Life Imitates the Onion
June 17, 2020 7:49 AM   Subscribe

The Onion, June 12th. Real life, June 17th.

PepsiCo (parent company of Quaker Oats) resisted previous efforts to change the racist brand. A 2017 petition led by Dan Gasby, husband of B. Smith, was unsuccessful. At the time "PepsiCo [said] Aunt Jemima was wholesome and they didn’t feel the need to change the brand."

At press time, Mars Inc says it is evaluating changing Uncle Ben's brand image.

No word yet on other racist brands such as Cream of Wheat.
posted by jedicus (74 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Life Imitates the Onion
Precedent
posted by thelonius at 7:53 AM on June 17 [23 favorites]


Change the cream of wheat guy to a farmer and donate x% of profits to end discrimination against black farmers. I would say, "get rid of a mascot altogether," but Americans really need to see that there are Black farmers and they have gotten screwed royally over the years and its time to end that.
posted by NoMich at 7:55 AM on June 17 [36 favorites]


Once again with the, "why are we only doing this in the year 2020, and not like 50 years ago?".
posted by octothorpe at 8:05 AM on June 17 [21 favorites]


Once again with the, "why are we only doing this in the year 2020, and not like 50 years ago?".

Because if there's one thing that we white people love it's non-threatening black people we can use to desperately prove that we're not racist.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:19 AM on June 17 [41 favorites]


Wait until you guys find out about Australia. Back home a good proportion of the population are obstinant about not changing the name of Co*n cheese.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:21 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


Let us never, ever forget The Onion's most comforting moment.
posted by Catblack at 8:21 AM on June 17 [63 favorites]


A couple of decades ago, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were retconned in their logos as business people (as was Betty Crocker), suggesting company owners rather than cooks. I don't know why I thought that made it okay. Not thinking is part of it, I understand now.

I grew up in a Southern town where lots of people, black and white, worked for "Uncle Ben" -- which was to say, the rice processing plant that was actually owned by Mars but called Uncle Ben even after the plant changed its name. That has only now struck me as one of the many uncomfortable things I just grew up accepting.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:24 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


there are Black farmers and they have gotten screwed royally over the years and its time to end that.
The three parties named will subdivide the land, under the supervision of the inspector, among themselves and such others as may choose to settle near them, so that each family shall have a plot of not more than forty acres of tillable ground, and when it borders on some water channel with not more than 800 feet water front, in the possession of which land the military authorities will afford them protection until such time as they can protect themselves or until Congress shall regulate their title.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:27 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Because if there's one thing that we white people love it's non-threatening black people we can use to desperately prove that we're not racist.

I can't be racist, some of my best friends are artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup!
posted by phunniemee at 8:33 AM on June 17 [47 favorites]


I can't be racist, some of my best friends are artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup!

We white people are very innovative when it comes to rationalizing away our implicit biases.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 8:36 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]




octothorpe: Once again with the, "why are we only doing this in the year 2020, and not like 50 years ago?".

We're here now, and we don't have a time machine handy. With that, I'll say "this is fine for a first step, what's next? Supporting Black-owned farms? Working to erase food deserts in urban, predominantly Black and Latinx communities?"

We're tearing down racist statues, with or without help from governments and corporations. But what will replace those statues, and how will governments and companies work to address and reverse centuries of oppression?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:04 AM on June 17 [17 favorites]


It makes sense that cola owns syrup, they're both high fructose corn-based products after all, but I didn't realize candy bars owned rice.
posted by guiseroom at 9:07 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


It makes sense that cola owns syrup, they're both high fructose corn-based products after all, but I didn't realize candy bars owned rice.

It's not so much that candy bars own rice but the guy who started the candy bar company was interested in rice, found a better way to prepare and package it, and didn't bother to sell the company.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:11 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Mr. Clean is probably a white nationalist, I mean, he just gives off that kind of energy. Just saying.
posted by Fizz at 9:14 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


"this is fine for a first step, what's next? Supporting Black-owned farms? Working to erase food deserts in urban, predominantly Black and Latinx communities?"

honestly I just thought "using real Vermont maple syrup" but these are better ideas
posted by Countess Elena at 9:16 AM on June 17 [17 favorites]


my fave onion-predicts-future is still this one from 2012:

After Obama Victory, Shrieking White-Hot Sphere Of Pure Rage Early GOP Front-Runner For 2016

