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Aunt Jemima to remove image from packaging and rename brand

Quaker Oats announced it will replace and rename its breakfast brand Aunt Jemima, which has been accused of perpetuating a racist stereotype.
/ Source: TODAY

The breakfast brand Aunt Jemima is removing its logo and will be renamed amid public outcry that the branding perpetuated a racist stereotype, its parent company said Wednesday.

Quaker Oats said in a statement that the longtime brand will remove the controversial image of Aunt Jemima from its line of maple syrups, pancake mixes and other foods starting at the end of 2020, while the name change will happen at a later date.

“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 statement to NBC News. "While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”

The Aunt Jemima logo has long been criticized for portraying a negative stereotype.
The Aunt Jemima logo has long been criticized for portraying a negative stereotype. TODAY

Riché Richardson, an associate professor of African American literature in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, has been calling for the change since she wrote a 2015 editorial for The New York Times titled "Can We Please, Finally, Get Rid of 'Aunt Jemima?'"

"It's an image that hearkens back to the antebellum plantation," Richardson told Sheinelle Jones on TODAY Wednesday. "Aunt Jemima is that kind of stereotype that is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness.

"It is urgent to expunge public spaces of a lot of these symbols that for some people are triggering and represent terror and abuse."

Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, owns the Aunt Jemima brand, which has been around for more than 130 years. The pancake mix was first developed by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood, two white flour mill owners.

In her 2015 New York Times piece, Richardson explained that the brand's name and the original logo were inspired by a minstrel song, "Old Aunt Jemima." Minstrel shows, which were popular throughout the United States in the mid-1800s, often featured white actors in blackface portraying Black people as lazy, stupid and subservient.

For decades, Aunt Jemima product packaging has featured images of a smiling Black woman that has been criticized for years for depicting a racist mammy stereotype dating back to slavery.

Vintage Aunt Jemima advertisements from the mid 20th century featured a darker skinner woman wearing a kerchief wrap.
Vintage Aunt Jemima advertisements from the mid 20th century featured a darker skinner woman wearing a kerchief wrap.Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

The official Aunt Jemima website notes that the character of Aunt Jemima was first "brought to life" by Nancy Green. Green was born into slavery in 1834 and R.T. Davis (the brand's owner at the time) used her likeness to represent the the pancake mix into the early 1900s.

“Aunt Jemima advertising played on a certain type of nostalgia and a certain type of racial nostalgia, particularly in the first half of the 20th century about how great plantation life was and how great it was to literally, to have someone like Aunt Jemima who would make the pancakes or whatever for you,” Maurice Manring, author of “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima,” explained in a 2019 interview with NPR.

“When you look at old Aunt Jemima ads, you see constantly at a time when middle-class housewives were not able to employ servants, they weren't able to employ their black maid as easily as they did in previous decades, you see constant notation in the ads that you can't have Aunt Jemima today but you can have her recipe and that's the next best thing.”

In 2014, two men who claimed to be the descendants of Anna S. Harrington (the woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima in advertisements after Green) sued PepsiCo alleging that she was never properly compensated for her work to help promote and elevate the brand. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2015.

The company has since made changes to character over the years, including removing the character's kerchief.

“We acknowledge the brand has not progressed enough to appropriately reflect the confidence, warmth and dignity that we would like it to stand for today,” Kroepfl said. “We are starting by removing the image and changing the name. We will continue the conversation by gathering diverse perspectives from both our organization and the Black community to further evolve the brand and make it one everyone can be proud to have in their pantry.”

Pepsi also said the Aunt Jemima brand will donate $5 million to create "meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community."

Though many have called for Aunt Jemima to be rebranded for decades, Quaker's announcement comes after “Aunt Jemima” became a trending topic on Twitter Tuesday, with many users criticizing the company for maintaining the name and logo for so long.

Aunt Jemima isn't the first controversial figure featured on food products to be removed this year.

In April, Land O’Lakes, announced plans to drop the Native American woman Mia from its packaging after representing the company for nearly 100 years.

The company said at the time that it recognized the need for "packaging that reflects the foundation and heart of our company culture,” but did not acknowledge the controversy surrounding the logo.