Up until today, Aunt Jemima touted its history with pride. On the brand’s website, the “Our History” tab is proudly displayed, in it, a museum-style timeline tells the stories of all the missionary workers and businessmen that made the brand what it is today, starting in 1899. The character of Aunt Jemima always remained a smiling Black woman meant to imbue white consumers with a nostalgia for the Antebellum South. They weren’t just selling pancakes, they were selling racism.
But today, Quaker Foods, the subsidiary of PepsiCo that owns Aunt Jemima, announced that its popular line of syrup and pancake products will no longer be called Aunt Jemima, nor will they sport the logo. A new name and brand overhaul are coming to store shelves close to the end of the year.
A Quaker Foods spokesperson told NBC News, “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” adding that “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.” The company is also donating $5 million to “meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”
But that does not negate the fact that, for decades, Aunt Jemima’s parent company fought like hell to defend its use of the mammy caricature. The “mammy” is an ahistorical depiction of enslaved Black women, one that casts them as jolly domestic workers who cooked and cleaned for their white enslavers and even nursed their children (often at the expense of being able to nurse their own children). It conveniently leaves out the part where these enslaved women are subjected to daily acts of violence, at the hands of white men and women.
On Tuesday, Aunt Jemima was trending on Twitter, with online historians sharing threads on the brand’s 130 years of racism. On TikTok, singer-songwriter Kirby gave her followers a breakdown of all the ways Aunt Jemima’s creators launched and maintained their business by telling consumers that they too could have their very own mammy.
Changing the name and the brand is just the beginning, and the brand formerly-known-as Aunt Jemima has a lot of work ahead. The question remains, what do brands like Aunt Jemima owe Black people after making a business out of selling racism for so many years?
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