(cw: the sphere repeats the f-slur several times)

related to the making-syrup-less-racist topic, i've long thought there's a great market opportunity for the first company that puts out molasses in non-racist packaging. cause right now pretty much every label is all "just like down on the plantation!" or "brer rabbit approved!"
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:17 AM on June 17 [27 favorites]


I joke about Mr. Clean, but it's worth reflecting on how a white person is depicted as a mascot VS how they portray a black person. These are all very conscious choices that companies and corporations make.
posted by Fizz at 9:17 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


Is there a specific term to describe the mechanism by which images of oppressed people are converted into kitsch? (Aunt Jemima, those awful watermelon-eating statues, Atlanta Braves mascot "Chief Nok-a-homa", that kind of thing).
posted by thelonius at 9:20 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Aunt Jemima was still wearing the bandana when I was a kid. Looks like that last redesign was 1989. Some of the older logos, uh, wow.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 9:23 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


It's not so much that candy bars own rice but the guy who started the candy bar company was interested in rice, found a better way to prepare and package it, and didn't bother to sell the company.

And if we're going to go the route of "candy bar owns..", might as well say that "candy bar owned a baseball stadium/team you may have heard of in Los Angeles , and for 80 years owned one you definitely have heard of in Chicago".
posted by sideshow at 9:30 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Is there a specific term to describe the mechanism by which images of oppressed people are converted into kitsch? (Aunt Jemima, those awful watermelon-eating statues, Atlanta Braves mascot "Chief Nok-a-homa", that kind of thing).

Systemic racism.
posted by Fizz at 9:55 AM on June 17 [48 favorites]


Relatedly, Land O' Lakes quietly retired Mia, their iconic but sterotypical Native American mascot a few months back. Interestingly, Mia's most recent incarnation was created by an Ojibwe artist, Patrick DesJarlait; DesJarlait's son acknowledges both his father's positive intent and that the depiction ultimately aged poorly.
posted by jackbishop at 10:02 AM on June 17 [25 favorites]


I have mentioned this before here, but Conguitos. [CW: systemically, unapologetically racist]
posted by chavenet at 10:04 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


The video linked above by NoMich alludes to it, but holy shit has the USDA been overtly terribly racist basically forever. Pigford vs Glickman was the settlement and it is definitely worth reading about - I just heard it named in a throwaway comment on a podcast yesterday so I could google it and wow.
posted by janell at 10:19 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


the Seeing White podcast had an episode about the USDA
posted by kokaku at 10:33 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Mr. Clean is probably a white nationalist, I mean, he just gives off that kind of energy. Just saying.

The branding for Glorious PC Gaming Race is actually astonishing, and wasn't even founded 100 years ago.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 10:37 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I can't be racist, some of my best friends are artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup!

@PatBlanchfield 7:43 AM · Jun 17, 2020
neat how in the contemporary US corn syrup products and historical battle flags function for some people as equally hallowed and sacrosanct symbols for an ideology and way of life that was always obviously utter shit to begin with
see also:
in the midst of a twitter thread (start) from Dr. Sarah Taber

@SarahTaber_bww 9:58 AM · Jun 4, 2020
Speaking of the corn belt- giant corn monocultures there are nothing new.

The Midwest made BILLIONS in today's money, every year, selling cheap corn down the river to slave plantations.

Midwestern farms were every bit as much of the slave system as their customers.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:37 AM on June 17 [16 favorites]


Life Imitates the Onion
Precedent
Precedent


FTFY
posted by blue_beetle at 10:46 AM on June 17 [13 favorites]


I have some, very fucking limited, sympathy for the cheese company. The name of the company being the name of the founder, who seems to have been a cheese maker of note.

That being said, this is not some small family owned artisan company, they haven't built a brand around this founder, this is not the hill to die on.
posted by fido~depravo at 10:51 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Is this... is this hope I feel? Like, it finally feels like some long-standing bulwarks are finally breaking? Like maybe we've finally realized that we can't have a true multiracial democracy without getting rid of the oodles of racist symbolism all over the fucking place?
posted by Automocar at 10:59 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Mr. Clean is probably a white nationalist, I mean, he just gives off that kind of energy. Just saying.

Hmmm, I've always thought "he's awfully smiley for a leather daddy, but OK"
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:59 AM on June 17 [32 favorites]


I thought Mr. Clean fucks now?
posted by bartleby at 11:05 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


i've long thought there's a great market opportunity for the first company that puts out molasses in non-racist packaging. cause right now pretty much every label is all "just like down on the plantation!" or "brer rabbit approved!"

