After 130 years, Quaker Oats are going to withdraw the famous pancake mix and syrup Aunt Jemima, in an astounding announcement in which the company says “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racist stereotype”.
For many who may not know, this is not the first time Quaker has been forced into action on the brand. The original brand portrait, drawn in 1889, was that of a Black woman who was adorned with a bandana in her hair.
Aunt Jemima with the bandana was the image for 100 years. But as calls grew accusing Quaker of using an image that harked back to the pre-Civil War “mammy” role of Black women in American society, the company succumbed.
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In 1989, Quaker dropped the image with the bandana, which had been based on Nancy Green, a former slave. The new image, which we now know, was based on Anna Harrington.
Kristin Kroepfl, vice-president and chief marketing officer for Quaker Foods North America on Wednesday, said in a statement: “We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand”.
Kroepfl continued, “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.”
But in the wake of the announcement, some, especially on social media, have wondered why the image has to go in lieu of what they believe is an opportunity to empower the Black woman.
Why uproot the whole brand instead of re-imagining its importance? The answer is quite simple, according to world astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Tyson tweeted on Wednesday: “It’s not that Aunt Jemima was a symbol of a racist past, she was the very embodiment of a racist past. She will not be missed by anyone who knew that.”
Although he did not explain further, it was clear to many what he meant. The concept of Aunt Jemima was based on what a Black woman meant to a well-to-do white family in the antebellum United States and even afterward.
Aunt Jemima was the mammy who was supposed to be a cheerful and willing house-servant. The mammy enjoyed her service and subordination and found fulfillment in answering to every beck and call of her white masters.
What Quaker has now done was due decades ago. For those who support the move, they would hope it is the beginning of a wide-reaching introspection for corporate America.