Thursday, June 18, 2020

Goodbye Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Cream of Wheat's Rastus, and Beyond

When history is written, or, at least, when Internet sites create the "On this Date" tidbits, what do you think will be recalled for June 17, 2020?

One major development recalled will be the major corporate shift in neocolonial systematic racism. Talk about twilight language being rather obvious but ignored!

On the evening of June 16, 2020, there was a firestorm on Twitter, in which "Aunt Jemima" started trending.

The flashpoint came about after a TikTok video by singer Kirby, titled "How Not to Make a Racist Breakfast,” started spreading virally on the Internet. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanhian tweeted “how is Aunt Jemima not canceled?” The viral video, which explores the offensive origins of Aunt Jemima pancakes, is trending on Twitter with two million views. It begs the question: "Do Americans realize that we are cooking up racism in the kitchen?"

Forbes' Seth Cohen noted all this on June 17, 2020. Then, also on June 17, 2020, Quaker Oats announced that the Aunt Jemima brand would be replaced with a new name and image. The news came, some Wikipedia writers theorized, only days after the parody newspaper The Onion had published a satirical article about a similar, but fictional, announcement. Wikipedia apparently missed Twitter's and TikTok's part in this.

Aunt Jemima's History 

Summarized by Wikipedia:
Aunt Jemima is based on the common "Mammy" stereotype, a character in minstrel shows in the late 1800s. Her skin is dark and dewy, with a pearly white smile. She wears a scarf over her head and a polka dot dress with a white collar, similar to the common attire and physical features of "mammy" characters throughout history. A character named "Aunt Jemima" appeared on the stage in Washington, D.C., as early as 1864.
The inspiration for Aunt Jemima was Billy Kersands' American-style minstrelsy/vaudeville song "Old Aunt Jemima", written in 1875. Rutt reportedly saw a minstrel show featuring the "Old Aunt Jemima" song in the fall of 1889, presented by blackface performers identified by Arthur F. Marquette as "Baker & Farrell". Marquette recounts that the actor playing Aunt Jemima wore an apron and kerchief, and Rutt appropriated this Aunt Jemima character to market the Pearl Milling Company pancake mix in late 1889.
However, Doris Witt at University of Iowa was unable to confirm Marquette's account. Witt suggests that Rutt might have witnessed a performance by the vaudeville performer Pete F. Baker, who played characters described in newspapers of that era as "Ludwig" and "Aunt Jemima". His portrayal of the Aunt Jemima character may have been a white male in blackface, pretending to be a German immigrant, imitating a black minstrel parodying an imaginary black female slave cook.
The original version of the current Aunt Jemima logo was designed by H. Gene Miller, but he was unofficially credited. He also designed the original version of the current San Giorgio pasta company log. James J. Jaffee, a freelance artist from the Bronx, New York, also designed one of the images of Aunt Jemima used by Quaker Oats to market the product into the mid-20th century.
Just as the formula for the mix has changed several times over the years, so has the Aunt Jemima image been modified several times. In 1968, she was slimmed down from her previous appearance, depicting a more “svelte” look and wearing a white collar and geometric print “headband” still resembling her previous kerchief.
In 1989, as she marked her 100th anniversary, her image was again updated, with all head-covering removed, revealing wavy, gray-streaked hair and gold-trimmed pearl earrings and replacing her plain white collar with lace. At the time, the revised image was described as a move towards a more “sophisticated” depiction, with Quaker marketing the change as giving her “a more contemporary look” and which remains on the products as of 2020.
Outside the United States, the character still has her original mammy personality in advertisements and she is still referred to as the Aunt.
One interpretation is that Aunt Jemima embodied an early 20th century idealized domesticity that was inspired by old Southern hospitality. There were others that capitalized on this theme, such as Uncle Ben's Rice and Cream of Wheat’s Rastus. The backdrop to the trademark image of Aunt Jemima is a romanticized view of antebellum plantation life. The myth surrounding Aunt Jemima's secret recipe, family life, and plantation life as a happy slave contributes to the post-Civil War idealism of Southern life and America's developing consumer culture. Early advertisements used an Aunt Jemima paper doll family as an advertising gimmick to sell the product. Aunt Jemima is represented with her husband, Rastus, whose name was later changed to Uncle Mose to avoid confusion with the Cream of Wheat character, and their five children: Abraham, Lincoln, Dilsie, Zeb, and Dinah. The doll family was barefoot and dressed in tattered clothing with the possibility to see them transform from rags to riches by buying another box with civilized clothing cut-outs.

Portrayed by a Slave

The R. T. Davis Milling Company hired Nancy Green as a spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima pancake mix in 1890, until her death on August 30, 1923. Nancy Green was born a slave in Montgomery County, Kentucky. As Jemima, Green appeared beside the "world's largest flour barrel" operating a pancake-cooking display at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Marketing materials for the line of products centered around the stereotypical mammy archetype, including the slogan first used at that Exposition: "I's in Town, Honey". Anna Julia Cooper used the World's Columbian Exposition as an opportunity to address how young African American women were being exploited by white men. She predicted the appeal of Aunt Jemima and the southern domestic ideal and went on to describe the north's fascination with southern traditions as part of America's “unwritten history”. Progressive African American women post emancipation saw Aunt Jemima's image as a setback that inspired a regression in race relations.

During the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, Blacks were not respected enough to be called "Mr." and "Miss" or "Mrs." It was more acceptable in the old Confederacy to address Blacks as "Uncle" or "Aunt" in corporate situation, while they were being termed "boy," "girl," and worse, in private.

Beyond Aunt Jemima 

In the wake of the Aunt Jemima brand withdrawing their stereotyped imagery, Uncle Ben's, Mrs. Butterworth, and Cream of Wheat's Rastus have fallen under scrutiny.  (See also WSJ, "With Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth’s and Uncle Ben’s set to disappear from American kitchens, a look back at their racist origins.")

Critics have long associated the shape of the Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle with the mammy, a caricature of black women as subservient to white people.
And later on Wednesday, B&G Foods Inc., the parent company of Cream of Wheat, announced that it too was conducting a review of its packaging.
The porridge box, which depicts a beaming black man in a white chef’s uniform, has not been altered much since its debut in the late 19th century. The character was named “Rastus,” a pejorative term for black men, and he was once depicted as a barely literate cook who did not know what vitamins were.
“We understand there are concerns regarding the chef image,” the company said in its statement, “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.”

For decades, many have expressed concerns about the matronly shape of the Mrs. Butterworth’s container.
“I think the key issue with Mrs. Butterworth is her physical shape, which strongly resembles the mammy caricature,” Professor Thomas said. “So while she’s been personified as an elderly white woman, mainly through vocal affect, her physique and style of dress bear a striking resemblance to that of the mammy.”
In its statement, ConAgra Brands said Mrs. Butterworth was “intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother.” But the company said it wanted to stand in solidarity with “our black and brown communities, and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values.” Source.

Others have vanished before, but the cleansing is not done.

The battle against racist stereotypes is far from over, despite what occurred on June 17, 2020.

See here and further more at "Racial and Racist Stereotypes in Media."

Breaking News

June 18, 2020

Citing the “horrific racist imagery associated with the phrase,” the University of Florida will no longer use the popular “Gator Bait” chant during athletic events, school president Kent Fuchs announced on Thursday, June 18, 2020. There are numerous references, including this report from the Miami New Times, that have cited that African American babies were used as alligator bait.

The statement from UF President Kent Fuchs is here.

(Warning: Like all above, these are horrible.)

Why did it take this long?

1 comment:

D.B. Echo said...

I never heard the name "Rastus" before. My family never at Cream of Wheat, but as a kid growing up in the days of rocket launches on TV and astronauts selling Tang, whenever I saw the figure wearing a white coat and bow tie and holding up a bowl of this strange food, I always assumed he was a scientist of some sort trying to convince me that cream of wheat was a) a real food and b) really good.