Polarization In ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

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Within the short story “Brownies,” part of a collection called “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,” ZZ Packer delves into the complexity of current race relations in America by placing the reader in the shoes of young girls at summer camp. Packer provides a social commentary by exploring the polarization of those who are “white” and those who are “black,” and how it is apparent from a young age. Packer works to explain why this polarization happens. She does this by evoking a compassion from the reader for the emotions of people who grow up and experience polarization between those of different race and socioeconomic class.
From the first page of “Brownies” Packer starts to illustrate what goes into the polarization of a white and a black troop of
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Laurel tells a story of when she and her father saw Mennonites in a mall. Mennonites are people who must do any favor that is asked of them. Laurel explains that her father asked them to paint his porch because “it was the only time he’d have a white man on his knees doing something for a black man for free”(30). When Laurel tells this story to the other girls she begins to understand why her father said it for the first time. She begins to understand that there are a resentment and hatred felt, “something mean in the world that I could not stop”(31). Packer does not give a direct explanation of why there is this hate, but works to show through her description of this story how even for adults, hate and polarization of the two groups comes from a difference in socioeconomic class. For example, when Laurel describes the way that the Mennonites painted the porch, she says “the Mennonites [bent] the way Daphne had bent when she was cleaning the restroom”(31). Laurel is realizes that to her father, whiteness is synonymous with privilege and socioeconomic class. Daphne is from a certain economic class where her mother has to do for a living a task that requires her to go “on [her] knees” and clean—a task few white people would ever have to do. Packer illustrates how a jealousy towards white people from a young age based on socioeconomic class and societal standards of beauty, can continue into a hatred in adulthood because of what jobs people of low socioeconomic class are forced to
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