In a move that seems wildly belated, Aunt Jemima pancake products will undergo a rebrand, after its makers acknowledged — about 130 years in — that the packaging and name lean heavily on a racist stereotype. Quaker Oats has previously made modifications to the design, which originally featured the face of a woman born into slavery, but now plans to scrap the whole thing entirely, NBC reports.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said Wednesday. “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.”
Indeed, the brand draws its name from a minstrel song called “Old Aunt Jemima,” a caricature of the slave era often performed by white actors in blackface. The first woman to portray Aunt Jemima, Nancy Green, was born in Kentucky in 1834, and according to her descendants, never paid in full for her work as the brand’s face. The company’s website does not mention that Green was born into slavery, either.
Many critics have also pointed out that the character she portrayed romanticizes “the ‘mammy,’ a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own,” as Riché Richardson, an associate professor in Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center, explained in a 2015 op-ed for the New York Times.
In an insufficient effort to address this long-standing complaint, Quaker Oats previously removed her headscarf. “We acknowledge the brand has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth, and dignity that we would like it to stand for today,” Kroepfl said Wednesday. “We are starting by removing the image and changing the name.” The logo will go by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Oats, told NBC that Aunt Jemima will also donate $5 million toward “meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
The company has not announced what the new name will be, nor when we should expect it, but there are innumerable options out there that don’t draw on our nation’s brutal, racist past. I’m sure they can find something less offensive without too much effort. Ditto Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s, which will also be getting extreme makeovers, their parent companies having realized that both brand identities rely on damaging racial tropes.