It’s about time.
Quaker Oats, the breakfast foods conglomerate, announced Wednesday that it would finally retire the Aunt Jemima brand after 130 years.
For generations, the pancake batter and syrup brand used the image of an old minstrel character named Aunt Jemima, a variation of the “old mammy” archetype. The matronly black woman’s image has evolved over time, from a blackface caricature to a more modern-looking cook with an afro and a big smile. But the brand never fled too far from its racist roots. Even the term “Aunt Jemima” is fraught with ugly racist stereotypes of a servile African American woman.
Now, Quaker, which is owned by PepsiCo, says that retiring their racist mascot is part of an effort to “make progress towards racial equality.”
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America. “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.”
Renewed criticism has plagued the Aunt Jemima brand in recent weeks, as protests for racial equality have gripped the nation following the death of George Floyd. The pancake brand even became a trending topic on Twitter, as the social media community discussed the character’s racist history, and called on Quaker Oats to nix the branding.
By the company’s own admission, Aunt Jemima was first “brought to life” in 1890 by Nancy Green, a black woman who was born into slavery and later worked for the founder of the company. Green became the face of the brand, which took its name from an old minstrel song called “Old Aunt Jemima.” White actors used to perform the song while wearing blackface, mocking an obedient black woman who loved to serve her master’s children while neglecting her own.
On Wednesday, Cornell Professor Riché Richardson appeared on TODAY to call-out what she called “a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves. It’s an image that harkens back to the antebellum plantation.” Richardson explained, “Aunt Jemima is that kind of stereotype that is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness.”
While Quaker plans to rebrand its pancake line, there is no word yet on the product’s new name or image.