Can a box of pancake mix be racist?

Discussion
Source: auntjemima.com
Jun 18, 2020
George Anderson

The Quaker Oats Company, a PepsiCo subsidiary, and Mars have each announced plans to do away with long-established brands that display imagery many see as racist.

Quaker is planning to discontinue its Aunt Jemima brand and replace the line with a new name. The switch is expected to take place by the fourth quarter.

“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,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer, Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement. “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.”

The Aunt Jemima brand has been around for 131 years. While it could be argued that the brand has always been insensitive, the current environment with nationwide peaceful protests against racial inequality seems to have made the inappropriateness of its image clear beyond the point of debate.

“The brand has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today,” said Ms. Kroepfl. “We are starting by removing the image and changing the name. We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry.”

Mars also issued a statement that unspecified changes would be coming to the company’s Uncle Ben’s brand.

“We know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices” the company said in a statement. “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community, and to the voices of our associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”

Mars has not specified a timeline for its rebranding of Uncle Ben’s.

Conagra is another company that has announced a review of a brand — Mrs. Butterworth’s — that some see as inappropriate at a time when Americans of all races are showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias and as a result, we have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s,” said Conagra in a statement.

B&G Foods’ also announced that it was initiating a review of its Cream of Wheat brand with its image of a black man on the box.

We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” said the company in a statement.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What is your take on the decision by brands to reevaluate how they go to market with imagery deemed to be racially insensitive? Are there brands that stand out in your mind for making a similar mistake and what is your recommendation for what they should do?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Its history is rooted in racism and the oppression of black people and that is reason enough for it to go."
"...there are things so ingrained into our culture we don’t even realize we are blind to it. So yes, it’s time for real and lasting change."
"To all the brand managers out there who care about serving ALL their customers: This is a very opportune moment to convert pure intentions into meaningful actions."

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27 Comments on "Can a box of pancake mix be racist?"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

This is long overdue. When I posted this on my Retail Doctor Facebook page, I received a couple of comments about how it originated from a woman who became a millionaire. Nope. From the WSJ “The Aunt Jemima brand was in­spired by a pop­u­lar song, ‘Old Aunt Jemima,’ typ­i­cally per­formed in min­strel shows by a white man in black­face.” They then used a woman at a trade show to perpetuate the image of a grandmother “mammy” just enjoying making breakfast. While she may have gone on to make a lot of money, it didn’t make it right and in fact kept the stereotype alive. Mark my words, the Washington Redskins’ days are numbered as well.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Someone is not happy with you about the the Washington Redskins….

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

To be very honest, when I was young I thought Aunt Jemima was the business lady who owned the brand! However, when I was older I learned that is sadly not the context of the imagery. Its history is rooted in racism and the oppression of black people and that is reason enough for it to go. We are imaginative enough to have images that are inclusive and non-offensive.

Brent Biddulph
BrainTrust

CPG brands admitting that it’s long overdue that they take action on these brands that are more than 100 years old may have been difficult, but it is wise. Perhaps there is also a lesson here for Major League U.S. sports franchises — that it is also long overdue to re-brand the use of Native American names and imagery.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

On the one hand, we can say that at some point, brands take on a life of their own. I’m sure anyone under the age of 70 does not think about the person, John F. Kennedy, when they fly into “JFK.” But it’s also sadly clear that the U.S. has a long way to go to overcome the underlying racism that is still prevalent in the country.

And so it has to happen. I mean, there was a time when people had little statues of black livery on their lawns. Thankfully that is gone now. Let’s move the rest of the way, and hope that minds and hearts follow someday.

Al McClain
Staff

The old Hemingway quote about bankruptcy happening “slowly then suddenly” seems to apply to the dizzying pace of change and awareness today. Many of these changes were long overdue, but our collective willingness to overlook huge issues slowed the pace.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

To Al’s point, the pace of change is very fast as it affects people’s perceptions about racial injustice. (It reminds me of the cultural sea-change in attitudes about gay marriage, not that long ago.) “Aunt Jemima” and “Uncle Ben” were always icons of the “happy slave” stereotype, so the only surprise is why it took so long and why so many CPG companies (and consumers) were so slow to react.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I have been listening to Emmanuel Acho’s Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man and I am looking at everyday things differently. To many, those images were just people on packages, and the statues in the town square of someone who fought for the confederacy. But to Black people those things are signs of oppression that as a white person I can never fully understand. As Acho said, there are things so ingrained into our culture we don’t even realize we are blind to it. So yes, it’s time for real and lasting change.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

