When a marshmallow is a racial slur
I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, ever since I learned the meaning of a sugary treat called Mohrenkopf.
A mohrenkopf is a wafer topped with a cyndrical cap of marshmallow, enrobed in chocolate. Kind of like a moon pie or a Nabisco Pinwheel cookie.
For an American who grew up in an era advocating political correctness and cultural sensitivity, and with a degree in anthropology, the mohrenkopf puts me in a sticky situation between wanting to gobble up anything with marshmallows and wincing when ordering them from the little old Swiss lady at the bakery.
Because mohrenkopf literally means ‘Moor’s head’. It can also be more crudely translated as the same name as the former name of former U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s hunting ranch in Texas.
Yeah. That word.
So first there’s the issue of whether to get over it and enjoy the sugar high from these little treats, or avoid them in support of a society no longer living in the 1860s. So far I’ve avoided buying them. My conscience and my blood sugar levels feel good about this.
But there’s the other issue of whether to voice my opposition to this traditional Swiss treat to the people of my host country. Not just my opposition to the mohrenkopf but to racial slurs in general. There have been a few instances of acquaintances tossing around language that would not be tolerated in America. Not at all in a way meant to offend or demean anyone, but more in a, “we listen to American rap so we assume this is how everyone speaks” way. These times are awkward because it’s never really the right time to go into a sociological explanation about who in America is allowed to use slurs and toward whom. In one instance where we mentioned that in America those words are rarely used in casual conversation and are considered offensive or even aggressive, the response was along the lines of, “Oh really? Huh.”
Am I overly sensitive because of the drastically grimmer history of race relations in America? Is it not such a big deal here because there wasn’t slavery or a brutal and somewhat ongoing fight for civil rights?
Living in a country where I am welcome but am a guest nonetheless, where’s the line between accepting cultural mores as part of living abroad and standing up to outdated, discriminatory language and ideas? It seems to be somewhere in the vicinity of a chocolate-covered puff of marshmallow.