So weird. I'm in Canada but this sort of descriptive branding is what I think of when I think of molasses. I wonder if that is just because when I was a kid we pretty much bought the store/no name brand of most everything and I've just never noticed the high buck branded cartons.
posted by Mitheral at 11:06 AM on June 17


Hmmm, I've always thought "he's awfully smiley for a leather daddy, but OK"

I thought Mr. Clean fucks now?

Aaaaaaaghhh! I always thought Mr. Clean looked like an idealized version of my grandpa. So thanks for that mental image.
posted by Foosnark at 11:07 AM on June 17 [11 favorites]


I admit I had not thought of Cream of Wheat as racist, but only because I haven't looked at a package of Cream of Wheat since 1970?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:08 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Better late than never, I suppose.

This is the kind of thing I want to see corporations do, though. Rather than put out some statement in support of Black Lives Matter that's the practical equivalent to "thoughts and prayers", I want to see them put out statements that say, "We've taken a long hard look at our organization, and here are the concrete things we're doing to help eliminate racism: changing our offensive trademarks/labels, changing our hiring practices, donating money to these causes that work for racial justice, etc."
posted by orange swan at 11:09 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


"Molasses: An Important Part of the Triangle Trade!"

"Molasses: It's How Rhode Island Made Rum to Trade for Enslaved Workers!"

"Molasses: Slavery, Workplace Violence, and Smuggling! It's Been Crime since 1493!"

This is why I don't work in advertising.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:14 AM on June 17 [33 favorites]


Anyone remember cooking oil & margarine brand Mazola's
'Our people called it Maize' advertising campaign?
posted by bartleby at 11:17 AM on June 17 [14 favorites]


Wait until you guys find out about Australia.

Or China, where they changed one letter in Darlie toothpaste, but not the logo.
posted by Rash at 11:28 AM on June 17 [5 favorites]


When I was a kid I assumed Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were more of a Colonel Sanders situation. Maybe Uncle Ben invented converted rice. Mascots were supposed to be cartoon characters. Though looking at the old versions of Aunt Jemima, the cartoon would not be an improvement.

So, my proposal is they can keep the brand but they have to find a real-life black woman named Jemima and give her 51% ownership of the company. Then she's not just a mascot. I don't know the details of how you split that off from PepsiCo, but the important part is Jemima makes money and has control.
posted by RobotHero at 11:49 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


I admit I had not thought of Cream of Wheat as racist
I'd thought Cream of Wheat's chef image was modeled on Frank L. White, and I feel like an idiot.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:53 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


This is why I don't work in advertising.

Maybe you should - it's clearly time for a change!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:03 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


I can recommend Maurice Manring's Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima for more on her fascinating racist history...
posted by TwoStride at 12:21 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Some of the older logos, uh, wow.

One could say the same for the current logo but people have been socialized to think that the current image isn't worthy of widespread outrage.

The same can be applied to every other racist logo still in use.
posted by mayurasana at 12:27 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


...and Mrs. Butterworth next, probably. Which, good. Just don't change that formula!
hey sometimes you just want trash food don't @ me.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:27 PM on June 17


If y'all haven't seen the 2004 film C.S.A., you totally should. It's an alternative history presented in a "mockumentary" format, that's got an interesting approach - the premise is that the South won the Civil War, and now it's the present day and the film is presented as if it were a British Ken-Burns-style documentary being broadcast on a Confederate States of America television network - including fake ads. And those ads are shocking and wildly racist; the audience I was with was gasping and laughing at just how over-the-top offensive those ads all were.

However, at the very end, just before the credits, the film switches over to "and now presenting some things that actually did happen," where they run down a list of the Confederate party platform items from which they drew the "events of C.S.A. history" in the film. They also run down a list of all of the actual ads and products which inspired the fake ads in the film - and as the audience around me saw just how real some of those ads were, and how recent some of them appeared, it got really, really quiet. And by the time the film calls out "Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben", you could have heard a pin drop.

It's an incredible film.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on June 17 [42 favorites]


Thanks for posting this, I'm glad it's happening, wish it had happened long ago. Or never had to happen.
Mr Clean was based on this guy, a lifeguard and greeter in the town of Avalon on Catalina Island. I didn't grow up in a household using the Mr Clean products, so I was really startled when I saw them in a market with Mr Lifeguard on them. Read the wikipedia page, then you'll understand the earrings.
posted by winesong at 1:19 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Rash's Darlie link had a typo in it. Here's the correct link, and wow.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:30 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Systemic racism.

