Aunt Jemima and a Friday Examen

This week’s news tidbit:

Aunt Jemima brand to change name, remove image that Quaker says is ‘based on a racial stereotype’

This is happening in response to arguments which have been made before, but which have gained enormous traction and force with the combination of the resurgent Civil Rights movement in the past few weeks, combined with the advent of social media that have awakened a lot of Americans from their torpor about the casual racism that still suffuses a lot of American culture:

There have been moments like this in the past in US history, which is why you now eat at Denny’s and not at Sambo’s.

There are other corporate logos with similar images that are under fire (so don’t expect this house slave to be around much longer either):

uncle bens logo

And, of course, whenever this happens, you can reliably count on a lot of people to sigh with disgust and say, “Great. More meaningless PC crap from liberals.”

So lemme ask you something. If you think this is meaningless cosmetic PC tedium, ask yourself why something so “meaningless” bothers and angers you so much. After all, if it’s really meaningless to you but is obviously very meaningful to the people offended and hurt by it, why do you care if it is taken down? Brands change their logos constantly and typically nobody cares or even notices, except for people in the ad industry:

brand-logo-evolution (1) - Asheville, NC: Kudzu BrandsAsheville ...
For some reason, Volkswagen decided to ditch the stylized swastika in their original logo.

So if the Aunt Jemima change disgusts you, realize that is precisely why it is not meaningless. After you realize that, realize that the word you are actually looking for to describe this action is not meaningless but threatening.

Now ask why you feel threatened, who you think is threatening you, and why you feel threatened?

Also, pay attention to your reaction if it is “I don’t feel threatened, but I resent being lumped in with racists!” This is the “I insist on wearing the shoe I insist does not fit me” reaction. After all, I never said you declared it a meaningless PC gesture. I said if you are disgusted by it as a meaningless PC gesture, then you actually feel threatened. You chose to apply that condition to yourself. I don’t even know you.

Now the iron law in such cases is that the person who urgently insists on wearing the shoe they insist does not fit them is struggling with a guilty conscience. It is another form of the “I feel threatened” reaction. If you are doing that right now, note it and ask why you feel threatened, who you think is threatening you and why you feel threatened. These are all questions worth interrogating, particularly if you are a Catholic preparing to go to confession.

If you don’t feel threatened and genuinely celebrate this as a step forward, carry on. This post is not addressed to you and you already know that.

Oh, and if you resent those who do, in fact, celebrate this as a step forward and feel an ungovernable need to accuse them of “virtue-signaling” ask why you feel threatened by people celebrating a good thing, who you think is threatening you, and why you feel threatened. Compare and contrast your reaction to such people as opposed to your reaction to people who are glad that, say, a boy got a puppy for his birthday, or a little girl was celebrated for selling lemonade for charity, or some people survived a flood, or an old man was honored for his service in World War II. Nobody accuses people who are happy about such things of “virtue-signaling”. They simply recognize that normal people are happy when something good happens and like to say so. If you resent people who are happy about getting rid of an offensive corporate logo that is insulting to millions of people, ask yourself why you feel threatened, who is threatening you, and why you feel threatened.

23 Responses

  1. Petition for Uncle Ben to keep the name and just become Spider-Man themed, in the vein of Popeye spinach and Donald Duck orange juice.

    Seriously, though, I always low-key wondered if Aunt Jemima was sort of racist. I guess I have my answer now: It’s racist, or at the very least it’s easy enough to perceive as racist that it’s worth changing to avoid any racist implications.

    Of course, changing your entire brand is a lot harder, and more expensive, than changing your logo. That suggests to me that Quaker is at least somewhat serious about this (or at least seriously afraid of losing money if they do nothing). This is more than just some easy, meaningless, or empty virtue signaling. Obviously, because Aunt Jemima is part of the Quaker mega-conglomerate, this will be much easier for them than it would be for an independent company, but it’s still non-trivial.

    In related news, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this or not, but country music group Lady Antebellum has officially changed their name to just Lady A. The original name was supposed to be a reference to the architectural style of the house where they did their first photo shoot, but it read more like a reference to the antebellum (i.e. pre-Civil War) American south. Not exactly a place and time in American history you want to name yourself in honor of. So a name that (apparently) never had racist intent behind it was still changed because it had racist implications regardless of the intent. Good move, if you ask me.

