Following nearly a month of protests against police brutality and renewed discussions about the United States’ centuries-long history of discrimination towards Black Americans, Quaker Oats announced on Wednesday that it would retire the name and image associated with its Aunt Jemima syrup and pancake mix. Quaker Oats released a statement calling attention to the racial stereotypes invoked by the Aunt Jemima logo and the brand’s marketing strategies, and vowed to rebrand these products by the fall of 2020.
The Aunt Jemima brand debuted in 1889, and its logo, Aunt Jemima, serves as what critics including Riché Richardson have referred to as an “outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the mammy.” The brand’s name was inspired by the minstrel song “Old Aunt Jemima,” which was performed by white actors who wore blackface and ridiculed Black Americans. According to Richardson, the term “mammy” refers to a “a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master.”
Although the Aunt Jemima brand name emerged in the nineteenth century, according to Quaker Oats, the image associated with the brand first appeared in the 1920s, when Nancy Green and other Black women were depicted on products’ packaging and in ads. Largely viewed as a “symbol of slavery,” the Aunt Jemima image was altered multiple times during the twentieth century. Some of these redesigns included adding pearl earrings and a lace collar to the brand’s logo.
Earlier in the week, the singer Kirby released a video on TikTok that was widely spread on social media. The video was titled “How to Make A Non Racist Breakfast,” and featured Kirby criticizing the Aunt Jemima brand before dumping its pancake mix down the drain. This is not the first time the brand received criticism. In 2014, surviving relatives of Anna Harrington, a Black woman featured on the Aunt Jemima packaging in the early twentieth century, sued Quaker Oats for Harrington’s royalties. The case was dismissed. In 2015, Cornell University professor Riché Richardson wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times, wherein she expressed that images and commercial linked to Southern racism like Aunt Jemima should meet the same criticism that Confederate flags do.
Quaker Oats released a statement on Wednesday acknowledging that the origins of the brand’s imagery “are based on a racial stereotype” and pledging to “work to make progress toward racial equality.” Beyond retiring its brand’s name and logo, Quaker Oats pledged to donate five million dollars to support the Black community over the next five years.
Sources: NBC News 6/17/20; CNN Business 6/17/20; New York Times 6/17/20, 6/24/15; Rolling Stone 6/17/20; Huffington Post 6/17/20