Brownie: White American and Octavia Essay
The short story “Brownies” written by Z. Z. Packer is told in first person by a young introverted African American girl named Laurel, known as “Snot” to her friends from school. The story reflects back during a summer camp outing at Camp Crescendo that involves a small group of young African American fourth grade girls from the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. In this story the author provides countless details of how the effects of social segregation and racism can have a negative impact on our children and our entire society.
Arnetta, the leader of the Brownie pack disliked sharing the summer camp with the young girls of Troop 909 from day one because they were white. Referring to them as “Invaders”, because in the suburbs of Atlanta they were rarely seen or even thought about(358). While riding in their bus on their way to the cabin and after they had already passed the Troop 909 girls at the front gate, Arnetta asked, “Did you smell that? ” Trying to make fun of the girls she threw her head up and with her nose pointed to the sky she said they smell like “wet Chihuahuas”.
By the end of the day and with a plan to entice her Brownie troops to start a fight with the Troop 909 girls, Arnetta stated that she heard one of them call Daphne a nigger and that they couldn’t let them get away with that. When asked to confirm that one of the white girls said it, Daphne was hesitant to answer until Arnetta gave her an elbow followed with a mean stair down. Daphne was not the type of girl that would stand up for oneself and was too scared to speak up.
Even at their Woodrow Wilson Elementary school, if someone doesn’t fit into their little group or doesn’t land a perfect ten after jumping off the swing at the playground, Arnetta and Octavia would reply using the word “Caucasian”. This was just another way in belittling other people and displaying that Caucasian race was below that of the African Americans. Octavia was considered to be Arnetta’s right hand woman. Octavia was quick to tell anybody to shut up and readily made fun of even her Brownie troop friends.
Janice, the muscle of the group and maybe not the sharpest tool in the shed had a country accent that came along with an bubbly personality was even referred to as “Miss Caucasian” when she wouldn’t leave Arnetta and Octavia alone. One day during lunch time while Janice was standing alongside the water’s edge, Octavia had the temptation but not necessarily the courage to push her into the water. Octavia even disliked Daphne for beating her out in the school poem contest and even referred to Mrs. Margolin, the Brownie troop chaperone as “Big Fat Momma”.
Once they decided that the bathroom would be where the fight takes place, all they needed was to hope they could catch them their alone without their troop leader. As they walked through the woods on their way to the bathroom Janice spoke out, “this smells like my mother’s air freshener”, than one of the other girls stated the trees in the woods are Pine trees. Janice was shocked to hear that they could get the smell of trees onto an air freshener. As they approached the bathroom they could hear the Troop 909 girls talking. Arnetta suggested that Octavia, Janice and herself would go in first while the rest of them wait outside.
After minutes of waiting outside Elise, Drema, Dephne, and Laurel went inside to see what was happening. Octavia looked over at Elise and said, “I think they’re retarded”. One of the white girls replied, “We ARE NOT retarded(366-367)! ” Once Arnetta and Octavia came to the realization that these girls were mentally challenged, they felt remorseful from their actions and wished to leave without being caught teasing the white girls. Octavia tried to scare the girls by mentioning to them, that if they told on them they would be considered tattletales.
As one of the white girls replied, I like tattletale, the Troop 909 leader walked in. Minutes later both Mrs. Margolin and Mrs. Hayes were at the center of the debate. The lady that ran Troop 909 never got mad or raised her voice and always kept a smile on her face as she talked. She said she wasn’t going to blame anybody for their actions or their behavior and cited that maybe what caused this incident actually could of happened. The troop leader clarified that her girls were not retarded but considered slow learners. That they might not have the best of parents and could of possibly heard a bad word or two from their parents.
Even after the situation was over and things had calmed down, Arnetta pointed to a small girl and insisted that she heard her say the word. After the white troop leader made the statement that it was impossible because she doesn’t speak, Arnetta made another acquisition that it then came from the girl wearing the complete Brownie uniform. At that point nobody was believing in Arnetta’s story. On the bus ride home Elisa and Arnetta still felt it necessary to continue to make fun of the white girls from Troop 909. When Daphne gave Laurel her prized journal, Daphne could not think of anything to write in it.
Than Laurel remembered a time when she and her father were at the mall and they came across some Mennonites who her father insisted that they would do anything you asked of them. Nobody on the bus besides Daphne believed in her story even after she told them that they had actually painted there front porch. until she told them that they sat on the bus and as they return home on the bus, Laurel tells them of an incident in her family involving a white Mennonite family. As she tells the story, she comes to an unsettling realization about racism and the nature of human life.
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