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Aunt Jemima's name reveal: Pearl Milling Co.

Purpose Brand Business Tracker: Brands Shed Racist Namesakes

Published on March 19, 2021

American firms have begun to address racist imagery in their brands.

The killing of George Floyd, subsequent civil unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement have impelled companies to examine their role in perpetuating racism.  Through introspection, self-indictment and change, brands have demonstrated solidarity with the BLM movement, opened a meaningful dialogue about race in marketing and developed more socially aware brand communications.

According to The Purpose Report 2020, 4 in 5 respondents believe companies should have a purpose beyond making money, and that marketing and investing in causes people care about is a permanent part of U.S. culture.  By demonstrating solidarity with BLM, marketing and PR teams have been rebuilding and reshaping shaping America’s culture into one which meaningfully acknowledges the importance of diversity and inclusion.

The following analysis underlines some recent examples of brands investing in the development of a more responsible and inclusive social culture.  This list may not be exhaustive, as every day brings new developments.  We will update this list as more brands commit to reviewing themselves.

Aunt Jemima

After over 130 years, Quaker Oats removed the Aunt Jemima brand and logo from its collection of breakfast products, after acknowledging their brand imagery was based on a racial stereotype of happy Black servitude. In February 2021, the brand reverted to Pearl Milling Co., the name of the Missouri company that originated Aunt Jemima pancake mix. 

In a June 2020 statement, Quaker Oats said, “As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations.”

PepsiCo, the parent company of Quaker Oats, has also committed to donating $5 million over five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community” in addition to a $400 million set of initiatives developed to support Black communities and raise Black representation within the company.

Uncle Ben’s Rice

Following Aunt Jemima’s lead, Mars Inc. has committed to unspecified changes to the Uncle Ben’s brand.  A statement says “we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do. … We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice.” During the Jim Crow era, Black men were often referred to as “boy” or “uncle” to sidestep the implied respect inherent in addressing them as “Mr.” or “Sir.”

Cream of Wheat

B&G Foods, the parent company of Cream of Wheat, initiated a review of its brand imagery and openly challenged its involvement in a long history of Black stereotypes in marketing, making a commitment to change.  A statement from B&G Foods reads, “We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”

The current brand imagery is based on a Chicago chef named Frank White, who died in 1938.  Cream of Wheat has acknowledged that although the brand imagery was previously changed from its original and more overtly racist form, the racially insensitive subtext behind their current imagery is still present.

Mrs. Butterworth’s

Conagra Brands chose to follow a similar trajectory as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s.  On June 17, the company announced it had “begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s.”  Mrs. Butterworth’s current visual brand identity was racially insensitive for the same reason as Aunt Jemima – depicting the “Mammy” racial caricature of Black women and perpetuating the idea of happy Black servitude, an artifact of the Jim Crow era.

Conagra Brands released a statement of support and solidarity with Black and Brown communities, saying “…we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values….We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias. …We will be part of the solution. Let’s work together to progress toward change.”

Eskimo Pie

Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream is changing the product brand name and marketing strategy for Eskimo Pie.  A statement released by Dreyer’s head of marketing acknowledges the culturally insensitive nature of the word “Eskimo” and assures consumers the move is a component of a much larger internal review of the company’s values.  Dreyer’s plans to discontinue the Eskimo character and have a new product name by the end of the year.

Land O’Lakes

Land O’Lakes has removed the image of a Native American woman from their butter packaging.  Although they received little attention for this until the civil unrest caused by the killing of George Floyd, their choice to adopt more socially responsible packaging was made in February of 2020.  According to a press release, the decision was made in support of underlining the company’s farmer-owned origins.  In response to the change, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan of Minnesota, where Land O’Lakes is based, tweeted “Thank you to Land O’Lakes for making this important and needed change. Native people are not mascots or logos. We are very much still here.”

Nascar

On June 10, 2020, NASCAR officially banned the display of the Confederate flag at all races and events. The only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup series requested that the organization take action against the public display of one of the most recognizable symbols of racial hatred.  His request was supported by mounting social pressure and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement.  A statement from NASCAR said, “The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry…the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

Washington Redskins

In spite of over two decades of inertia against calls for the National Football League team to change its racially insensitive name, the Washington Redskins has finally decided to undergo rebranding of both their team name and logo.  The move is reflective of an atmosphere of intolerance against racist relics of American history.  Several team sponsors threatened to renege on their contracts if Washington did not undergo more racially sensitive rebranding.

Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians have committed to a thorough review and change of the team name, which is widely recognized as insensitive towards Native Americans. Players and upper management of the Major League Baseball team recently met with Native American groups and the team chose to wear their away uniforms at home while the team name is under review.  The away uniforms simply read “Cleveland” while the home uniforms read “Indians”.  Cleveland has been gradually taking steps towards more socially conscious branding over the past few years, with the “Chief Wahoo” logo, which was criticized for its racially insensitive nature, being completely retired before the beginning of the 2019 MLB season.

Colgate

Colgate has initiated a review of its toothpaste brand “Darlie.”  The brand is popular in China, the Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. It also has a rather overtly racist history:  In China, the brand is marketed as “Black Person Toothpaste,” was sold under the racial slur “Darkie” until 1989 and once featured a white man wearing blackface.  In a statement from Colgate, the company claims to be “currently working with our partner to review and further evolve all aspects of the brand, including the brand name.”

Princeton University

Princeton University has committed to removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from its School of Public and International Affairs.  The nation’s 28th president was a former Princeton president and New Jersey governor with a political legacy of supporting hard-line segregationist policies.  In 2015, Princeton’s Black Justice League protested against the university’s display of Wilson’s name, in part because Wilson would have been against Black students attending the university.  The Black Justice League’s protests were ignored in 2015, and the protesting students were threatened with disciplinary action by University President Christopher L. Eisgruber.  Eisgruber credits himself with the recent decision to change the name, failing to acknowledge or even mention the 2015 protests of Princeton’s Black Justice League. The Wilson College residence halls were renamed First College, and a new dormitory will be named for Black alumna Mellody Hobson, an Ariel Investments CEO.

New Jersey

Woodrow Wilson High School, a 90 year fixture of Camden, New Jersey will be renamed.  The decision follows a grassroots effort which was at least a year long.  During a virtual school advisory board meeting, Camden Superintendent of Schools Katrina McCombs said, “The Black Lives Matter movement has caused us to all think and be aware. But in addition to thinking, reflecting and becoming aware, it is also important we teach the next generation, and the current one, how to take action now.” 

Additionally, New Jersey will also be changing an outdated term within its state government:  the term “county freeholder” is a Colonial relic with structurally racist origins.  The state legislature recently announced support for legislation that would replace the term with “county commissioner” instead, a term far more common across the country.

Mississippi

On June 28, 2020, the Mississippi state legislature passed a bill to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag.  The bill also created a commission to develop a new flag without the Confederate symbol.  The Confederate emblem and other symbols of the Confederacy have increasingly become recognized as banners of white supremacy.  Mississippi voters will vote on the new design in November.

Rosepark

After facing criticism on Twitter, the Paris based ad agency Rosapark will be rethinking its name.  Although the founders claim no intended connection to the American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, they claim to “fully understand” why the name is facing criticism and have committed to an internal review of their branding.

Dixie Chicks

The Dixie Chicks have changed their band name to simply “The Chicks” in an attempt to distance themselves from being associated with the Confederate-era South.  The change was made simply with the release of a new song.  “March March” and its accompanying video, contains lyrics and imagery that reference protests against racial injustice, police brutality and other social issues.  The video also features the names of Black victims of police brutality and victims of racially motivated attacks.

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