by Paul Moomjean
Welcome to America 2.0. Since March of 2020, the country has evolved in numerous ways. In May, when George Floyd was brutally murdered by Minneapolis police officers, the nation was forced to have a real look at how racial inequality plays a part in our culture. This led to marching in the streets, crying for police reform and defunding, and the arrests of officers who murdered innocent Black lives. Yet, just as the country was starting to really look at the heart of these issues, irresponsible corporate shells decided they wanted to play a part and started the same stupid distraction conversations about branding icons that do nothing to help us move forward, but instead only cause more division.
Just when it looked like a lot of progress in the country was moving forward, the food items of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, TV shows from 40 years ago and theme park attractions became the talk of how to end police brutality and social injustice. All of this is helping nothing, but making corporations, mostly run by white virtue seekers, feel the need to raise their hands, as if they are truly offering a great solution to a problem their products never caused.
While the images of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben can be considered anywhere from stereotypical to racist, these are not the headlines we need to be discussing. For Quaker Oats and Mars to try to snatch news time by announcing their reconstructing of branding feels pandering and condescending. Black people are crying out for justice, not the rebranding of cereal or lunch items.
The New York Times reported that the Aunt Jemima brand wasn’t even a priority at Quaker Oats because people loved the syrup so much. One former executive, Dominique Wilburn, told the Times that the product was too big to change.
“They were constantly being told, ‘Let’s not over-promote it or do a lot of partnerships’ — nobody wanted to call attention to it. Aunt Jemima was a category leader, and nobody wanted to mess with that stream of revenue.”
So if the product is successful, was it because white people wanted to purchase a racist brand, or was it because Black people identified with the breakfast icon? Trick question. People just liked the taste. It had been around since 1889, and while some can find it offensive, many and most just appreciated the breakfast pancake supplement. I’m sure there are bald men upset at Mr. Clean, but that doesn’t mean the rebranding of paper towels.
Soon the food and candy company Mars, the owner of Uncle Ben’s Rice, came out with a statement that it was “evaluating all possibilities” concerning the brand. Mars stated that it isn’t sure what the future moves are, but that it desired “to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices.” Executives for Mrs. Buttersworth also proclaimed, “it’s heartbreaking and unacceptable that racism and racial injustices exist around the world,” and they plan to “be part of the solution.”
The idea that people cannot handle these icons on their food boxes, and that they are contributing to the racial bias and injustices of the world, is condescending and self-righteous. There are real problems in America, and the idea that these images are a part of the reason George Floyd was murdered takes the focus off real problems and solutions and distracts people into having talking-head debates that do no good and causes people to think the movement is not being taken seriously.
Meanwhile, Hulu removed an episode of *The Golden Girls* wherein the girls put on mud mask facials, which Hulu claims could lead people to think it’s blackface.
Black author Roxane Gay responded with the tweet: “That *Golden Girls* episode isn’t blackface. What the hell ? … Removing this episode is weird, counterproductive and stupid. It diminishes the effort to actually end racism. It’s just so dumb.”
Let that last tweet help define what is happening. If these companies wanted to help, why don’t they put their money where their mouth is? Donate to a Black Lives Matter cause, create scholarships and programs for underprivileged urban neighborhoods, and actually help fight the real systematic racism.
There might be a day to reevaluate the above issues. Not now, though. We don’t need reactions of mass distractions, not when we are so close to seeing real changes in the new America.