Here's how American brands are changing after facing racial reckoning

From Aunt Jemima to Uncle Ben's, these companies are rethinking their outdated slogans and logos.
The mammy and Uncle Tom stereotypes have had a lasting effect on American culture.
The mammy and Uncle Tom stereotypes have had a lasting effect on American culture.Getty Images / Reuters

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/ Source: TODAY
By Samantha Kubota

There is a growing list of companies that are rethinking their outdated marketing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests recently triggered by the death of George Floyd. From pancake mix and syrup to movies and ice cream, many brands have had to reckon with racially insensitive logos, themes and marketing.

Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts, a professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and co-editor of the book "Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience," explained that she thinks of race as a channel on the radio, always playing 24/7, to which “many people tune in but most people do not.”

“Things have happened because the world was really quiet and the George Floyd incident somehow captured the hearts and minds of people such that they started to tune into race,” Roberts told TODAY. “Now it’s out in the open. I think that’s where we are. We also have leaders of large and small companies making a set of public commitments to fight against racial injustice. And we know those statements have taken many forms but there’s just been a groundswell of people confronting race head-on and making a commitment or promise to improve the situation.”

Below is a list and brief history of the brands so far that are adjusting their racially insensitive packaging.

Aunt Jemima

Perhaps one of the most recognizable breakfast brands in America, Aunt Jemima announced on June 17 plans to remove its logo and rename its brand amid the public outcry that it perpetuates a racist stereotype.

“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 TODAY. "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.”

A close-up shot of the modern Aunt Jemima logoSamantha Kubota / TODAY

Aunt Jemima was often mentioned in songs performed at minstrel shows during the reconstruction era, Cyndi Tiedt of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia explained, adding that the first real-life Aunt Jemima was portrayed by a woman who had been born into slavery.

“Changing a person’s appearance and moving away from what we’d consider as a caricature … she still seemed ready and willing to cook and serve for a white family,” Tiedt told TODAY. “I think not enough was done to really acknowledge the history of the brand … to acknowledge the imagery and messaging really does have its origins in enslavement."

An example of a previous Aunt Jemima advertisement as provided by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, an anti-racism institution. Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

The original Aunt Jemima was a heavyset woman in the apparel one might find on a plantation during slavery. She was a mammy stereotype, Tiedt said, and though the brand tried to modernize the character, the imagery and its history can still be damaging today.

“The damage that they cause today is not only are they perpetuating those same feelings of inferiority but having them stocked on shelves and portrayed in the media, it’s continuing to enforce that same system of institutionalized racism," she said.

Uncle Ben's

"We recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” Mars Inc. has said.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Uncle Ben’s signature logo will likely be removed as well, after appearing on orange boxes of rice for decades.

Mars Inc., the parent company of Uncle Ben’s, said it is planning a “brand evolution” as a way to "take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices."

“We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities,” the statement said. "As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”

Like the mammy caricature, the “uncle” stereotype of Black people draws its inspiration from slavery, Tiedt explained.

“The mammy is the female version and we also have the male equivalent of Uncle Tom,” she said. “The thing about the mammy and Uncle Tom is they always have a smile on their face and that harkens back to that justification of slavery.”

The parboiled rice product has been around for more than 70 years, and the brand name Uncle Ben's has been used since 1946.

Mrs. Butterworth’s

Though Conagra Brands says their famous Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottles, shaped like a matronly woman, are supposed to evoke a “loving grandmother,” the company announced plans to redesign as well.

Critics have long argued the bottle’s design, like Aunt Jemima, is rooted in the mammy stereotype.

“We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias and as a result, we have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s,” Conagra said in a statement.

Cream of Wheat

B&G Foods Inc., which makes Cream of Wheat hot cereal, said on June 17 it is initiating “an immediate review” of its packaging. A smiling Black chef holding a bowl of cereal has appeared on Cream of Wheat packaging and in ads since at least 1918, according to the company’s web site.

“We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism,” Parsippany, New Jersey-based B&G said in a statement.

Land O’Lakes

Another popular food brand, Land O’Lakes, announced plans to drop Mia, the Native American woman, from its packaging in April after being on the company’s boxes for nearly 100 years.

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

Land O'Lakes is phasing out the product logo it's been using for almost 100 years.Getty Images

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the logo was first created by illustrator Arthur C. Hanson in the late 1920s. In the 1950s, Patrick DesJarlait, a member of the Ojibwe tribe, reimagined Mia. DesJarlait's son said he understands the company's decision to change the logo, but said he was “sad” to see her go, he told the paper.

