Finally, Aunt Jemima products are getting the anti-racist makeover they’ve needed for more than 100 years
It shouldn’t take ongoing, global protests against racism and police brutality to open anyone’s eyes to the realities of American racism in 2020. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. Even corporations are starting to look within and make incremental changes to promote more equality. One of those is Quaker Oats, which just announced that its Aunt Jemima products will be given a new name, and have the racist image of a Black woman scrubbed from their packaging.
Quaker Oats made the announcement Wednesday, saying, “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”
The Aunt Jemima brand has existed for 130 years, and the character on the packaging was originally depicted as a minstrel character. It’s been changed several times before landing on its current depiction, a stereotype of a Black “mammy,” a “devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own,” Cornell University professor Riché Richardson wrote in the New York Times in 2015.
Richardson has long been pushing to have Aunt Jemima removed from the syrup and pancake mix packages in the brand’s line. The character is “a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves,” Richardson told the Today show this week. “It’s an image that harkens back to the antebellum plantation … Aunt Jemima is that kind of stereotype is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness. It is urgent to expunge our public spaces of a lot of these symbols that for some people are triggering and represent terror and abuse.”
Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a press release that the company recognizes that the name and character are both based on a stereotype that’s harmful.
“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, adding that the company has tried to “update” the brand’s look to be “appropriate and respectful,” but they now recognize that those efforts fell short.
The new packaging will begin to appear in stores this fall, and a new name for the line will be announced later. In addition to these much-needed changes, Quaker has pledged at least $5 million over the next five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
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