Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.
Two icons of American grocery branding. Two caricatures invented by white men based on slave imagery.
Countless articles and books have been written about the offensiveness and imbued racism of these African American characters used to sell pancake mix and syrup and boxed rice on grocery shelves across all 50 states.
It’s 2017. Why are they still there?
The breakfast website Extra Crispy posted an article today about what’s really in fake maple syrup, as if that were the most offensive thing about Aunt Jemima syrup, whose smiling Mammy figure debuted in 1889, a time when white Americans were anxious about race and needed comforting from a benevolent kitchen maid who would never talk back or demand equal pay.
As I watch the country slowly start to wake up to the realities of institutionalized oppression and white supremacy, I can’t help but ask what purpose do these characters serve today? When will we be ready to put them to rest in history books and museums?
My gut says that it’s only a matter of time before the parent companies of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben brands (Quaker Oats Company, which is owned by PepsiCo., and Mars, whom you can contact here and here) will face enough pressure to officially retire this tired, insensitive imagery.
I don’t buy these products anyway, but I’ll be more vocal about it now.
Not to trivialize this issue, but I am genuinely curious about how long you think it will take until Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima will become brands of the past.