When I was making vegan Aunt Jemima's pancakes a few weeks ago, I took a quick look at the face on the package and realized that the depiction of Aunt Jemima looked more like a caricature depicted in a racist historical film than a real person.
After doing some research, I learned that Quaker Oats' trademark Aunt Jemima isn't the only brand on the market rooted in racist ideals. We see these labels so often when we walk through grocery stores that their deeply ingrained meanings are made invisible. I'm here to shed some light on the images that still stock our shelves.
1. Quaker Oats' Aunt Jemima
The iconic face of this pancake and waffle mix was inspired by a popular minstrel show character named Aunt Jemima. When the brand was established in the late 19th century, her picture was meant to depict the "mammy," an old Southern archetype that made Black women look like they were content with being slaves.
The picture of Aunt Jemima has since been changed to a pretty maid, less-so the stereotypical mammy, but it still isn't great.
2. Uncle Ben's Rice
"Uncle" was a pejorative term used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to describe a Black person who was subservient to White authority figures. An older version of the picture on the packaging shows a black man wearing a bowtie, dressed as a servant.
Today, "Uncle Ben" wears a collared shirt instead. Does that change of image erase the brand's racist past? To me, it looks like a cop-out response to claims about the picture's implicit racism. If they really cared about abolishing racism within the brand, they would shorten the name to "Ben's" and change the logo altogether.
3. Nestle's Eskimo Pie
The words "Eskimo Pie" mean more than just a bar of chocolate-coated ice cream. In Canada, the word "Eskimo" refers to the Inuit people; in other places like Alaska and Greenland, it also refers to the Yupik people.
Because of the word's derogatory use by non-Indigenous people over the years, "Eskimo" is no longer used to refer to Inuit or Yupik people.
4. Cream of Wheat
The original face of Cream of Wheat was Rastus, another character formerly used in minstrel shows. He was portrayed as a non-threatening, childlike Black slave—need I say more?
5. Chiquita Bananas
In 1944, the token image of Chiquita Bananas was a banana dressed in a red dress and high heels, carrying fruit on its head. By taking an inanimate object and giving it exaggerated feminine attributes, this image objectifies women and perpetuates the stereotype of the hypersexual Latina. Chiquita then changed its image to a woman carrying fruit on her head, and to this day, the bananas' labels show an outline of her.
These are just a few examples of how the brands we've grown accustomed to seeing are still complicit in perpetuating racist stereotypes. Even though many of them have altered the original face of their brand, it's clear that we still have a ways to go.