It is almost shocking to see what was deemed normal and acceptable in the past. There is no way some of that advertising and marketing would fly today. We are in a world where sensitivity is more important than ever. (It should have always been that way.) I applaud the companies who recognize this and do their best to be inclusive, sensitive and fair to everyone.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I had an interesting conversation with my son about this last night when he saw the news report. As someone who had no connection to the brands in question other than seeing the face on the box, he asked how it was racist, and wasn’t it helpful to show diversity in the faces featured on brands. I said there is a difference between showing people of color as users of a product, associating the brand to someone who was genuinely the founder of a brand, and starting from a racist premise as the origination of a brand that actually has no cultural ties to the people or culture being represented. It’s beyond time to erase all of those brands in the last category. It’s beyond time to ensure representation among the second category. And it’s beyond time to be diverse and equal in the first category. Brands shouldn’t just be focused on the last, but on all three.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I grew up with her. I enjoyed her. I will miss her. I understand why. Her demise has been silently coming for a long time; and now she will be leaving us. She will be a memory along with Uncle Ben.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

While I don’t disagree with the decision, I have to ask where do we draw the line? Chiquita Brands and Frito-Lay have mascots that can be considered racially insensitive to Hispanics and Latinos – should those be removed too?

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

And don’t forget the Land O’ Lakes Indian maiden, now gone.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Well, maybe they should. We clearly have gone beyond doing nothing in this country.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

There has always been a line. And the communication from actually a very large segment of consumers is, that line is in the wrong place today. What a unique opportunity to refresh and modernize a brand — and broaden its appeal.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Yes.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

These changes make sense from a marketing perspective by removing any potential degradation of a potential target market. Perception is reality here. However, the real winner is the establishment of a public policy position in these times where companies and individuals try to move from talk about racial inequality to transformative action. Sports teams need to undertake the same introspection on their way to similar public policy changes.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

I am old enough that I will in some ways miss them, but I am glad they are going away. We need to become a more inclusive and understanding society.

John Karolefski
BrainTrust

We have accepted such branding for years without thinking about it. In today’s time of reflection, it is correct for food makers to reconsider all branding that may be considered racially insensitive. But we can go too far as well. I have read that the image of Snap, Crackle, and Pop figures on Rice Krispies is insensitive because they are all white.

William Passodelis
Guest

These horrible and insensitive monikers should have been done away with many years ago. Long overdue!

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

The quick answer to the question is “no,” in the sense that they’re images people one would associate with the products — much like the Quaker Oats figure himself — but at the same time they’re an obvious reminder that African Americans were once restricted almost exclusively to domestic jobs (whether the two were actually supposed to be slaves, or rather servants in a later period I don’t know … nor probably does the average person).

The question, I think, is really “now what?” In the case of those jockey figures one used to see outside houses, in many cases they were simply (re)painted white; I believe something similar has been done with advertising characters. So they become less obviously racist, but at the same time a large portion of Black History simply disappears, and no positive image replaces it. Hmmm.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

This is a change whose time has come. I grew up in a society in which, due to our own unnoticed or ignored prejudices, we remember these brands fondly, not because they were created on the backs of descendants of slaves, but because they tasted good. The unintended consequence (and I believe they were unintended), is that they bring back bad memories to many and are, therefore, insensitive.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Purity of intent rings hollow when a brand image resonates past racism. It’s high time to retire all of it: flags, statues, sport mascots, and yes, consumer brands whose history and imagery are anchored in systematic oppression of any minority group. Put it all in museums, so that future generations will never forget the shameful legacy of systemic discrimination.

Sure, re-branding does have its costs. The owners will just have to take the hit, but I have faith that their customers will reward them with renewed loyalty.

To all the brand managers out there who care about serving ALL their customers: This is a very opportune moment to convert pure intentions into meaningful actions.

James Ray
Guest

It’s all too common for consumer product names and logos to accidentally offend a particular gender, race, religion, or age because the ISMs are a plenty. When a single consumer complains, we have to assume they are the tip of the iceberg and many more feel similarly offended. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are easy examples of unintended racism, and the potential list is long. Does the Eskimo Pie logo offend Arctic aboriginal people?

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This is pushing racism in many ways. I am Irish, yet I am not asking that Lucky Charms be changed since it promotes a denigrating image of the Irish. Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s, Colonel Sanders, Chef Boyardee and many others all have questionable histories which denigrate and set apart people, yet they are not the focus of this story or any other ones which are identifying racist brands and images. Perhaps the real question is where do we draw the line?

Geoffrey Ingall
Guest
3 months 10 days ago

So, black people have no part to play in American imagery; they can no longer symbolise warmth or quality, except on for-blacks products and services, I assume. Sounds like apartheid, to me. Is that what America really wants?

Trevor Sumner
Guest

I remember Aunt Jemima fondly from my childhood with the association of my grandmother’s apple pancakes. At the same time, even as a kid I knew something was wrong about it. We are at the beginning of examining the history and meaning of many brand symbols, and it is about time. It’s time to look for new symbols that uplift us and unify us around our modern values. And in an age where brand loyalty is at all time lows and brand selection is more about differentiated identity than keeping up with the Jones’s, newness is more valued than ever.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Its history is rooted in racism and the oppression of black people and that is reason enough for it to go."
"...there are things so ingrained into our culture we don’t even realize we are blind to it. So yes, it’s time for real and lasting change."
"To all the brand managers out there who care about serving ALL their customers: This is a very opportune moment to convert pure intentions into meaningful actions."

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