The Truth Behind “Ain’t Yo Mama” Aunt Jemima

Picture this: it’s Saturday morning, you wake up to the smell of fresh pancakes and are instantly overcome with joy. You leap down the stairs, fill your plate with a stack of mouth-watering pancakes and top it off with the best maple syrup of all time, Aunt Jemima. What if I told you that this sweet lady was not the woman you thought, but instead is a representation of slavery and racism stemming back to the 19th century? In fact, not only does ‘Aunt Jemima’ represent oppression and enslavement, but she is merely a logo character created by white men. 

The Pearl Millings Company came up with “Aunt Jemima” in the late 1880s to advertise their various breakfast foods. The name was derived from minstrel shows in the late nineteenth century, specifically from a song called “Old Aunt Jemima.” Minstrel shows, which were popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, were racist performances done by black-faced white men. In these degrading enactments, men would imitate “mammies,” which were enslaved Black women who cared after a white family and were portrayed to be content in this submissive state. Nancy Green, a former Black slave, served as the first trademark to the company. She would pose as ‘Aunt Jemima’ at various events to drive up product sales. 

In June 2020, Quaker’s Oats acknowledged the racist roots of the ‘Aunt Jemima’ adverts, considering its origins in slavery and discrimination. The company has since then stated that they will remove both the controversial image of Aunt Jemima from their line of foods, along with a name change at a later date. In 2020, Kristin Kroepfl, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Quakers Foods, stated “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.” In February 2021, Quaker Oats announced that ‘Pearl Milling Company’ will replace the Aunt Jemima brand name this coming June.  

Various companies are recognizing the racial stereotypes that their products hold and are putting in efforts to annihilate racial inequality. Some of those who have made attempts to rebrand include Land O’ Lakes Butter, Edy’s Pies, Cream of Wheat, and Chiquita Brands International. Other companies who are currently working on product rebranding include Uncle Ben’s and Mrs. Butterworth’s. 

To some, this might seem insignificant, but in fact this is a long overdue change that Quaker Oats, along with other companies, have been avoiding for far too long. Considering how these large corporations occupy public space and are constantly represented in the media, this change was necessary seeing as so many marginalized groups continue to face injustices today. By failing to address the past, these groups are unable to overcome the racial history that we continue to be affected by. Some people have been against the rebranding of ‘Aunt Jemima’ since Quaker Oats announced upcoming changes in 2020, as they believe that we will be removing historical black figures from history. However, it is 2021 and society is filled with empowering black women who we are able to celebrate, rather than ones who were falsely created in the 19th century by white men. Take a look at inspirational women such as Emanuela Paul, Kamala Harris, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Tarana Burke who are worth celebrating in this modern day!