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Racism debate - Aunt Jemima

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Last June, Quaker Qats, a division of PepsiCo Inc., announced that it would be retiring the Aunt Jemima brand, which featured racist images of Black women. The pancake mix and syrup brand will now be known as the Pearl Milling Company, but the name change isn’t exactly sitting that well with some.

The Aunt Jemima brand was first founded in 1889 and hired a former slave to become the product’s front-facing figure, wearing aprons and other stereotypical presentations. A Syracuse, N.Y. woman by the name of Anna Short Harrington played the role of Aunt Jemima from 1935 to 1934 after she was discovered cooking pancakes at the New York State Fair. As its brand ambassador, Harrington traveled the nation while in character, down to cooking pancakes and the whole bit.

The image of a dark-skinned, plus-sized Black woman donning an apron leaned into the slave or domesticated worker angle has been troubling for some time and the summer of 2020 brought awareness to the still ongoing plight of racial inequality and bigotry. The brand name had also become something of a pejorative and even with changes to the images, such as giving the Aunt Jemima character having a modern hairstyle, it was an especially outdated model.

The Pearl Milling Company name was founded in 1888 according to Quaker Oats in St. Joseph, Mo., where the pancake mix of today was first originated. The logo’s former removal will now be replaced by a photo of the Pearl Milling Company but the colors and fonts used on the packaging shall remain.

Given Aunt Jemima’s long presence on store shelves for over a century, some are attempting to adjust to the brand’s new reality. On Twitter, the reaction has been both receptive and at points humorous. We’ve got all angles in the playlist below.

Learn more about the changes via this PepsiCo press release.

Photo: Getty