The Real Reason The Aunt Jemima Brand Is Changing Its Name

TikTok has brought us hours of entertainment over recent months, and has also introduced us to trends ranging from the silly (sushi cereal) to the somewhat useful (an easier way to juice a lemon and a three-ingredient crème brûlée recipe that really works). Rarely, however, has TikTok been credited with sparking a major social change, but a recent video may just be about to do that. Just a few days ago, the singer Kirby posted a video entitled, "How Not to Make a Racist Breakfast" that drew attention to the fact that so many brands' logos and images, like Aunt Jemima, are still deeply rooted in offensive stereotypes.

As this video quickly went viral, it started to draw a lot of attention not only from media both social and mainstream (with Reddit cofounder Alxis Ohanian tweeting, "How is Aunt Jemima not canceled??"), but it also caught the attention of the Quaker Oats company. Just two days after the video posted, Forbes recounts a press release from VP and chief marketing officer Kristin Kroepfl admitting, "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." 

What's more, the company won't just be limiting itself to a public mea culpa, but is promising to rebrand their pancake products to something more acceptable.

Aunt Jemima's problematic story

Aunt Jemima, once you know the back story, is definitely one of those, "What were they thinking??" brand names, with Forbes revealing that not only was her image based on that of a former slave, but the name comes from a song performed in minstrel shows by white performers "comically" made up in blackface. As Cornell University associate professor Riché Richardson told the Today show in response to Quaker's announcement, Aunt Jemima is "a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves [and the] kind of stereotype that is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness."

The Aunt Jemima website credits Nancy Green as the original "Aunt Jemima," but they fail to mention that she was born into slavery in 1834 in Kentucky (via Lexington Herald-Leader). She was known as an incredible storyteller and a great cook, and, at age 56, she was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company to represent the new brand and become a well-known image for the company's pancake products (via AA Registry). She first appeared at the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago where she dished up tons of pancakes and demonstrated how the mixes work, and the brand took off. 

Although the company has now promised to rebrand its items, this was not the first time there has been a call for Quaker Oats to take a hard look at how they chose to represent their products. In 2015, an opinion piece penned by Richardson in The New York Times argued that the product imagery was not only old-fashioned but it continued to push forward the stereotypical plantation "Mammy" figure, and Aunt Jemima herself continued to be an unwelcome link to Southern racism. 

Aunt Jemima isn't the only product that needs to change ASAP

Quaker Oats attempted to rebrand Aunt Jemima in the past, upgrading her look in 1989 and portraying her with a pearl necklace instead of a kerchief (via AP). While the company hasn't said exactly how they're going to further rebrand their products, they're expected to completely overhaul Aunt Jemima and do away with the name completely this time. 

Sadly, Aunt Jemima's not the only brand that needs a serious makeover. Uncle Ben also refers to a racial stereotype, as "Uncle" was a term of non-endearment used to refer to older male slaves. What's more, as the Atlanta Black Star points out, that grinning chef on the Cream of Wheat box was originally meant as a subservient and ignorant caricature, while Eskimo Pies and Chiquita bananas are also based on insulting ethnic stereotypes. 

However, Mars, the owner of the Uncle Ben's brand, has already risen to the challenge, as it has now pledged to change its brand identity in the wake of the Aunt Jemima decision (via CNN).

Also, the Land O'Lakes maiden was also seen as not just a symbol of racism but of misogyny, but the company took steps several months back to change their own packaging. We congratulate them on finally getting with the 21st-century program, and congrats as well to Quaker Oats and Mars on their better-late-than-never-move. Other racist product labels, consider yourself on notice. We'll be expecting announcements from all of you immediately, if not sooner.