Nobody seemed to know where they came from, but there they were in the Forest: Kanga and Baby Roo. When Pooh asked Christopher Robin, "How did they come here?" Christopher Robin said, "In the Usual Way, if you know what I mean, Pooh," and Pooh, who didn't, said "Oh!" Then he nodded his head twice and said, "In the Usual Way. Ah!" Then he went to call upon his friend Piglet to see what he thought about it. And at Piglet's house he found Rabbit. So they all talked about it together.
"What I don't like about it is this," said Rabbit. "Here are we – you, Pooh, and you, Piglet, and Me – and suddenly – "
"And Eeyore," said Pooh.
"And Eeyore – and then suddenly – "
"And Owl," said Pooh.
"And Owl – and then all of a sudden – "
"Oh, and Eeyore," said Pooh. "I was forgetting him."
"Here – we – are," said Rabbit very slowly and carefully, all – of – us, and then, suddenly, we wake up one morning, and what do we find? We find a Strange Animal among us. An animal of whom we had never even heard before! An animal who carries her family about with her in her pocket!”
Well, aficionados of A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie the Pooh stories (and I count myself as one), There It Is: right smack in the middle of the comfortingly familiar, placid confines of the 100 Acre Wood: Rabbit the racist. Rabbit the xenophobe. Rabbit the intolerant. Who would ha’ thunk it?
Kanga and Roo arrive one day in the Forest. They’re not there, then they’re… just there. And Rabbit takes exception to their presence. Loudly, vocally and viscerally. More than that --- he’s prepared to actually do something about it. (Probably while wearing his Make Our Forest Great Again cap. Oops. Was that my outside voice?) But then he makes his first major mistake by enlisting the aid of his two friends, Piglet and Pooh, who are definitely not criminal masterminds… or masterminds of anything, come to that. And so, not without some stumbling along the way, they hatch a plot: kidnap Roo and hold him until Kanga agrees to take him and leave the Forest. Immediately. Permanently.
Fortunately, Piglet and Pooh are just along for the ride. They share neither Rabbit’s shrill vehemence nor his ugly vision in the matter. And they’re terrible co-conspirators. Fortunately. Because there really isn’t an ounce of malice in them… although, to be scrupulously fair, they haven’t an ounce of gumption, either. Neither says, as they should, “Rabbit, you jerk, this is reprehensible. Give your head a shake, man. I want no part in this travesty; I’m going home because I’m rumbly in my tumbly.” (Yes, I’m perfectly aware this kind of courage and self-awareness is not who they are as characters, thanks very much. And yes, I’m also perfectly aware that if they did that, we’d have no story. Thanks again. Now stop interrupting.)
Anyway, as regards malice, we discover by story’s end, Rabbit possesses none, either. (That’s a Really Important Point we’ll return to momentarily, so remember it, please.) In a hilarious comedy of errors, Pooh completely forgets his role in the conspiracy and goes off to practice emulating one of Kanga’s characteristics he particularly admires --- her ability to make extraordinary jumps --- while Rabbit, Arch-Conspirator Extraordinaire, is actually playing with his captive and, as Mr. Milne relates, “feeling more fond of him every minute.” Thus, it is Piglet, A Very Small Animal who has all along had the terrifyingly accurate premonition he’s going to be the One Left Holding The Bag, who is… well, left holding the bag, compelled by fate and circumstance to attempt to play out a conspiracy he didn’t particularly want any part of and is completely unsuited by nature to participate in. Ah, the Delicious Ironies of Life… alive and well even in the 100 Acre Wood.
Now, it’s worth noting that behaviours, racism included, can spring from pure malice; some twisty individuals simply take pleasure from inflicting pain on others. (That’s called Evil, by the way.) But if there isn’t really any malice in Rabbit’s heart… what is there, then? Why does Rabbit plan and execute this dastardly plot? Well, absent malice, the answer, of course, is simple: he’s afraid. He’s afraid of what he doesn’t know, of what is unfamiliar and different. And why is that? Because we are both hardwired and pre-programmed to fear the unknown. It might contain any number of dangers, you know. And that hardwiring/pre-programming can be very, very difficult to overcome. It certainly can require deliberate cognition. And even then, it’s easy to fall back on nasty old habits at the drop of a hat.
But we must overcome those instincts. We have to. Because, if we don’t, we’re doomed. And justly so.
The noise of a throat being cleared interrupted me as I sat hunched over my computer, and I turned around in surprise to see a small, rather roly-poly furry shape looking over my shoulder.
“So… what you’re saying is what Rabbit did was bad, but in the end, it ended well and everyone made it right,” it said in a growly voice.
I nodded gravely. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, Pooh bear.”
“But it takes more than that outside the 100 Acre Wood?”
I sighed. “I’m afraid so.”
“And people often aren’t very good at that?”
“No, Pooh bear, they aren’t.”
“So… what made you decide to talk about this today, then?”
I considered for a minute. Several replies came to mind, but not wanting to bother a Bear of Very Little Brain with Worldly Pressing Problems, I chose the safest. “Oh,” I said carelessly, “nothing in particular. It was just That Sort of Day.”
It was Pooh’s turn to nod solemnly. “I see.” He paused. “When I’m having That Sort of Day, I go looking for honey or condensed milk or a small smackerel of something. It does make the day better, you know.”
“Excellent idea,” I said approvingly. “Shall we, then?”
And we did.