  2. “If you resent people who are happy about getting rid of an offensive corporate logo that is insulting to millions of people . . . .”

    There are 30 million people of African Ancestry in the USA. That’s a lot of potential customers. If lots of them were offended you’d think they would have the buying power to force a change and would have done so by now. I think part of the issue is who is being offended. Lots of times it just seems woke liberals and black “leaders.”

    In the last 20 years or so we’ve seen an almost complete switch in academic books from BC/AD to BCE/CE. Again the claim is that non-Christians are “offended.” My guess it’s liberals trying to minimize Christianity.

    My concern is not “anger” over this or that change, it’s more “what’s next” and “when will it end.” Crosses on public property? “In God we trust” on coins? Columbus Day?

    1. Fascinating how the conservative Christian mind *always* leaps from “If racism is attacked, then that is a threat to Christians.” It should worry you a lot that you make that leap so reflexively. It should also bother you that the reason you feel threatened has nothing to do with what the Liberal bogeyman is going to do next, but because those two thing, which are intended by God to be opposites are identified closely with one another in the American conservative Christian mind. Why do you think that is, do you s’pose?

  3. Mark, I agree that the brand change is needed and long overdue. But while it looks like corporations are finally taking responsibility, it has fake written all over.

    I can just picture the board meeting that started off like this:
    “Gentlemen, Black Lives Matter movement is trending and gaining traction. We’re looking for way how we can monetize it.”

    I know that it’s not exactly the case, since it’s obviously a panicky response to a crisis that was brewing for way too long and attempting damage control since they didn’t get rid of the offending brand (or brands) when it was more apt to do so.

    It’s obviously a huge impact to corporate image if you couldn’t reach a decision quicker and your announcement follows on the heels of a satirical piece by the Onion:
    https://www.theonion.com/quaker-oats-replaces-historically-racist-aunt-jemima-ma-1844015205
    Is it damage control following that Onion article? I don’t know, but it’s obviously a possibility.

    On the face of it, they’re doing the right thing, but it feels so disingenuous, it’s sleazy. It’s like they’re trying to capitalize on the Black Lives Matter movement by rebranding to get good press now and to stake out a claim as early as possible.
    But if you go through the history of Aunt Jemima brand, it changed a lot in the past. It started off quaint, and when it became unsupportable, the brand should have been retired. Instead, they kept it and tried to soften it by changing the associated imagery, somehow making it even more racist in the process.

    You’re of course right that corporate identity, branding and brands change all the time. It’s a multi-billion dollar business that has failed to produce meaningful impact on the world over the last hundred years. All identity exerciess done in the past, especially over the last twenty years, were completely self-serving and all of them followed the same predictable pattern:
    1980: take a simple logo used in the past and add a touch of color without changing the logo much
    2004: take that simple logo and turn it into 3D by embossing
    2012: take that 3D logo and soften all angles
    2015: 3D is passe, color is passe, take that 3D logo and remove the 3D effect, make it flat and colorless
    2018: go back to the 1980 logo
    You can see how meaningless and narcissistic this change pattern is. So it’s strange to see a brand change that’s actually meaningful.

    I think the problem lies in the intentions behind it. And everyone’s feeling it, but they just can’t voice it right. It feels like people want to say: “So what you’re saying is, it was okay to use this brand and imagery for over a hundred years but now you want to avoid responsibility by simply renaming it?” A lot of people would love to see justice being served and Quaker (and Pepsi) getting hit hard over it, and they’ll get off easy by just a rebranding exercise. It’s easy when you feel like it’s going to hit a corporation instead of a person.

    To be fair, I’m not saying that this is wrong. It’s just off. But if they’re taking suggestions for a brand change, here’s one:
    https://official-peppa-pig.fandom.com/wiki/Jemima,_Sarah,_Vanessa,_%26_Neville

  4. You have made a number of excellent points, Mark.

    My feelings about the aunt Jemima logo are a bit more complex. I frankly don’t care if they change it; I certainly don’t feel threatened by it. They did change the logo some 30 or 40 years ago to get away from the Hattie McDaniels view of black women, replacing her with a more modern, Black homemaker. At the time, I thought that was excellent, and still do. That her name is Jemima it is, I suppose, something.

