Ben Kesslen, NBC News, June 17, 2020
The Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix will get a new name and image, Quaker Oats announced Wednesday, saying the company recognizes that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”
The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman named Aunt Jemima, who was originally dressed as a minstrel character.
The picture has changed over time, and in recent years Quaker removed the “mammy” kerchief from the character to blunt growing criticism that the brand perpetuated a racist stereotype that dated to the days of slavery. But Quaker, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said removing the image and name is part of an effort by the company “to make progress toward racial equality.”
“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 press release. “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”
Kroepfl said the company has worked to “update” the brand to be “appropriate and respectful” but it realized the changes were insufficient.
Quaker said the new packaging will begin to appear in the fall of 2020, and a new name for the foods will be announced at a later date.
The company also announced it will donate at least $5 million over the next five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
Daina Ramey Berry, a professor of history at The University of Texas, said the decision to drop the name and the image of Aunt Jemima is significant because the brand normalized a racist depiction of Black women.
Aunt Jemima, she said, “kept Black woman in the space of domestic service,” associating them with serving food under a “plantation mentality.”
Berry also said it would be misguided to lament the change by Quaker as a loss of representation for Black women.