The new packaging reads: “Proud to be Farmer-Owned: As a farmer-owned co-op, we stand together to bring you the very best in dairy.” Instead of Mia, some products will feature photos of real farmers.

The company has already started rolling out some of the new packaging and plans to finish the transition by the end of 2020.

Eskimo Pie

The owner of Eskimo Pie is changing the name and marketing of the nearly century-old chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

“We are committed to being a part of the solution on racial equality, and recognize the term is derogatory," Elizabell Marquez, head of marketing for its parent Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream, the U.S. subsidiary for Froneri, said in a statement. “This move is part of a larger review to ensure our company and brands reflect our people values.”

The term Eskimo is considered derogatory. dollargeneral.com

The treat was patented by Christian Kent Nelson of Ohio and his business partner, Russell C. Stover, in 1922, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The name "Eskimo" is commonly used in Alaska to refer to Inuit and Yupik people, according to the Alaska Native Language Center. Their website explains, "This name is considered derogatory in many other places because it was given by non-Inuit people and was said to mean 'eater of raw meat.'"

Geechie Boy Mill

Geechie Boy Mill, a family-owned operation in South Carolina that makes locally-grown and milled white grits, said Wednesday it is “listening and reviewing our overall branding,” though no decisions have been made.

Geechie is a dialect spoken mainly by the descendants of African American slaves who settled on the Ogeechee River in Georgia, according to Merriam-Webster.com.

HBO Max and “Gone with the Wind"

The HBO Max streaming service briefly pulled the 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind” for its portrayal of slavery and the antebellum South before returning it to the platform with additional videos explaining the film's context.

The classic film has long been considered controversial because of the way it portrays Black people and its glorification of slavery.

Vivien Leigh has her corset tightened by Hattie McDaniel in a publicity still issued for the film "Gone with the Wind," 1939. Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

In a statement, HBO Max explained, “'Gone With The Wind’ is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society."

"These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible," the statement continued.

Disney’s Splash Mountain

Disney fans called on the company to redesign the Splash Mountain ride, which is based on the 1946 movie “Song of the South” — a film the NAACP said “dangerously glorified” slavery. Now, the company confirms it will be "completely reimagined."

An online petition called for the Splash Mountain ride, which has been a longtime staple at Disney World and Disneyland, to be re-themed to the 2009 Disney movie "The Princess and the Frog," which features Tiana, Disney's first Black princess.

"There is a huge need for diversity in the parks and this could help fill that need," the petition read. "Princess and the Frog is a beloved princess movie but has very little representation in the parks. Tiana would be one of the first princesses with a thrill ride, as well as giving her a much-deserved place in the parks."

Guests ride on the Splash Mountain attraction at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.Bloomberg / Getty Images

Two weeks later, Disney confirmed that they'll be implementing the change.

Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, told the Disney fan site D23 that the change has actually been in the works for a year.

“Tiana is a modern, courageous, and empowered woman who pursues her dreams while never losing sight of what’s really important,” he said when explaining why they chose “The Princess and the Frog.”

Lady Antebellum

The Grammy award-winning country group formerly known as Lady Antebellum announced on June 11 they would be changing their name to Lady A.

"⁣⁣⁣As a band, we have strived for our music to be a refuge … inclusive of all," the group said in a statement shared on their social media. "We’ve watched and listened more than ever these last few weeks, and our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases Black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday. Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣"

Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott of Lady A perform in Las Vegas in 2019.Ethan Miller / Getty Images

The group admitted they didn't recognize the heavy connotations of the word, which means "before the war" in Latin. In the United States, it's widely associated with the South both before and during the Civil War and is often related to slavery in its use.

"After much personal reflection, band discussion, prayer and many honest conversations with some of our closest Black friends and colleagues, we have decided to drop the word 'antebellum' from our name and move forward as Lady A, the nickname our fans gave us almost from the start.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣"

Dixie Chicks

Another popular country band, The Dixie Chicks, announced they will drop the Dixie from their name.

They announced as a group on June 25 the plan to go by a new moniker: The Chicks.

The Dixie Chicks announced they plan to go by just The Chicks.Dixie Chicks

"We want to meet this moment," the band wrote in a short statement on the website.

Dixie or Dixieland is a nickname for the South, most often associated with the states that made up the Confederacy south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Associated Press contributed.