I’ve never enjoyed fake pancake syrups. In this country, they are primarily made of high fructose corn syrup, which is probably one of the unhealthiest things you can consume, a sign that America is too cheap to spend money on real cane sugar, but would rather stuff American bodies with fake sugar to lead them to an earlier death. Aunt Jemima was problematic for me as I started learning more about American history and realized that the face on the bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup was a caricature of the “black mammy” archetype, a black female stereotype of the American South who worked as a slave in the home of white families and nursed white babies. The bottle, the brand, the company, were all racist symbols that were being embraced here in the U.S., long, long after slavery had ended. It was sad to constantly see this in grocery stores and even in my own family’s kitchen.
When I worked at a digital marketing agency years ago, I was asked to work on the Aunt Jemima search engine marketing campaign. I looked at my manager and said I didn’t feel comfortable working on a campaign that promoted a racist brand. She gave me a funny look, said it was “just business,” but respected my wishes and reassigned it to another colleague. Unfortunately, race is part of everything, and no, to this day, I do not believe it is “just business.”
This week, we’ve learned that finally Pepsi Co., which owns Aunt Jemima under Quaker Oats, is now finally waking up to the fact that their caricature is racist and has announced they are removing the caricature from the brand and doing a full rebranding “to make progress toward racial equality.”
It took decades upon decades of systemic racism, black lives being shot and killed with no one to be held accountable, and finally the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, for this brand to wake up? It’s so convenient, isn’t it, for brands to act all faux “woke” with their performative allyship, as long as it helps their bottom line… to make more money, to profit off of their faux progressiveness.