Wednesday, June 24, 2020

BLM & Rebranding

So, about Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben... some people are getting their knickers in a twist as if brand names were something sacred. And they're just brand names, which get changed all the time for considerably lesser reasons. 

The thing is, Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are fictional characters, and they are slaves: Aunt and Uncle, just like Mammy, were titles you gave your head house-slaves in the Old South... titles of respect or affection usually, and conferring status on upper servants, but still slave names. As corporate logos, these two characters are meant to invoke the comforts and hospitality (read "service") of the "Gracious Old South," glamorizing the Slave States in a nostalgic illusion that the whole culture wasn't corrupt at its very foundations. 

On the other hand, these corporate icons also foster representation, these are household products with black faces on them, and in the case of Aunt Jemima there were real people in that role in the past, pioneering black women who deserve remembrance and respect. Erasing Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben does not serve the cause of promoting the importance of Black Lives. 

The simple answer is to keep the icons and erase the slave names. Jemima's Pancakes, or Jemma's Pancakes would look just fine next to the smiling lady we've been used to seeing on our breakfast boxes (who has already been updated and made less stereotypical [and thinner] over the years), would honor the women who modeled for her, and would keep the visual familiarity and representation of black women. Uncle Ben could become Chef Ben just as easily and with the same effect of erasing a glamorized Old South without erasing a black man off our grocery shelves. 

The lateness and performative aspect of these gestures are topics for another day, but they do not take away the fact that these repairs need to happen, in brand names and in band names and everywhere they occur. The myth of the Gracious Old South needs to be recognized for what it is, propaganda for racism, and it needs to be put down. 

As for the notion that Cracker Jack is just as racist as Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima, that is so ludicrous I have to write a whole other essay about it. Later... when I'm not so inclined to call people idiots.

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