    I’m not offended by the current logo, but I understand that some people are. It’s no skin off my nose either way. But why would they want to remove entirely an iconic black woman and rename their products? That looks a little bit like erasure to me. But again, I don’t really care one way or the other. The last time I checked, admittedly some years ago, the pancake mix is made with palm oil, so I don’t buy it. I can afford real maple syrup, so I buy that.

    Uncle ben Is a bit more complicated Than Jemima. I don’t buy their products, and never have, because I buy rice in bulk and have for over 45 years. I also prefer to cook my own rice. It’s not that difficult. I can see why some people might find it offensive, though to me it is a bit of a stretch. You have to go back a long, long way to see uncle Ben’s racist past As the House Negro. I am Aware of it, but I don’t think it has all that much relevance now. I see just a kindly Black man On the label.

    But I could be wrong about that. In any case, as I said, it really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. We’re talking about boxes of processed food product, not Confederate statues or confederate flags or any of the highly racist stuff that is visible everywhere.

    This is the most I can write on the subject. Thanks how little it affects me, but you are quite right. It certainly seems to trigger some people.

    1. People will find a way to be offended by virtually everything.
      There are people offended that the emergency number has not been changed and it reminds them of 9/11 every time they call.
      There are people offended by seven eleven because it reminds them of the date two months before 9/11.
      So yeah, give me anything and you’ll find somebody who’s triggered and offended by it.

  5. I wonder how many people are really offended by these things. A few years ago when the Redskins name was a big deal the team took a poll of Native Americans and apparently the majority weren’t bothered by it. My wife is Brazilian and part native and doesn’t care.

  6. I second what Ben wrote. I wouldn’t buy the product because it has unhealthy ingredients, but I kind of liked seeing the box on the grocery store shelf because it reminds me of good things that are wholesome (loving pancakes as a kid!) I’m willing to sacrifice my nostalgia for those who object to something UNwholesome.

    That said–my Aunt’s family used to preside over the Sambo’s empire. They have one last Sambo’s here in Santa Barbara, facing the harbor.

    Second random fact: My favorite character from Gone With the Wind was Mammy. I could have used a Mammy to slap me around when I was 15.

    1. Ok, nevermind about Sambos. Just looked at the Wikipedia page, and it looks like the George Floyd protests shut down the final Sambos–the name at least. In addition to this, my midcentury brain conflated two facts–My aunt’s family owned different restaurants. I went to school with members of the Bohnett family. Their mother Sheila had 14 children and is truly, honestly, one of the few saints I have ever met in this world. She was a lovely, lovely lady.

  7. I don’t care in the slightest about changing the logo of Uncle Ben’s (As to Aunt Jemimas, I’m from the UK and while we have the rice I don’t recall ever seeing the pancake mix). There’s a certain part of me that is sort of annoyed about the whole thing, though, probably precisely through guilt at my not caring in the slightest about it. I sort of resent the implication that the brand ought to have bothered me, and what it says about me that I was OK happily buying a product that a lot of people justiably found offensive.

    1. Some people found it offensive, some people thought it reflected their particular version of reality, some people recognized where it came from but don’t necessarily find it racist NOW if indeed it ever was, some people didn’t think about it at all, probably because it really isn’t all that important to their lives.

      I can look at the old aunt Jemima logo, Recognizing that it might just represent a common sight in A certain time and place in history, much like a Hawaiian woman in a muumuu. I can recognize the archetypical ness of the image in books and movies and illustrations. I can do all of that without even remotely entertaining the ideas that all black women dress and look like that, that racism is a good thing, and that slavery was just something wonderful, that police brutality doesnt fall disproportionately on black men, or that we don’t have an issue with race in this country. .

