The owner of the Aunt Jemimah brand, announced Wednesday it would retire the brand some consider racially offensive by the end of the year.
Aunt Jemimah, a familiar brand you may find in your pantry, will finally disappear from store shelves after 130 years.
PepsiCo, which owns Quaker Oats, and, in turn, the Aunt Jemimah subsidiary, said it will rename the brand, but didn’t say what the new name would be.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough,” Quaker Foods North America Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Kristin Kroepfl said. “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.”
The company will start by removing the familiar of a black woman that has been part of the brand from day one, although the woman that appears today is different from the original image. When the product debuted, Aunt Jemimah was clearly made to look like a “Mammy” character complete with a kerchief over her head. Over the decades, the brand “modernized” the image.
But some say the modernization changed the image from a slave to a maid.
Once the new brand makes its debut, the company plans to gather “diverse perspectives.” They want to further “evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry,” Kroepfl said.
What was your first reaction?
I’ll be honest: When I first heard the news, a small part of me felt a twinge of disappointment.
As a nostalgia buff, I always hate to see a successful brand disappear after so many decades. It has been a household name for more than a century, after all.
But nostalgia can’t excuse racism, can it? It certainly shouldn’t.
No matter how well known the brand is, for some, it has built that familiarity for the wrong reason.
I think the company made the right decision here. It’s a shame they ever felt good about using the image of a slave to sell their products. You can read various interpretations of the motive for doing so. Some have suggested such images helped “rewrite” history by making it appear enslaved people were always happy. The idea, some argue, was to reinforce the ridiculous notion that slavery was a “positive” thing, particularly for the enslaved.
The name won’t be the same. But a name that offends an entire race isn’t a good name to begin with.
Meanwhile, there is also word that Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth will also be making changes to their brands.
I have to confess that I never considered Mrs. Butterworth white or black. To me, from the commercials, she just appeared to be a kind grandmotherly figure. Despite the brown syrup-colored bottle, I never really paid attention to her race. Still, that brands are reconsidering their imagery — even if only to ensure they aren’t offensive — is a good thing.
It’s a shame it took so much violence and suffering for those realizations to finally begin coming in earnest.