The manufacturer of Cream of Wheat is considering changing its packaging — which includes an image of a smiling African American man in a chef’s hat — in light of decisions by other manufacturers with similar imagery on their brands.
As The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, B&G Foods, which purchased the brand from Nabisco in 2007, announced this week that the company will be rethinking the message it is sending with the packaging that has adorned boxes of its product for decades.
“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. B&G Foods unequivocally stands against prejudice and injustice of any kind,” the company said in a statement.
Specifically, the manufacturer was referring to the image of the smiling African American chef on its packages. According to The New York Times, the caricature actually has a name — Rastus — which is a racial stereotype from blackface minstrel shows of the time and a pejorative term for black men.
In early advertisements for the product, Rastus was a barely literate former slave who didn’t understand vitamins. Although the character and its unsavory backstory evolved over the years, the image remains.
The inspiration for the image of “Rastus” was a real person — Chicago chef Frank L. White. According to a 2007 CBS News report, White’s family didn’t seem to mind its supposedly racist origins, as his tombstone bears the image that made him famous.
As of this writing, B&G Foods has not stated when, or even if, the image will be updated.
In the wake of the George Floyd protests, which have shone a light on racism not just in policing but in other areas of daily life, such as business and advertising, some brands have taken a look at the messages conveyed by their imagery.
For example, as previously reported by The Inquisitr, the manufacturer of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and pancake mix announced this week that it is retiring the name and image of its packaging, both of which are rooted in offensive racial stereotypes of the minstrel show era. The manufacturer of Uncle Ben’s is considering updating its own packaging, although in this case legend has it that “Uncle Ben” was a real farmer and the name honors his exceptionally high-quality rice. Like “Rastus,” “Uncle Ben’s” image was that of a real person — in this case, Chicago hotel maitre d’ Frank Brown. Also like “Rastus,” the appellation “Uncle” before an African American man’s name is a racist pejorative rooted in slavery.