      I can look at the logo that replaced it in, I think, the eighties. A modernish, Middle aged housewife who just happened to be black. I thought it was a good thing, because I could also see that the previous logo Had a certain amount of stereotype associated with it. How did I know it? It was brought to my attention, the same way It was brought to the company’s attention. They decided it was worth changing it. And the change was to a very positive image of a black woman. There’s no stereotype Here, Though surely present in the old logo? Why would someone find that image Offensive? And if it is just the name, well, it’s just a name. the company wants to retain its brand. It’s a very old one. Or they could retain the brand identity by renaming it Auntie J. That breaks the “racist” Connection entirely While retaining the positive image of a motherly black woman.

      My point in all of this is more along the lines of cut yourself some slack on all of this. I think the subject is still open to discussion. It’s the sort of thing that gets decided societally, not by individuals. I think the majority consensus in our society is that racism is wrong, and must be officially disapproved and disavowed. There is still, after 70 years, a Significant minority that thinks otherwise, though they generally prefer not to come out and say it outright. The homage that Vice pays to virtue, and so on..

      The question of what constitutes racism, however, is not as well agreed upon. Only recently did I take a position on the removal of confederate statues. I don’t live in the south, I don’t see these statues, they are not a part of my life. I just didn’t care, and didn’t see any reason to care. I’m not going to feel guilty for not caring then. But it really hit home these past few weeks that they are memorials to traitors, memorials to people who defended slavery, memorials BY people who laud as good, fine, Admirable, and noble, the failures ON EVERY LEVEL— socially, morally, politically, Psychologically, militarily, humanely— of A small slice of their ancestors.

      So, i have moved to join what I hope is a general and growing societal consensus. But what is still the case, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it, is that I don’t live in the south, I don’t see the statues, and they’re not a part of my life.

      Just my tuppence.

      1. …who was a Quaker.
        The thing is, people will find things they are offended by and demand they are changed.
        For what it’s worth, I’m not saying that this is going to or bound to happen, but pay close attention to whether this iconoclastic movement stops at what they are against now or if they move on to the next target as they gain momentum.

    1. I don’t get it. He’s mad that the company has been profiting off slavery and racist stereotypes, so he wants them to…continue doing that?

      I wonder if the company should just name the brand after Anna Short Harrington. I mean, there’s nothing inherently racist about her portrait on the box—it was a deliberate move away from the mammy stereotype of the previous depictions, after all. So just rename it so they’re honoring a real woman who has actual history with the product, rather than keeping a name that came from a minstrel show.

      I doubt they’ll actually do that, though. They probably want to put as much distance as corporately possible between themselves and the racist stereotype, and frankly I’d be hard pressed to criticize them for that.

    2. This is an interesting comment:
      “To me, Aunt Jemima exudes strength, authority and stability. Someone with an infinite capacity for love and compassion. If she leaves, I will miss her.”

      Perhaps this is, in a way, the crux of the issue. People don’t like compassion and forgiveness today. In the recent week, I’ve read a news report concerning a traffic accident where a drunk 44 year old slammed into the side of a family car with father and three children inside, killing a 17 year old, and injuring two other children inside (13 and 7).
      The news report lacked any comment, but the comment section, oh boy, full of hate and vitriol against the drunk driver.
      I’m not about to defend him, but I wouldn’t be dropping death threats, removal of all internal organs for transplantation, demands for capital punishment or life imprisonment in a labor camp and all of those garnered immense popular support (as indicated by number of thumbs up vs. down).

      People’s capacity for love for the neighbor has diminished sharply in the recent decades. Everyone demands justice narrowly understood as revenge, regardless of how vindictive or petty. Appeals to mercy and compassion are shunned.
      If you try suggesting that maybe forgiveness would be the right first step to healing the situation, you will be shouted down for having the audacity to suggest injustice (where justice equals revenge).

      This is only going to get worse. Suggesting humane conditions for prisoners, commuting sentences, abolishing the death penalty?
      Forgive 77 times? Forget that. Buckle up, we’re going all the way back to Cain and Lamech.

      1. I don’t think that our “…capacity for love for the neighbor has diminished sharply in the recent decades.” I think our rage about injustice and ignorance has found expression once again. It needs to be expressed and understood with compassion so that its message can be clearly understood by those who resist the change that is required for a more equal society.

      2. @norgnik

        I agree with you, with one small caveat. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, not unless one thinks that trusting a metaphorical snake to be a snake is a bad idea.

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