Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's, Rooted in Racist Imagery, to Change
It's a seismic shift for a more than century old brand with a controversial history today, the Pepsico unit that sells aunt Jemima products, says it's dropping the name and image that's long been used on its pancake mixes and syrups because of its origins in racist imagery of black people also today the Mars Company said it would change its uncle Ben's brand and Conagra said it's putting its Mrs Butterworth's brand under review. They're just some of the companies that are reexamining their histories, products and messaging amid nationwide calls for racial justice and Equality. Joining me now to discuss how big brands are responding or Wall Street Journal, business columnist John Stole and reporter Jennifer Maloney. So, let's start with the big decision today from Pepsico to retire. Aunt Jemima products. This is a huge change. The brand dates back to the late eighteen hundreds Jennifer. What's changed the company's opinion on using the imagery and the name here? What did you hear from Pepsi? They say that in the wake of the killing of George Floyd they recognize that and Jemima's origins are based on racial stereotype, and that while they have made changes over the years to update the brand in a manner that they said was intended to be appropriate and respectful that they now realizes that those changes aren't enough just to look back at the history of this brand. It dates back to eighteen eighty nine. It was inspired by popular song called Old Aunt. My that was typically performed in minstrel shows by a white man. Man in black face, and the creators of the pancake brand hired a former enslaved woman named Nancy Green to be the spokeswoman. She made her debut at a world's fair in Chicago in eighteen ninety three singing in telling stories and making pancakes outside booth, designed to look like giant flour barrel, and the packaging has featured an image of a black woman. Originally, she wore a head scarf the over the years. That image has evolved in thousand, nineteen, hundred nine. The company updated the imagery and replaced the headscarf with Pearl earrings analyst caller. And this isn't the only brand that's acted in recent years or even recent weeks at this point to remove offensive stereotypes, but this moment really feels like something of a sea change in the way, companies are thinking about an also responding more immediately to calls for Racial Justice John. Do you see an increase in responsiveness on the part of major companies in this particular moment? I think the era that we're in right now is kind of. Let's turn over the most obvious things that we can do it. My mind went to completely different. People grew, but you think about the Washington Redskins for instance I? I mean for years. There's been complaints about anti-obama for years. There's been complaints about the Washington redskins and it takes a moment like this for a company to say okay. We need to do the obvious thing that is right by our consumers and our employees. You know you have to remember like it's not just the the consumers and the shelves at stores that the PepsiCo executives or executives at other companies are worried about. They're worried about. Their employees are workforces their stockholders. There's a lot of constituents here that they have to think about before making a move in any other direction and I think. We learned a couple years ago when Nike took a proactive move and canceled a shoe that Colin Kaepernick said would potentially be offensive to the black community. It really was a line in the sand. Where I think the company said. Let's err on the side of caution. It is interesting to see. Not just PepsiCo, but other brands thinking about everything from the way that they advertise market to the way that they speak internally to employees to whether they're not. They're going to sell or buy facial recognition that could potentially be disadvantageous to certain racists. The Big Litmus test for me is whether or not or companies stopped doing stupid stuff. I mean it's amazing. How many companies just put their foot in it over and over again on issues that most most Americans would say that just was not a good. Add to even think about. Our ad got leaked. oops, you're like. Wait a minute. Greenlighted the idea in the first place, so you know I you've seen. Companies create chief diversity officers, the board of directors getting involved there will be an extra layer scrutiny for quite some time on every brand in existence, and then on top of that all of the initiatives going forward. Yeah and to that point, Jennifer. It seems that we are seeing an uptick in companies that are responding more immediately. We also heard from the company behind the Uncle Ben's brand today. Right Mars which makes uncle. Ben's Rice told The Wall Street Journal that it will change its ankle brand. It doesn't know exactly how or when, but they say that they're evaluating all possibilities, and they have committed to making a change. We also saw. Saw earlier this year that land lakes dropped the indigenous woman Mia. It had long featured on its packaging. The company said that that was meant to better reflect its culture. She had first appeared in one, thousand, nine, hundred, eighty, eight, and kneeling in sort of stereotypical clothing and clutching Orlando Container, so we're seeing some of these iconic brands that sort of have drawn on racial stereotypes, really doing some soul-searching right now, I mean. When the NFL. Reverses Course on activities that for a long time it tried to stand at standard arm's length from like kneeling during the national anthem, and now has reversed course as aggressively as they have. It shows the force of the moment that we are in, and it also shows I think finally a level of recognition that a big part of the employee base in the NFL or a big part of the consumer base at Pepsi are not just black. They're also empathetic and agreeing with. The social progress that has kind of being signalled with the demonstrations with the constant drumbeat of black lives, matter or whatever other people group. Legitimately marginalized or offended by age old practices. And how big of a role is the public pressure playing here I mean not just demonstrators and. who are out in the streets, but also pressure for these companies from within from their own employees we've seen employees feel more empowered, and and far more bold to say what they feel. And to get the discussion from a discussion to actual action, I mean I think I've done interviews for twenty years about discussions. We've got to have a discussion. We've got a dialogue. We've got to get this out into the public. Square and I think people are saying. Hey, enough is enough. It's like we gotta do something. It's like when people complain. After a mass shooting about thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers are great, but they're not going to bring back my son or they're not gonna change this happening again. We need action and I think employees are starting to say. You can put the statement out. You can put the tweet out. You can change the your your your twitter profile whatever you WanNa do for a day or two, but what are going to be the steps to lasting and meaningful change. The employees are definitely starting to feel that way. Yeah, it also seems like there's a much bigger call to action. Now I mean I've spoken to co workers and friends about all the messages were getting via email from companies. You wouldn't think would normally weigh in on issues of racial justice, but. It seems like this is a time where people are saying. Need more than just words, so is what we're seeing from big brands enough. Well, this is what big companies across the United States and beyond are grappling with right now. Their own workforce's are demanding significant structural change. And so you see companies sort of racing, not just to put out statements to supporting black lives matter movement, but. To introduce new initiatives policies in terms of hiring in terms of charitable, giving in terms of you know trying to promote people of color up through the ranks of the organization diversify their boards, and I think we're going to see more as the days and weeks progress, but we already have seen a number of announcements from companies to pledging. Actions and and trying to put money where their mouth is.