Uncle Ben's joins Aunt Jemima in brand overhaul amid concerns about racial stereotyping

ByKaren Jordan KTRK logo
Wednesday, June 17, 2020
As protests rage, changes for Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's brand
From June 17, 2020: The owner of the Uncle Ben's brand of rice says the brand will "evolve" in response to concerns about racial stereotyping.

Pepsico is changing the name and images associated with its Aunt Jemima brand, acknowledging its racist origins.

The parent company of Quaker Oats announced Friday that the 131-year-old breakfast brand will get new branding and new packaging before the end of 2020.

"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," Kristin Kroepfl, CEO of Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement. "We recognize Aunt Jemima's origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough."

Just hours later, the owner of the Uncle Ben's brand of rice says the brand will "evolve" in response to concerns about racial stereotyping.

Caroline Sherman, a spokeswoman for Mars, which owns Uncle Ben's, says the company is listening to the voices of consumers, especially in the black community, and recognizes that now is the right time to evolve the brand, including its visual identity.

Aunt Jemima first appeared in 1889 and perpetuates the "mammy" racial caricature of African American women, activists say.

The mammy caricature "portrayed an obese, coarse, maternal figure. She had great love for her white 'family' ... posited as proof that blacks -- in this case, black women -- were contented, even happy, as slaves," according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, Michigan.

The founders of Aunt Jemima reportedly borrowed the name from a popular song that often performed in blackface, according to the museum.

Calls to change the brand didn't begin in 2020 but intensified amid protests over racial injustices following the death of George Floyd.

Activists and consumers are demanding that companies take a stand against racial injustice or stand to lose their business. White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder in Floyd's death.

Nicholas Pearce, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, agreed with the brands' decisions.

"Any brand that is built on the image of black inferiority deserves to be dismantled immediately," he said. "We are not seeing people willing to be patient any longer for institutions to change at their own glacial pace."

African American Studies Professor Jane Rhodes also commented on the decision.

"They're of the same tradition. You sell the romance of slavery. You sell this idea that luxury is black people serving you," she said.

This year, Land O'Lakes announced that it would no longer use the Native American woman who had graced its packages of butter, cheese and other products since the late 1920s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.