Awesome! I meant, a real answer, tho.
posted by thelonius at 1:47 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


I mean, The Onion recently published this piece, and where, I ask you, is the lie.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:32 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Regarding Darlie, it's both still a very common brand and its Chinese name is still 'Black People'.
posted by Trifling at 2:52 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


https://thebaffler.com/latest/as-the-world-churns-manseau

"Take a look at the 1928 painting used for early Land O’Lakes boxes. If you think the original butter maiden looks less like a Native American woman than the daughter of a Minnesota dairy farmer playing dress-up, you’d be right: that’s actually what she was."

You just shake your head in wonderment that somebody is pulling the big money for this.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 3:40 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Remember that maple syrup classifications are fucked up specifically because of abolitionism.

The reason "Grade AAAAA" maple syrup is all you could find in the US for ages, and that it had no character or flavour whatsoever, is because refining maple sap to higher and higher grades was seen as a slavery-free way to create sugar for export.

Nowadays we know that "dark amber" is a better experience on pancakes or french toast or waffles, but for decades the legacy of slavery also left its mark in "let's have maple syrup that tastes just like HFCS" at a serious markup.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:42 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]






Wait until you guys find out about Australia.

Or China, where they changed one letter in Darlie toothpaste, but not the logo.


In Finland the boxes for chocolate mousse sweets are finally changing from this to this.

In the first link article, dated last October, the confectionary company CEO defended the design by saying: "According to consumer research 90 percent of Finns don't find the don't find the Kisses box to be racist, and 3 percent didn't have an opinion."

The product name was renamed in 2001 from "Neekerin Pusu" (i.e. "Negro's Kiss") to "Suukko" (i.e. singular "Kiss") or "Suukkoja" (i.e. plural "Kisses") even as the feedback "had been almost 100% against" the name change per the company's then CEO.

[all links in Finnish -- quoted translations above by me]
posted by zeikka at 6:37 PM on June 17 [7 favorites]


related to the making-syrup-less-racist topic, i've long thought there's a great market opportunity for the first company that puts out molasses in non-racist packaging. cause right now pretty much every label is all "just like down on the plantation!" or "brer rabbit approved!"

Huh. The only brand I ever see is Grandma's, which as far as I can tell is innocuous. The most eyebrow-raising thing on the bottle is "Get your Grandma out more often!"
posted by aws17576 at 6:48 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


While looking for a picture of older Cream of Wheat branding I came across this excellent pair of posts on the subject from the equally excellent Food Tells a Story blog that I am now digging through.
posted by Jawn at 9:39 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


There is a real disconnect for a lot of white people who see this kind of mascot-ism as representation. I specifically remember someone suggesting such an emblem for a project (largely due to a convoluted pun) and when challenged by the community at large, the originator asked "Why not? Are you all racist or something?"

I was fortunate enough to have had the Mascot chapter of The Autobiography of Malcolm X assigned as reading in high school. I wanted to just pirate it and paste it in as a response to that whole thread, at the time.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 12:43 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


However, at the very end, just before the credits, the film switches over to "and now presenting some things that actually did happen," where they run down a list of the Confederate party platform items from which they drew the "events of C.S.A. history" in the film. They also run down a list of all of the actual ads and products which inspired the fake ads in the film - and as the audience around me saw just how real some of those ads were, and how recent some of them appeared, it got really, really quiet. And by the time the film calls out "Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben", you could have heard a pin drop.

This is probably the first intriguing thing I've heard about CSA. I thought it was a bad premise, albeit for different reasons after I learned about Reconstruction was basically the Confederacy winning the Civil War after all.
posted by Merus at 12:47 AM on June 18


Never to fear - in democratic Taiwan we have Whitemen toothpaste! Yes, the Chinese translates precisely. No racist caricature mascot, though.

Also they sell Darlie, because casual systemic racism against black foreigners in Asia is rampant.
posted by Enkidude at 1:30 AM on June 18


thelonius, the closest term I’ve found is ‘inferential racism’: “those apparently naturalized representations of events and situations relating to race, whether ‘factual’ or ‘fictional,’ which have racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions. These enable racist statements to be formulated without ever bringing into awareness the racist predicates on which these statements are grounded” (Hall, 1990, pp. 12-13).

Along the same lines, but specific to brands, I propose the term dog-whistle branding.
posted by thedamnbees at 4:17 AM on June 18


Mrs. Butterworth, huh? I honestly thought she was a white grandma type of mascot, from her voice acting. (Also, more insidiously, black women were not given the dignity of "Mrs." back in the day.)

