If you’ve ever flipped through an American history book, you’ve probably seen images of K-9 police dogs attacking supporters of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Dogs have frequently been used as a tool for oppression throughout history, and this has been most commonly studied through the lens of animal rights. Bénédicte Boisseron, Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the Department of Afroamerican and African studies (DAAS), says that there’s more to the story than that.

Boisseron received her phD from the University of Michigan in French and Francophone Studies. She was born and raised in France, and her family moved to her father’s home country of Guadeloupe when she was a young adult. There, she noticed something different about the way people reacted to certain dogs. 

“In France, we always grew up with German Shepherds, so we bought a German Shepherd for our move, and I noticed that the people there reacted differently to German Shepherds than the Creole Dogs (how French-Carribbean islands refer to stray dogs) and they were kind of afraid of them,” she said. “My dad explained, ‘Well, it’s because of the history of slavery and that owners used to use dogs to chase their slaves and track them in the wilderness.’ This collective memory endures, and this is why you see that many people in the Caribbean… mistrust this kind of domesticated large dog.”
She began her research on the representation of the Creole dog in Caribbean literature, when the animal studies movement exploded in academia. 

“Many people started working on animal rights, animal activism… but I noticed it was mainly from a Western perspective and the perspective of animal rights… and that they were comparing the plight of animals with the plight of Black slaves and the abolitionist movement. I had some issues with that and I thought ‘okay, maybe it’s time for someone to write a book and look at the other way. What does it mean to compare animal rights with the abolitionist movement?’” Boisseron said. 

After investigating this problem through a global approach, she published her second book, “Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question,” in 2018. The book discusses debates about the comparison between the animal rights movement and the abolitionist movement and uncovers the relationship between race and animals in America and the Black Atlantic. 

Now, Boisseron is expanding her research to environmental studies and Black ecology. A term she coined herself as “freeganism,” Boisseron is looking at the freeganism movement in the context of Black Studies. 

“Black freeganism comes from people who live off leftovers, people who go dumpster diving… some take discarded veggies from supermarkets and make a restaurant,” she said. 

While she continues to conduct research on these important topics, she will also take on an interim position as DAAS chair from July 2021 to July 2022. She expressed hopes that we’ll return to in-person instruction by then to foster a stronger community within DAAS. 

“I’m looking forward to fostering a sense of community and collaboration like Matthew [Countryman] has done. I hope that DAAS will be more involved in the anti-racism initiative that the college and university has been starting to talk about and continue this idea of DAAS being involved in public engagement.”