PepsiCo (also Quaker Oats Company) has finally announced the rebranding of the Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix and other Goods product line due to multiple calls of anti-racism in recent years. This is some good news following nation-wide protests in relation to racism-related deaths caused by police brutality just last month.
Some people may consider this as a discontinuation of the Aunt Jemima brand. However, it is simply retiring the image of Aunt Jemima and remarketing it as a different brand. The Quaker brand did indicate to its consumers that the taste and formulation will be maintained.
What is so wrong about Aunt Jemima’s Character?
Aunt Jemima is a brand of ready-mix breakfast goods but focuses mainly on pancake mixes and syrups. The products themselves are great and had been in the market since the late 1800s. However, the problem would be the character of Aunt Jemima herself. This woman, although fictional, is based off on a ‘Mammy archetype’ which are African American slaves that served white housewives as maids. Usually, their roles involved doing domestic chores and nursing children.
How do we know this? Mammy characters are common in multiple American media and literature. They were used to portray an ‘ideal caregiver’ which was loyal, maternal, and most of all, submissive. This image, created by White Supremacy, was used to remind adults of their childhood as the Mammy archetype was used to portray ‘motherly love’.
Over the decades, the image of Aunt Jemima has been changed and edited to remove the context of slavery. From a Mammy-type figure to a simple Black American housewife, the image of Aunt Jemima was continuously toned down through the years. However, the context and character of Aunt Jemima (even though her image was continuously glossed over) will never change. In context, Aunt Jemima was a slave and this idea of getting a ‘taste of childhood’ from the woman on the image was used to market the products.
Why the discontinuation of ‘Racist Brands’ matter Now
For decades, there had been calls and petitions for the rebranding of many products that use people of color, race, or tribes in their products. There are many products, not only in America, that have monetized these mascots and logos through the centuries. As people realize how much these images affect the youth and the subtle racist culture in the US, more and more petitions for change have been underway.
Not many people may agree with this but the complete removal of racist brands does have its side effects. What is the problem with this? History books do not clearly depict just how much racism affected American culture. Removing these brands is almost similar to erasing the fact of how horrifying racism truly is. It removes how much these corporations have banked and monetized these images of slavery. However, must these images be painful reminders of the past? Are we just willing to forget what these images connote in American history?
Other Instances of Racism in Consumer Brands
The controversy does not stop at just using these images for mascots and logos. This is just looking at these racist brands on the surface. There are other brands that have been tagged as racist in the way that they treat and pay their employees. For instance, in 2016, Beyonce was under fire for allegedly underpaying staff in Sri Lanka for the production of clothing for the brand Ivy Park. Another example would be how the Harrington family (heirs of the former Aunt Jemima actresses) filed a two billion dollar complaint against Pepsico for claims of unfair compensation.
Racism in consumerism also has issues that are more horrifying than these examples. Some companies simply do not hire people of color and prefer white applicants instead, regardless of achievements or qualifications. Real estate and property prices are also affected by racism. The list can go on and on.
Other Racist Brands
The Aunt Jemima brand is just one of many product lines that used and monetized these images of slavery, or sometimes even blackface. Some of the racist brands which have announced official rebranding include Eskimo Pie, Cream of Wheat, and Uncle Ben’s. These are brands that have used mascots or even derogatory terms pertaining to a particular color, tribe, or race.
This was a far cry from brands that used blackface, or caucasian people painting their faces black to portray black slaves. Up until recently, these images are common in literature, commercials, food brands, and even fashion. Even popular cartoons had blackface characters.
It is fortunate that people are now more aware of how these affect the thinking of the public and how it negatively impacts American culture. Now, with social media, ordinary people can easily to call out these racist images. This is great for the anti-racism movement. These changes mark the evolution of American culture and how inclusion plays an important part of it.