Does it Really Matter if Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben get Retired?Breaking News
tags: racism, marketing, consumer culture
The images on the packaging of Uncle Ben’s, Aunt Jemima, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth’s all are variations of the Black cook or “mammy” figure, a racial theme that reinforced the cruel power dynamic of the slave-trading antebellum South and the Jim Crow segregation that replaced it. That’s when Black servants worked for white owners and were forcibly kept in their segregated places, all while they were supposed to be happy about it, according to the white ruling class.
“When you open that box in the morning, you see this happy mammy face,” said Rita Roberts, professor of history and Africana studies at Scripps College in Claremont, California. “No matter if you put pearls on her, it’s still a happy Black woman content where she is. Even if I’m a really poor white person, it tells me how superior I am to that, and I can be comforted, that I can have this incredible innocence about not even taking any responsibility for why that Black woman’s face is on there and why I’m being served, because I can eat my breakfast and just have this constant reminder.”
Roberts likens it to the separate water fountains for Black and white people in the Jim Crow South, another “constant reminder of white superiority.”
These images also perpetuated harmful stereotypes about Black Americans that soon became slurs that are still in use today. A white boy calling a Black girl an “Aunt Jemima” never was a compliment. Nor was it on Twitter this week, when some white users tried to mock Georgia politician Stacey Abrams by saying that Abrams could replace the departed Jemima. Abrams, who is Black, is a former state lawmaker with multiple college degrees, including a law degree from Yale, and is widely considered a potential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“Older generation of Southerners genuinely liked their black nannies, cooks – I remember!” a Twitter user identified as Peter Brimelow wrote June 17. “Replacing Aunt Jemima with Stacy (sic) Abrams won’t have quite the same effect.”
Editor's note: Peter Brimelow is a notorious white supremacist who is associated with the white nationalist website VDARE.