In an announcement on Wednesday, Quaker Oats, which is a subsidiary of PepsiCo, said that the brand’s name and mascot are “based on a racist stereotype.”
“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,” said Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America.
Kroepfl further noted that the company’s efforts to “update” the character’s image over the decades have been insufficient.
Aunt Jemima emerged as a brand 140 years ago when two entrepreneurs purchased a flour mill, according to the book Black Hunger: Soul Food and America. The name of the brand and its signature mascot came from the song “Old Aunt Jemima” and was based on the character’s portrayal in minstrel shows, which consisted of characters in blackface portraying exaggerated racial stereotypes.
Aunt Jemima herself was based on the “mammy” stereotype, with a chubby face, a scarf, and a broad smile.
In older iterations, the brand’s packaging and mascot relied heavily on its minstrel origins.
The image went through various changes over the decades, with the modern image debuting in 1989. The image that has adorned the packaging for the past three decades ostensibly distances the character’s look from its minstrel origins, giving her a less-broad and less-comical smile and ditching the scarf.
Nevertheless, the image and the name have been seen as indicative of racial stereotypes, and the matter has been given renewed attention in light of the George Floyd protests, which have highlighted racism in areas of life outside of policing.
“[Aunt Jemima is] a retrograde image of Black womanhood on store shelves. It is urgent to expunge our public spaces of a lot of these symbols that for some people are triggering and represent terror and abuse” said Riché Richardson, an associate professor at Cornell University.
For now, Quaker has not revealed what the product’s new name will be nor who/what its mascot will be, promising that new packaging will hit store shelves in 2020, and its new name will be revealed “at a later date.”
Further, the manufacturer has pledged to donate $5 million over the next five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.”