Lately, Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup has been making the news. Quaker Oats, which now owns the brand, says it will retire the Aunt Jemima name, as it reminds customers of slavery and racism. This brand of pancakes was first sold way back in 1890, with the image of Nancy Green on its container. Ms. Green was indeed born into slavery, but was a free woman by the time her face graced the boxes of pancake mix on grocery shelves. She served pancakes to folks at the 1893 Worlds’ Columbian Exposition, and people loved her warm, friendly personality. She won an award for showmanship, and remained a spokesman for the company until her death in a car accident in 1923.
At that point, the rights to the mix were sold to the Quaker Oats company, who selected Anna Robinson to be the face of Aunt Jemima. Ms. Robinson was followed by Edith Wilson, an actress who appeared in early tv commercials. Then came Ethel Ernestine Harper, an actress and former school teacher. Then came Rosie Hall, followed by Aylene Lewis, and Ann Short Harrington.
When I looked at some of the older pictures from the pancake boxes, they did indeed seem to point to the stereotype of a black woman in the days of slavery, cooking for white plantation owners. But today’s picture is of a woman who appears confident and joyful. I see nothing in the current picture that screams racism or slavery. In fact, I think it’s great when people with all different shades of skin are pictured on our food products.
What about the Native American woman on Land O’Lakes butter and cream containers?
Or the Alaskan/Inuit girl pictured on Eskimo Pies?
And the Caribbean hispanic woman pictured with Chiquita bananas?
I see nothing wrong with the names and pictures on these products. This appears to be political correctness on overdrive. I made sure to pick up some Aunt Jemima syrup on my grocery run today, before it disappears from the shelves in America.