Brownies Summary

ZZ Packer


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Brownies Summary

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“Brownies” is a short story in the 2003 collection Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, by African American author ZZ Packer. In the story, Packer deals with themes of prejudice and racial segregation. Narrated in the first person by a young African American girl named Laurel, the story is set at Camp Crescendo, which is a summer camp for fourth graders in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. To the other girls at the camp, Laurel is known by the nickname Snot. The story begins with Laurel saying that she, and the fellow members of her Brownie troop, will “kick the asses” of the members of Troop 909. Laurel’s troop is made up of black girls, while the members of Troop 909 are all white. The black girls took an immediate dislike to the white girls, with Arnetta saying that the white girls smell like wet Chihuahuas, adding that they are Caucasian Chihuahuas The word “Caucasian” becomes a one size fits all insult aimed at the white girls.

While the black girls have seen white girls before, this is the first time they have had any personal contact with them, which heightens the emotions and tensions between the two groups. By the end of the first day of camp, Arnetta tells her cohorts that she heard a white girl use the word “nigger” in reference to Daphne, one of the black girls. Daphne, encouraged by Arnetta, agrees that she heard the girl use that word. Arnetta uses this as a rallying cry and convinces the rest of the girls that they should not let the white girls get away with it. They try to devise a way of getting even. Janice, who is not among the more popular black girls, suggests that they should put spiders in the white girls sleeping bags and then beat them up when they awaken. Janice and her idea are quickly dismissed by Arnetta, who calls for a secret meeting and enlists Laurel to tell their troop leader, Mrs. Margolin, about the situation.

The next day as Arnetta and her troop are eating lunch by a field hockey pitch, she sees the white girls and wishes they could attack them at that moment. She knows that they cannot do so because the leader of Troop 909 is with them. At that point, Arnetta realizes that they must find a way to attack when the white girls are alone. Laurel points out that the only place they are ever alone is in the bathroom. Arnetta knows this might turn out to be useful information. The black girls go to the messy bathrooms and are told by Arnetta to be nice to the white girls at first, before telling them what will happen if they ever call a black girl the word Arnetta and Daphne discussed earlier. Janice vows to tell the white girls that they will be taught a lesson. Laurel wonders what will happen if the white girls deny using the word. Arnetta does not address this and says that they just have to fight. When the girls exit the bathroom, Daphne remains behind and cleans up some garbage. As lights out approaches that night, they are joined in their cabin by Mrs. Margolin and Mrs. Hedy who is the parent assistant on the trip. After leading them in a song, Mrs. Margolin exits. Mrs. Hedy allows the girls to go to the bathroom unaccompanied.

Arnetta knows that their time to get even has arrived, as the troop of white girls will be there and will not expect to be confronted. Daphne tells Laurel that she is not going to go with the group and Laurel says she will stay behind with her. However, when Arnetta hears this, she makes Laurel come along. In the darkness they make their way to the bathroom. They do not discuss the idea of fighting, but rather focus on the fear they feel walking through the woods at night. The white girls are there, as expected, when the black girls arrive. Arnetta goes in first, with Octavia in tow. The other girls are instructed to go in when Arnetta says, “We’re gonna teach you a lesson.” The confrontation begins and can be heard by the girls waiting outside. Laurel hears one of the girls deny using the ethnic slur. Some of the black girls decide to enter even without receiving the cue from Arnetta. When they get inside, it becomes obvious that the white girls are all mentally challenged. Arnetta says she thinks they are just pretending to be handicapped, while Octavia says they should just leave.

The leaders from both troops ultimately get involved, and Mrs. Margolin promises that her girls will apologize and that they will be punished. On the bus on the way home from the camp, the girls mock the mannerisms of the handicapped girls they had encountered and Octavia wonders why they had to end up at a camp with such girls. Laurel tells them about something that happened when she was at a mall with her father. While there, they came upon a Mennonite family,recognizable from the traditional attire they were wearing. Laurel’s father explained that Mennonites are bound by their beliefs to carry out a task if someone asks them to. Her father requests of them that they paint his porch and the family comes to his house and does so. Laurel’s father tells her it did that because it would probably be the only time he, as a black man, would have a white man down on his knees doing something for him. The experience at the camp has helped Laurel understand her father’s behavior and his feelings about it, even though she doesn’t agree with him. She recalls that her father never thanked the family for painting the porch, which leads her to believe that there exists a type of evil in the world that she has no way of stopping.