Aunt Jemima Will Change 'Racist Stereotype' Name and Image
The parent company of Aunt Jemima pancake products acknowledged its name and image were based on racist stereotypes.
More than 100 years after Aunt Jemima pancake mix went on the market, its parent company announced Wednesday the brand was based on racist images and packaging.
The name of the product, and photograph of a smiling black woman on mix boxes and syrup bottles will be no more, according to a statement from Quaker Foods North America. “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer.
"As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations," she said. A new name and brand will debut in the fall.
Hours later, the makers of Uncle Ben's rice products said they, too, would drop its image, theirs of an elderly black man beaming from its packaging.
"As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices," food giant Mars said in a statement. "We recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do."
Both brands have long been criticized as racist, as well as reminders of how white Southerners called older black people "aunt" and "uncle" instead of the honorifics "Mrs." and "Mr."
The abrupt branding shift comes as companies and organizations reevaluate racial sensitivity in the wake of George Floyd's Memorial Day killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Viral video of his death has unleashed a wave of protests and demonstrations across the country, which still occur daily.
Firms including Target and Nike recently announced the would recognized Juneteenth as a holiday. NASCAR has banned the Confederate battle flag. HBO Max has temporarily shelved the 1939 movie "Gone With the Wind" over its glorification of slavery and the antebellum South.
Calls for change to Aunt Jemima date back decades. Over the years, her image has changed from a kerchief-wearing black woman serving pancakes to white people to images of black women without a head scarf clad in more modern clothing.
The name dates from a 19th century slave song titled "Old Aunt Jemima." The character evolved into a staple of minstrel shows, often portrayed by white actors in blackface.
"This Aunt Jemima logo was an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the ‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own," wrote Reiche Richardson, an associate professor in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University in a 2015 New York Times editorial.
"Visually, the plantation myth portrayed her as an asexual, plump black woman wearing a headscarf," said Richardson.
In a timeline on a Quaker Oats website, the company says Aunt Jemima was first "brought to life" by Nancy Green, a black woman who was a former slave and the product's face in 1890.
In 2015, a judge dismissed a lawsuit against the company by two men who said they were descendants of Anna Harrington, a black woman who portrayed Jemima in the 1930s. The men claimed the company didn't pay proper royalties to her estate.
The makers of Uncle Ben's rice said Wednesday it has not decided how to replace the brand's image.
"To make the systemic change needed, it's going to take a collective effort from all of us – individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world," read the statement from Mars.
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