Is Aunt Jemima right to rebrand?
The smiling face of Aunt Jemima is an example of an outdated stereotype that is frankly overdue for a replacement. While the image may seem harmless to some, it celebrates antebellum America and insinuates that African Americans are best suited to domestic work. Further, the image is a holdover and constant reminder of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and years of systemic racism.
Many people may not be aware that the smiling Black woman with the bandana in her hair adorning the popular syrup bottles is based on a real woman, Nancy Green, who was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1834. The name, Aunt Jemima, was borrowed from a derogatory sketch typical of early 19th-century minstrel shows. By rebranding their products, parent companies Quaker Oats and PepsiCo are raising awareness of centuries-old stereotypes, an important step on the road to progress.
Further, the decision to rebrand Aunt Jemima products is consistent with the national climate and what other companies and organizations are doing. Other food products like Uncle Ben’s, Land-o-Lakes, and direct competitor Mrs. Butterworth’s have announced plans to rebrand their products. Sports teams such as the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins have also said they plan to change their names and logos.
Finally, many people who oppose rebranding products and removing monuments say that these actions erase history. In this case, Aunt Jemima products will be rebranded as “Pearl Milling Company,” which refers to the mill where these products were first produced in 1889, a move that celebrates the product’s history while removing the caricature.
The controversial rebranding of the popular Aunt Jemima line of products should be an opportunity for the brand to move forward instead of backward. The potential exists for consumers to find reclamation and power in taking back the logo image, and Quaker should put their time and money towards more beneficial contributions to the fight in ending and overcoming racism.
Rebranding Quaker's well-known maple syrup and pancake brand will cause issues for the company because customers will be less likely to recognize the new logo and product-line name. According to CNN, the Apex Marketing Group president Eric Smallwood said, 'If you just saw it by itself, you'd have no idea it was Aunt Jemima, which had its tie longstanding with pancakes and pancake mix. This doesn't.'
Rather than changing the branding, it may be better to reconsider Aunt Jemima as an opportunity to reclaim the image of a 'Mammy' Minstrel figure that, according to ABC7, the logo is based on. The image could be taken back in the name of Black women and used as a symbol of what they've overcome--as a representation of past hurdles conquered. Removing the logo and brand name is akin to pretending that history didn't happen. Also, the popular breakfast-food company is 'donating $1 million to groups that empower Black women and girls as part of the Pearl Milling Company rollout.' The company could be giving more donations like that to diversity-awareness groups, Black women's organizations, and underprivileged Black families. Rebranding a syrup bottle is not the most beneficial use of anyone's time or money.
- Aunt Jemima was founded in 1889 at the Pearl Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri. The original logo features a Black woman and former slave, Nancy Green, as a 19th century “mammy” minstrel personality.
- After the death of George Floyd and following Black Lives Matter riots, Quaker Oats was pressed to remove the Aunt Jemima logo. Last summer, they announced redesign of the image and “recognized Aunt Jemima’s origins as based on a racial stereotype.”
- Along with Aunt Jemima, other brands have been reviewing and redoing their brand designs including Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat, Land O’Lakes, Mrs. Buttersworth, and Darlie.
- On Tuesday, February 9, Quaker Oats stated the Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup brand would be renamed to Pearl Milling Company, but that original products would be sold until June.
- Pearl Milling Company will be donating $1 million to “empower and uplift Black girls and women” in addition to PepsiCo’s $400 million investment in the Black community over 5 years.