As you’ve no doubt heard, certain marketing logos with taints of racism are about to go into the dumpster: Aunt Jemima; Uncle Ben; and Mrs. Butterworth will disappear shortly. And names such as Chiquita Banana, Rastus, the black chef on Cream of Wheat, and the Frito Bandito may not be long for this world. And “Mammy,” played by Hattie McDaniel in “Gone With The Wind” to win the first Oscar by a black actor, went down (somewhat) when HBO Max removed the film from its film service.
These are all well-known symbols of popular products, yet each of them raises the question: why should they remain as public logos, when they are without real doubt based on racial stereotypes and the great American fault of downgrading those who are not white?
Instead of having “mammies” to remind us of the days of slavery when blacks were forced to kowtow to their masters, why did these merchandising companies not celebrate heroic black citizens, like Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, or Jesse Owens? Films about Tubman and Washington have only appeared in last few years, although there was a TV movie about Owens in 1984 (and a regular film in 2016), and Carver actually appeared playing himself in a 1940 film, with Booker T. Washington III playing his own grandfather.
“Aunt Jemima” started as a ready to make pancake mix in 1889. “The term “Aunt” in this context was a southern form of address used with older enslaved peoples. They were denied the use of courtesy titles. A character named “Aunt Jemima” appeared on the stage in Washington, D.C., as early as 1864 . . . . 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.”
In 1994 Marilyn Kern-Foxworth published “Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies).” “Kern-Foxworth chronicles the stereotypical portrayals of Blacks in advertising from the turn of the century to the present. Beginning with slave advertisements, she discusses how slavery led naturally to the stereotypes found in early advertisements. From the end of the slave era to the culmination of the Civil Rights movement, advertising portrayed Blacks as Aunt Jemimas, Uncle Bens, and Rastuses, and the author explores the psychological impact of these portrayals. With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, organizations such as CORE and NAACP voiced their opposition and became active in the elimination of such advertising. In the final chapters, the volume examines the reactions of consumers to integrated advertising and the current role of Blacks in advertising. Its truly novel subject matter and its inclusion of vintage and contemporary advertisements featuring Blacks make this a valuable work.”
“The Aunt Jemima image has long been reviled in the black community, even as it existed as an iconic advertising image.” I hope that’s true. I haven’t found too many written opinions on the subject. I’m sure that the black community would be happy to have Harriet Tubman syrup, Jesse Owens sneakers, G.W. Carver peanuts, or Booker T. Washington rice. On that other, you can bet that those wouldn’t sell to that many white folks south of the Mason-Dixon line, which is doubtless why you don’t see those names on goods with national markets.
If you don’t like racist slogans on merchandise, just say so. That’s why Jemima, Ben and Rastus are suddenly out of favor. It’s pretty amazing that they have taken a nose time after all these decades in the front row. But it just goes to show that the events of the past six months have a lot of meaning. I’m just hoping this means that Americans want a different logo in the White House.