Once upon a time I heard a story. I have no idea whether it is true or not, but it went like this: Imagine you have a colony of bunnies, happily getting along with each other and breeding like, well…rabbits. Now you remove one of the bunnies and paint it pink. What do you think will happen when you replace that bunny into the colony?
Answer: The other bunnies will immediately attack and kill the pink bunny.
As I said, I have no idea if this story is factual, but I remember the lesson – It’s very dangerous to be a pink bunny.
Human beings are quite good at detecting pink bunnies. The weirdos, the eccentrics, the foreigners, the loonies, the pinkos. Whoever doesn’t fit in and therefore threatens our comfortable stability. We automatically identify them. What do we do then? We may just keep a careful eye on them. We may throw rocks at their houses. Occasionally, we may gather together and lynch them.
I would argue that this makes perfect evolutionary sense. One of the most primeval tools of survival is to distinguish between Us and Them. Us are those who can be trusted to help us on the hunt, defend our wives and babies, and protect us if we are ill or injured. Them, on the other hand, are those strangers who might steal our food, might kidnap our women, and, at the limit, might eat us.
Pink bunnies are dangerous.
But suppose you are a pink bunny. For whatever reason, you stand out from the crowd, swim upstream, or whatever metaphor you want to use. You are Them. What do you do to be safe?
First off, you don’t live in a small community. Small communities have a highly circumscribed set of acceptable deviations. You can be a drunk, you can be promiscuous, you can be fairly dishonest and you are still one of Us. But step outside those defined boundaries and justice can be swift and fairly merciless. From simple ostracization to having your house burned down, the small community has ways to cleanse itself of deviants.
In a bigger town, the range of what is permissible is also bigger. There might be a small, self-contained gay fellowship (big supporters of community theatre), a pornographic bookstore, and an ex-patriot community from Eritrea. So long as you are not too outré in appearance and don’t spend too much time talking to yourself or accosting strangers, you can live your pinkish life in reasonable safety.
But for real safety, pick a big city. Go to New York or San Francisco and you will find the streets crowded with the abnormal and the self-defined. On one corner you might find a crowd of transvestites listening to a gentleman dressed as Uncle Sam haranguing about legalizing heroin. On another, a naked performance artist covered in Crisco and feathers. Clearly, citizens of large cities don’t feel threatened by pink bunnies, however dark the hue.
Of course, I’ve been speaking about adult pink bunnies. If you are even a little bit pink, the last place you want to find yourself is high school.
I’m sure there is some good evolutionary factor to explain it, but for some reason our pinkness sensors are never more acute, and our pinkness intolerance never higher than in high school. If you are merely a bit overweight, a bit gauche, a bit too studious, you are doomed to endless mockery and ostracism. If your parents are a bit poor, your house not quite nice enough, or your clothes a bit worn, you are simply doomed insofar as the in-crowd is concerned.
Fairly soon after the beginning of each year all the students shake themselves into mutually exclusive groups. There are the preps, the jocks, the nerds, the Goths. There are those who are destined to be quarterbacks, class presidents and Homecoming Queens. There are the spooky loners who are destined to be mass murderers. Soon they all settle into a social power structure. And like Jonathan Swift’s fleas,
So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em;
And so proceed ad infinitum
Each group reaches down the castes to snub and belittle those beneath them. I suppose they all look beneath themselves and imagine they see varying shades of pinkness. The structure and its hierarchy guarantee that pretty much all of us look back on our high school days with a lingering feeling of being a deer, terrified of being caught in their headlights, guilty in front of everyone for some horrible solecism. (I recognize that there are some who managed to escape those scars. Guess where they sat in the hierarchy.)
But woe betide the true pink bunny: Socially graceless, eternally out of step, hallmarked as prey to pretty much everyone. Maybe you are a late-blooming gay who can’t figure out what’s wrong with you. Maybe you carry a shyness that approaches a pathology. Maybe you are the only one of your race or religion in your school.
It’s true that it may not damn you for life. Maybe you hide within yourself an unfocussed creativity that will someday make you a wonderful success as an artist. Or maybe you’ll get a sex change and find a fulfilling life. And maybe you’ll be an outsider your whole life.
Point of all this, I guess, is that in high school, when our hormones are exploding and we are mysteriously changing from who we were into the infancy of who we will become, the Us vs Them part of our brains seems to be hyperactive and pretty brutal. That’s understandable.
But, what is the excuse for the rest of us? Full of our own memories of what it felt like, for what seemed like an eternity, to be pink bunnies, how on earth can we look at those who don’t look like us, or sound like us, or act like us and see pink bunnies?
Some of us just never outgrow high school.