Not that I'm going to particularly stand up for the dignity of corn syrup in this matter. Frankly I think that any syrup overdoes it on pancakes, and a little jam, whipped cream with fruit, or scattered chocolate chips taste better. Look, my point is that I'm hungry
posted by Countess Elena at 7:38 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Along the same lines, but specific to brands, I propose the term dog-whistle branding.

Whstl®
posted by Etrigan at 7:42 AM on June 18


This seems relevant here. In Fanfare, I just linked to a discussion at Ebertfest by Julie Dash, the director of Daughters of the Dust*, set in the early 1900s . When talking about the the historical research she did for the costumes (those amazing white dresses), she mentions that she had to repeatedly tell cast members to stop tying their hair up like Aunt Jemima because it was completely inauthentic; it was invented for Gone with the Wind.

* Daughters of the Dust is streaming for free on Criterion right now.
posted by DarthDuckie at 9:56 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]


I'd be thrilled if they'd rename Quaker Oats too, while they're at it.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:46 PM on June 18


I honestly thought she was a white grandma type of mascot, from her voice acting.

The actual shape of the bottle is at least suggestive of the stereotypical black mammy character.
posted by Mitheral at 1:43 PM on June 18


A couple of decades ago, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were retconned in their logos as business people (as was Betty Crocker)

Betty Crocker is a Colonel Sanders, not an Uncle Ben. The name Betty Crocker is entirely fictional but it was created as a pen-name for use by Marjorie Husted and the other women of Washburn-Crosby's test kitchens when answering customer questions. Husted and the others were Betty Crocker — they created the recipes and portrayed Betty in public and radio appearances — and it was their work that developed the name into a trusted brand.

Disclaimer: General Mills is a client of my employer and, while I'm not on a first name basis with Betty herself, I have eaten food from her test kitchens.
posted by nathan_teske at 2:48 PM on June 18 [4 favorites]


Merus: "However, at the very end, just before the credits, the film switches over to "and now presenting some things that actually did happen," where they run down a list of the Confederate party platform items from which they drew the "events of C.S.A. history" in the film. They also run down a list of all of the actual ads and products which inspired the fake ads in the film - and as the audience around me saw just how real some of those ads were, and how recent some of them appeared, it got really, really quiet. And by the time the film calls out "Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben", you could have heard a pin drop.

This is probably the first intriguing thing I've heard about CSA. I thought it was a bad premise, albeit for different reasons after I learned about Reconstruction was basically the Confederacy winning the Civil War after all.
"

Also, it's a Weinstein film.

[You can watch it here]
posted by chavenet at 2:50 PM on June 18


Also, it's a Weinstein film.

The Weinstein Company only got the DVD release, the theater release was through IFC films.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:10 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I recall seeing an article (or editorial) in the 70s in Life (maybe Look) magazine describing Quaker Oats plan to revamp Aunt Jemima over a period of years so she would eventually have become a white woman. It was illustrated with a picture of the proposed transition with the caption 'Going, Going, Gone'. I didn't have the impression this was some 'Onion' level of parody (however I have noticed I can be pretty obtuse).

Cursory Google-searching turned up nothing. Maybe some other refugees from the 70s remember something of this.
posted by rochrobbb at 7:56 PM on June 18


“My work started to become politicized after the death of Martin Luther King in 1968. But The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, which I made in 1972, was the first piece that was politically explicit. There was a community centre in Berkeley, on the edge of Black Panther territory in Oakland, called the Rainbow Sign. They issued an open invitation to black artists to be in a show about black heroes, so I decided to make a black heroine. For many years, I had collected derogatory images: postcards, a cigar-box label, an ad for beans, Darkie toothpaste. I found a little Aunt Jemima mammy figure, a caricature of a black slave, like those later used to advertise pancakes. She had a broom in one hand and, on the other side, I gave her a rifle. In front of her, I placed a little postcard, of a mammy with a mulatto child, which is another way black women were exploited during slavery. I used the derogatory image to empower the black woman by making her a revolutionary, like she was rebelling against her past enslavement. When my work was included in the exhibition ‘WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution’, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2007, the activist and academic Angela Davis gave a talk in which she said the black women’s movement started with my work The Liberation of Aunt Jemima. That was a real thrill.”

--Betye Saar, Assemblagist (source)
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:57 AM on June 19 [4 favorites]


> In Finland the boxes for chocolate mousse sweets are finally changing from this to this.

I remember commercials on Finnish TV in the late 1970s featuring minstrel singers selling sausages.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:43 PM on June 22


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