Removing stereotypes from iconic foods has become a trend. Aunt Jemima Syrup and Pancake mix, Uncle Ben’s Rice, Mrs Butterworth’s Syrup, and the Cream of Wheat Chef are all on the chopping block as companies scramble to rebrand their products. But Aunt Jemima’s great-grandson isn’t happy about the move, and says it’s erasing his family history.
The first “Aunt Jemima” debuted at Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1893. Former enslaved woman Nancy Green, who worked as a cook on the South Side, was hired to wear an apron and headscarf while serving pancakes to folks who came to visit the fairgrounds known as “The White City.” Green embodied the Aunt Jemima character until her death in 1923.
Evans says his great-grandmother — the late Anna Short Harrington — took Green’s place.
Harrington was born on a South Carolina plantation where her family worked as sharecroppers. In 1927, a white family from New York “bought” Harrington to be their maid. She made a living as cook at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house in Syracuse and worked for wealthy white people, including Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. She was discovered by a Quaker Oats representative while serving up her pancakes, a favorite of local frat boys, at the New York State Fair in 1935…”
“She worked for that Quaker Oats for 20 years. She traveled all the way around the United States and Canada making pancakes as Aunt Jemima for them. This woman served all those people, and it was after slavery. She worked as Aunt Jemima. That was her job. … How do you think I feel as a black man sitting here telling you about my family history they’re trying to erase?” Larnell Evans Sr, Marine Corps veteran
Mars, Inc decided to get rid of the “Uncle Ben” on Uncle Ben’s rice. Only that, too is a depiction of a real person: Frank Brown, was the maitre d’ at an exclusive restaurant in Chicago. Likewise the picture on the Cream of Wheat box is a depiction of a real person: Chef Frank L. White, was a chef in Chicago.
The Land O’Lakes butter image of a Native American woman was painted by Patrick DesJarlait, who was a local Ojibwe artist. The image had been changed several times prior to Mr. DesJarlait’s depiction, but he was an actual Native. It was his desire to foster a dialog between Native Americans and non-Natives. The company decided to ‘redesign’ the image of “Mia” and remove the Native maiden entirely, changing the logo to say “Farmer Owned” this year.
Activists are not happy with stereotyping of any race or ethnic group. They are very happy that these companies have decided to change their branding. But it not only removes family history from these products, they reminded us of history itself.
Yes, these companies made money on the backs of the depictions of real people, and no, they didn’t pay royalties for the use of the images. But it seems that the trend is to rename and change everything, even US Military bases, in an effort to pretend that our history didn’t happen.
Newsflash: removing stereotypes won’t change the facts of American history. But it will gloss it over so that current and future generations may have to repeat the same mistakes.
Featured photo: via Marketwatch stock photo