive. Applying that term to a person? I think that is one of those things that you can call yourself, but not another person–or at least not people you know very, very well and know they are okay with it. It is kind of a “derogatory is in the mind of the user” kind of thing, so cautious is better.

    I think in Obama’s case it has a specific purpose. Maybe it was just an off the cuff remark, but it also makes a statement about his being more than an African-American president, something I would think he might want to convey. I don’t know, just pondering.

    On a social anthropological note, what is the best term for someone of mixed race? I’m not sure if there is something better say than “mixed race.”

    Finally… (You’ll find I’m long-winded with the comments.) I’m with badmommymoments and Emily. The vacuum cleaner line is priceless. Personally, I like a BIG dog.

  6. Mary-LUE says:

    You’re not Your. I hate when I do that.

  7. faemom says:

    There’s not much to be said that isn’t said already. But I love to talk.

    After losing three pure bred pugs in five years, I have to say I perfer a more hardy dog like a mutt. I actually call myself a European Mutt because, unlike my husband and friends, I can’t trace my ancestory to less than four countries. I think I’ve got a dozen nationalities rushing through my blood. But I would never call someone that because it could be easily be made into a mean slur.

  8. rakuchick says:

    I’m not sure I ever told you this, but when D applied to seminary and he came to the field requesting his race, without hesitating he promptly put “mongrel.” ‘Definitely a term that one can only use about onesself. Well, maybe those who know him best could get away with using that term for him as well! Anyway, in my opinion “race” should be irrelevant.

  9. erin says:

    first, i would like to second basically everything said before me, laughing out loud at the vacuum line, considering myself a mutt of sorts. i think i have actually called myself a mutt before, since i don’t even know all that fascinating family history.
    but upon further reflection, and in the midst of a debate on the notion of “race” in an anthropology class several years ago, i have concluded that we are all of the purebred human race. no matter to which leading theory of the development of humanity you ascribe, we must have come from one place on this Earth. we didn’t pop up in a bunch of different places, find each other somewhere in the middle and happen to stumble upon our sexual compatibility and start popping out jackasses. we can make grandchildren. we proliferate because of all the commonality among humans. for all our differences, there are MANY more commonalities. so, we might all be common, but we’re purely human.
    and that’s my two cents!

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