Aunt Jemima: How Quaker Oats Brand Played on Plantation-Era Slavery And Racist Stereotype

Quaker Oats said on Wednesday that the Aunt Jemima brand's logo and the name will be changed to remove racial stereotyping

The Aunt Jemima breakfast brand will change its logo and name as it was "based on a racial stereotype", parent company Quaker Oats said on Wednesday. The brand features an African-American woman originally sporting a mammy kerchief, a type of branding that played on old plantation nostalgia. It was later removed after being accused of furthering racial stereotypes that dated back to the 1800s when slavery was prevalent in the U.S.

The decision was taken in the light of anti-racism protests that raged throughout the country, after the killing of African-American man George Floyd by white police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Aunt Jemima
Screen Grab/YouTube

Richie Richardson, an associate professor of African American literature in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled 'Can We Please, Finally, Get Rid of 'Aunt Jemima'? In this, she argued how the brand is linked to Southern racism.

'Aunt Jemima' is inspired by an old minstrel song 'Old Aunt Jemima'. Richardson argues that the logo was an outgrowth of the southern plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in the idea of the "mammy" -- 'a devoted and submissive servant', who nurtured the children of her white master while neglecting her own. Here, she is portrayed as 'an asexual, plump black woman wearing a headscarf'. The character is "premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness", Richardson told TODAY.

Maurice Manring, author of the book 'Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima', had the same opinion. In a 2007 interview with NPR, she said the Aunt Jemima's advertising was played on a certain type of racial nostalgia, "about how great plantation life was and how great it was to have someone like Aunt Jemima who would make pancakes or whatever you want.

It played on the notion that at a time when middle-class housewives weren't able to employ black maids like Aunt Jemima, they can still have her recipe, which was "the next best thing", Manring said.

About the Aunt Jemima brand

Aunt Jemima old logo
An old logo of Aunt Jemima Screen Grab/YouTube

The Aunt Jemima brand is 130 years old, currently owned by Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of Pepsico. The Aunt Jemima pancake was developed in 1889 by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, two white flour mill owners. The character was first brought to life by Nancy Green, who herself was born into slavery. The character was later played by other women, including Aylene Lewis, Anna Robinson and Lou Blanchard.

In a statement to NBC News on Wednesday, Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, said that while the brand had updated over the years to be "appropriate and respectful", those changes were not enough. The company will remove the image and change the name. It said that the new packaging will begin to appear in the fall and that a new name will be announced later.