Updated products will start rolling out this fall.

By Tim Nelson
June 17, 2020
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The past month since George Floyd’s death has been an especially painful and difficult time. Many people and businesses are undergoing a long-overdue reckoning with the ways in which they’ve benefited from and perpetuated systemic racism.

Sometimes the right thing to do is fairly obvious. It would seem that Quaker Oats’ recent decision to retire Aunt Jemima and end its 130-year history of questionable brand imagery rooted in racial stereotypes falls into that latter category.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype," Quaker Foods North America’s VP and CMO Kristin Kroepfl said in a press release cited by CNBC. “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."

Though criticism of Aunt Jemima’s racist origins is hardly new, the events of recent weeks has renewed the focus on its harmful depictions of racial stereotypes that date back to the antebellum South.

The brand’s name and mascot is “a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves," as Cornell University associate professor Riché Richardson told the “TODAY” show this week. “It’s an image that harkens back to the antebellum plantation ... Aunt Jemima is that kind of stereotype that is premised on this idea of Black inferiority and otherness.”

A viral TikTok created by singer Kirby pretty succinctly covers the brand name’s ties to plantation slavery, as well as the fact that its inspiration came from minstrel shows. 

It’s important to note that Quaker won’t stop making syrup and pancake mix. Parent company Pepsi will instead come up with a new name and iconography for these existing products, set to be unveiled this fall.

Though the imagery of Aunt Jemima has changed over the years in an effort to soften criticism, you can’t really “fix” a brand that was fundamentally flawed (to put it rather mildly) from the very start. Hopefully the long-overdue willingness to let go of this racially prejudiced imagery rather than hide behind “tradition” helps encourage others to follow suit.