A Tale of Chocolate, Cheese, and Racism
How a kid’s treat and a yoghurt crystallized the racial debate in Switzerland
Growing up in Switzerland in the late 80s and early 90s, there were two things you’d expect to find in a kid’s snack: A little carton of Ovomaltine, a cocoa-flavoured, malt-based milk drink and a couple of Chocolate-coated marshmallow treats that we used to call têtes de n***** in French (n*****’s heads), or Mohrenkopfen in German (Moor’s heads).
Neither the chocolate-heavy diet (that any Swiss citizen is morally compelled to follow) nor the unsavoury name shocked anybody at all at the time.
Slowly but not uniformly, as per Swiss tradition, the infamous name faded away.
From the early 00s onwards, the French-speaking part of the country started calling the treat têtes de choco (choco heads), the n-word becoming the weird linguistic idiosyncrasy of grand-parents.
At the time already, people complained about the change in the whitest, most-privileged ways imaginable:
“We’ve always used this name, it’s not racist anymore, it’s a tradition.”
“People are too sensitive, it’s a kid’s joke.”
These kinds of argument were common, but thanks to the low penetration of broadband internet and the inexistence of social media, they were mostly had between old racist farts at the local pub counter. The controversy was short-lived, at least in the public sphere.
The German-speaking part, however, kept with its Mohrenkopf, thankfully leaving behind the colloquial N****kuss.
And the time went by. The attention shifted away from the small delicacy… until 2020.
In June of 2020, Migros, the largest retailer in the country, decided to retire from its shelves all treats bearing the name Mohrenkopf. The long-neglected chocolaty confection came back in the spotlight. But this time, it had supporters: a heretofore unheard-of online army ready to defend traditions against the dangers of removing racism from the public space.
Posts started to flourish on social networks criticising the “censorship,” with an interesting twist of an argument:
All these posts refer to another common product found in Swiss supermarket called blanc battu: a type of fresh cheese whose name, translated literally, means “beaten white.” It should be noted that blanc in this context would never be understood by a good-faith French speaker as “white person.”
People justified the comparison in two distinct ways, both as hypocritical as the other.
The first justification was a supposedly-sincere shock in front of a racist, violence-inducing name. If we remove Mohrenkopf from the shelves, surely an item inciting to beat white people up must be removed too.
The second one was an ironic reaction to the alleged double standards applied to minorities and white people. We must remove a reference to coloured people, but we can keep a reference to violence against white people. If we are going to be hypocrites, let’s be hypocrites with everybody, their line of thought goes.
In case you wondered, I hid all the posters names and pictures, but yes, they’re all adult white males.
I will spare you the comment chains under these posts.
As I write this post, the brunt of the controversy has passed, like any scandal in our evermoving media maelstrom. We still see a post pop up here and there, always comparing the chocolate treat to the fresh cheese yoghurt as irrefutable proof of the vacuity of Migros’ delisting.
I don’t think I need to point out the fallaciousness of the argument above, nor its racism. Many people don’t seem to get it, however.
Switzerland, unlike the US, does not have a long history of racial tensions. As a consequence, many people do not perceive the violence of their racist behaviours, as small and innocuous they might appear.
Swiss straight white males are one of the most privileged groups of people in humankind’s history. In their position, they can’t even fathom how insulting and degrading it is to play victim, using yoghurt as an argument, in front of the n-word.
They can’t seem to understand that a society that tolerates the use of the n-word and its equivalents in the public sphere is inherently racist and must force a change.
To do this, let’s get rid of the Mohrenkopfen and the têtes de n***** but let’s keep blanc battu as a reminder of just how much privilege straight white males have benefitted from since forever.