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- Aunt Jemima History
- Aunt Jemima – Wikipedia
- Just How Racist was Aunt Jemima? – Gawker
- Slave in a Box – The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima by M.M. Manring – U. of VA Press
From Uncle Bens to Aunt Jemima: The History of Racist Spokespersons in Media
Uncle Ben, CEO? The strange history of racist spokescharacters. By David Segal
Today, no company would be dumb enough to build a brand around a black servant, but the ones now in supermarkets have been grandfathered in, rendered innocuous by the passage of time, image overhauls, and judicious wardrobe adjustments. But it’s worth remembering what these spokescharacters truly are: a final, living vestige of Jim Crow America. – David Segal
Here are a couple of clips of the history of racist spokescharacters.
Such virulence didn’t last for long in the realm of commerce, but the image of the servile African-American soon became a popular motif in American marketing, one that’s proved remarkably enduring. You’re looking at the most successful example of them all. Aunt Jemima was dreamed up in 1889 by a white businessman who was inspired by a character at a minstrel show. Looking for a way to sell a self-rising pancake mix, Chris L. Rutt conceived a jolly ex-slave who lived on a Louisiana plantation and made legendary flapjacks in the days “befo’ de wah.” Eventually, she’d be boycotted by the NAACP, attacked by Langston Hughes, and belittled by Public Enemy. But this quintessential “mammy”—a black woman who lives to nurture, clean, and cook for whites—was a marketing phenomenon from the start, mythologized in ads painted by N.C. Wyeth and impersonated by actors who toured around the country. One had a permanent residency at “Aunt Jemima’s Pancake House” in Disneyland.
Aunt Jemima’s male counterpart was the Tom, a simple, cheerful, and ambition-free butler and cook. In the South, the mammy and the Tom reflected a nostalgia for the days of slavery and served as an implicit argument for segregation: If it’s so bad, why are these people so happy, huh? In the North, these characters were presented as the epitome of hospitality and were designed to make potential buyers feel pampered and privileged. It was a sales pitch that advertisers apparently couldn’t resist. One study of national magazines in the ’20s—the beginning of the Tom’s heyday—found that fully half of all ads that featured a black man depicted him as a servant. Like Ben, many were given the honorific “Uncle,” a word favored by Southerners who wanted to express respect in a society where calling a black man “Mister” was out of the question.
To view the entire slideshow, click here (SLIDESHOW HAS SINCE BEEN TAKEN DOWN)
What do you think? Will you purchase Uncle Ben’s (now Chairman Ben) rice or Aunt Jemima syrup knowing this? If so, why?
Note: On April 30, a former Pepsi ad man who broke color barriers with one of the first corporate marketing campaigns to portray African Americans in a positive light died. Edward Boyd was 92 at his death and was one of the first black executives at a major US corporation. Thank you, Edward F. Boyd!