Aunt Jemima to Finally Change Name and Image Due to Racial Stereotype

updated Jun 18, 2020
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Bottles of Aunt Jemima syrup on the shelf
Credit: JJava Designs/Shutterstock

After 130 years, Quaker Oats has finally decided to overhaul the Aunt Jemima brand due to its racist history and imagery. While there has been pressure to make this change for some time, the massive turning of public opinion during a major uprising combined with a viral TikTok video helped lead to this decision.

“Think blackface,” singer Kirby explains of the brand’s origins in her video “How to make a non-racist breakfast,” which has gotten more than two million views. The name and imagery used for the brand came from old minstrel songs and skits and a racist stereotype. “They can take home a box of Aunt Jemima and the feeling of having their very own mammy,” says Kirby of the intention behind the logo and name. On Twitter, Lexi Kennedy did a rundown of the history of Nancy Green, the woman born into slavery whose image, charisma, and likely culinary knowledge established the brand as a major player over the 33 years she worked for it.

While the changes are finally happening now, the racist history of the brand has not been in hiding. In 1968, the brand made a halfhearted and misguided change by altering the image to a thinner woman without a bandana. In 1972, artist Betye Saar’s “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima” brought widespread attention to the issue. But, as the New York Times said of the brand’s Gladys Knight-fronted attempt at a makeover in 1994, “racially charged imagery never fully loses its historical taint.”

This week, the brand finally acknowledged what needs to happen, saying it recognizes that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” and need to be fully removed. Quaker Oats, the subsidiary of Pepsi that owns the brand, says it will do so as part of its efforts “to make progress toward racial equality.” According to CNN, the Aunt Jemima brand will also donate five million dollars over the next five years to support the Black community.

Pepsi isn’t the only one rethinking their brands. Mars, which owns another brand that has long received similar criticism, has also announced that they “recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity,” and are currently “evaluating all possibilities.”