Once a zebra found itself in a herd of black and white horses. The zebra, a filly, watched the horses for clues about how it might fit in and noticed that although they seemed to spend most of their time moving about at random as they grazed during the day, when night fell the white horses generally moved closer together and the black horses generally moved closer together. The zebra wondered why that should be. The horses, for their part, wondered about the zebra as well. First of all, what color was it exactly? Was it white with black stripes, or was it black with white stripes? How could you be both black and white at the same time? Could it change its stripes at will? Was the zebra trying to hide something about itself, they asked each other, or pretending to be something it was not? The zebra knew it couldn’t change its stripes. When it first noticed the difference between itself and the horses, it had in fact wished itself entirely one color and then entirely the other color by turns, hoping to escape the scrutiny of at least half the herd. The wishing hadn’t worked, though, and the zebra had ultimately decided there was nothing it could do about its stripes. Why should it want to change them? They were what made it a zebra, weren’t they? There was also nothing to be done, it concluded, about the way the horses behaved in its presence, starting with the stallions of both colors. They would spend hours each day prancing around the field, trying to catch the zebra’s attention by flexing their withers and making a great show of raking the ground with their front hooves or kicking at the air with their back ones. When the white mares saw the white studs flexing and raking and kicking before the zebra, they were not pleased. And when the black mares saw the black studs flexing and raking and kicking before the zebra, they also were not pleased. That displeasure had the effect of bringing the black mares closer together and the white mares closer together. Some of them felt a sympathy for the zebra in its predicament, however, and thought they should help it out. As they grazed beside the zebra, a member of one group might say, “Look at us, sister, and see what it means to be black.” “No, look at us, sister,” a voice from the other group might counter, “and see what it means to be white.” At the end of the day, when the white horses moved nearer to each other and the black horses moved nearer to each other and the zebra found itself alone once more, it could hear the horses of both colors asking the same questions all over again. Was the zebra white with black stripes? Was the zebra black with white stripes? They simply didn’t know what to make of it.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans