We've had Black Lives Matter protests before, and they fell upon deaf ears. Systemic racism was dismissed completely as impossible because "We elected a Black president". It was always followed by white rage and "What more do you people want from us about something that happened 400 years ago?"
This time is different.
The Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image, Quaker Oats announced Wednesday, saying the company recognizes that "Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype."
The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman named Aunt Jemima, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character.
The picture has changed over time, and in recent years Quaker removed the “mammy” kerchief from the character to blunt growing criticism that the brand perpetuated a racist stereotype that dated to the days of slavery. But Quaker, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said removing the image and name is part of an effort by the company “to make progress toward racial equality.”
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said in a press release. “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."
Kroepfl said the company has worked to "update" the brand to be "appropriate and respectful" but it realized the changes were insufficient.
Aunt Jemima has faced renewed criticism recently amid protests across the nation and around the world sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
People on social media called out the brand for continuing to use the image and discussed its racist history, with the topic trending on Twitter. In one viral TikTok, a woman named Kirby discussed the history of the brand, saying "Black lives matter, people, even over breakfast."
Aunt Jemima is “a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves," Riché Richardson, an associate professor at Cornell University, told the “TODAY” show on Wednesday. “It’s an image that harkens back to the antebellum plantation ... Aunt Jemima is that kind of stereotype is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness.”
“It is urgent to expunge our public spaces of a lot of these symbols that for some people are triggering and represent terror and abuse," Richardson said.
In a 2015 piece for The New York Times, Richardson wrote that the inspiration for the brand's name came from a minstrel song, “Old Aunt Jemima,” in which white actors in blackface mocked and derided Black people.
The logo, Richardson wrote, was grounded in the stereotype of the “mammy ... a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”
Aunt Jemima is a one hundred thirty-year old brand based literally on a black house slave and America happily continued to use it for decades because everyone was used to it.
Y'all only noticed now that maybe, just maybe, it was insulting to millions of Americans, and Quaker Oats, owned by PepsiCo, owned by Yum Brands, based right here in Kentucky, finally did the right thing.
One hundred thirty years.
Taken down in a less than a month of protests.
Black Lives Matter.