Black stereotype brands no longer seen as fit for purpose
By Ricky Browne
While Black Lives Matter, unfortunately for Aunt Jemima black stereotypes do not – no matter how loved they might be.
On Tuesday, PepsiCo announced that it was retiring its Aunt Jemima brand for good.
So now, the jolly black lady in pearl earrings and a lace collar will no longer be seen on products of pancake mix and pancake syrup and will be replaced by a non-offensive brand called Pearl Milling Company.
“The Quaker Oats Company signed the contract to purchase the Aunt Jemima brand in 1925. It updated its image over the years in a manner intended to remove racial stereotypes that dated back to the brand origins. In June 2020, the company announced it was transitioning from the Aunt Jemima name and likeness on packaging and pledged a $5-million commitment to support the Black community,” said Pepsi Co in a news release.
“Throughout the effort that led to the new Pearl Milling Company name, Quaker worked with consumers, employees, external cultural and subject-matter experts, and diverse agency partners to gather broad perspectives and ensure the new brand was developed with inclusivity in mind,” Pepsi said.
Could the name Pearl be a reminder of the pearl earrings that Aunt Jemima used to wear?
Pepsi said the Pearl Milling Company was founded in Missouri 1888, the year before it introduced what became the Aunt Jemima brand of self-raising pancake mix. But the pearl does give a nod to the now dead Aunt Jemima.
Aunt Jemima existed for a very healthy 130 years on her packaging. But she is not the only black character that is to be dropped.
The distinguished-looking, grey-haired Uncle Ben – looking a bit like a butler, who wouldn’t have been out of place as a stand in for Benson — is also in the firing line and will soon no longer adorn his packages of rice. The product will now be known as Ben’s Original – and it won’t feature his face or indeed anyone’s face. Uncle Ben has been around since 1946, so has been a lot younger than Aunt Jemima.
Also likely to be kicked to the curb is the smiling black chef that adorns Cream of Wheat products.
Poor Mrs Butterworth, who was of indeterminate race, was one of the first to fall victim to this type of rebranding. Her grandmotherly-like figure was the shape of her pancake syrup bottles, and was assumed by some people to be a black caricature. She’s still around, but not for much longer.
GONE WITH THE WIND
Aunt Jemima had changed in appearance over time – having started out looking a lot like the maid in Gone with the Wind (though she came around much earlier than the movie) – fat and jolly and wearing a red kerchief on her head. Very happy to help you in the kitchen, making the most delicious stack of pancakes, topped off with her diabetes-assuring pancake syrup.
Slowly, her image changed as attitudes towards racial-stereotyping changed, to become a little more modern and a lot less servile.
But the name remained – a painful reminder to some of how the prefix Aunt or Uncle was given to some older black people in servile positions instead of the more respectful Mrs or Mr.
In the 1950s one of the most popular radio sitcoms was called Amos ‘n’ Andy about two black guys – a kind of early Good Times. But the original actors were white – nobody cared, because it was on radio.
Once it tried to move to TV, black actors needed to be found – and people became more aware of the negative stereotypes that were being perpetuated by the series. Although funny, the show could not exist in the 1960s.
With the death of Amos ‘n’ Andy some product lines had to look at their black characters and adapt them slightly to take on less negative racial stereotypes. So gradually Aunt Jemima started to look like a professional woman, who was a little concerned about her weight, but happy to make a stack of carbohydrate-dense pancakes for her guests – pearl earrings and all.
But the history remained, and after the Black Lives Matter protests in America and around the world last summer, it became harder and harder to keep her around.
OATS GO AGAINST THE GRAIN
So now there is no more Aunt Jemima – a character who might have actually helped to decrease racism as white people and black people were happy to buy her products, and have them on their shelves, right next to the white guy on their Quaker Oats – no segregation on their kitchen shelves.
Actually, Aunt Jemima falls under Pepsi’s Quaker Oats subsidiary. Now that they’ve killed off Aunt Jemima, maybe the Quaker Oats guy should start to worry. Isn’t he a stereotypical image as well?
Maybe the end is near for him too. Maybe they should replace him with another famous Quaker like Richard Nixon?
But it’s not only in the US that the brand icon on a box of oats needs to be questioned.
In Jamaica, a country that is majority black with only a very small white minority, the Foska Oats displays a skinny, young man looking like perhaps Huckleberry Finn with blond hair. Is this racial stereotyping – or is it OK because the minority in question is white?
Here in the United Kingdom, and also on a box of oats, is a swarthy Scotsman in a kilt and a wife-beater about to chuck a shot put in what could be the Highland Games.
The product is Scott’s Porage Oats which is also owned by Quaker Oats/Pepsi. Is there a more stereotypical image of a Scotsman. Clean palm, dirty neck — but what’s he got on under that kilt?
All he’s lacking is a set of bag pipes. Isn’t that stereotyping? I’ve met many Scots in my life, and very few of them have been wearing kilts. And none of them were chucking shot puts.
BYE-BYE TO MY ESKIMO PIE
Elsewhere, other brands which appear racist are also being renamed. In Australia, the ice cream treat branded as Eskimo Pie will now become the less-offensive Polar Pie, while its Nestle namesake in the US – around since 1921 — will become Edy’s Pie.
That cute little American Indian boy is no longer. But he isn’t the only American Indian to be disposed of.
In the US the Eskimo was predeceased in 2020 by the American Indian woman on the Land O’ Lakes butter products.
Back in Australia, some 20 years after being found offensive, the brand Coon cheese is to be rebranded to Cheer later this year in an effort to help ‘eliminate racism’. The brand had been around since 1935.
“At Saputo, one of our basic principles as an organisation is to treat people with respect and without discrimination and we will not condone behaviour that goes against this,” the company that owns the brand said when it made the announcement six months ago. The company said the cheese was named after the company’s founder Edward William Coon.
DARKIE TOOTHPASTE CLEANS UP ITS ACT
Meanwhile, Darlie toothpaste — previously Darkie — continues to sell well in much of Asia, and seems to be unconcerned about racial stereotyping on their products.
Darlie is reportedly the top toothpaste brand in Asia, with 17 percent market share in China, 21 percent in Singapore, 28 percent in Malaysia and almost 50 percent in Taiwan, according to Euromonitor International.
The product was around since 1933 and was partially acquired by Colgate Palmolive in 1985. But by 1989 the company felt obliged to change the English name from Darkie to Darlie.
The change was slight, but its black icon remained and its name remains the same in Chinese characters, meaning ‘black person toothpaste’. Even with the name changed to Darlie, the brand continues to carry a smiling black man dressed in a tuxedo and top hat – in what was originally a based on a white man in black face in minstrel style.
But cleaned-up image or not, since the BLM movement, Colgate Palmolive has said it’s going to clean up its act all together. Last year it announced that it would be “working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name”.
AND SO THE STORY ENDS
So goodbye Aunt Jemima. Don’t worry. Maybe you can make some pancakes for Little Black Sambo — he loves them.
He ate 169 in his book that is no longer considered suitable. And maybe instead of syrup you can use some of the Golden Shred marmalade or strawberry jam from Roberston’s (now Hartley’s) gollywog, who was sent on his way in 2002.
You’ll be joined soon enough by Mrs Butterworth and Uncle Ben, and that guy with the chef’s hat from Cream of Wheat. So you should be happy that soon you won’t be alone, to be joined by many other brand icons – though perhaps, not white ones.
KFC’s Colonel Sanders, for example, isn’t going anywhere.