For six years, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been peacefully protesting against police brutality, racial profiling, and racial bias against African-American people, while advocating for civil rights and diversity, empathy, restorative justice, and intergenerationality among other principles.
After the most recent uprising, the human race realized that there’s still so much work to do and that describing ourselves as an ally or a person who is not racist is not enough anymore. Every step the movement is taking to eradicate racism is becoming a giant leap for the Black community. People holding decision-making chairs in big companies are taking new approaches on how to create an inclusive and safe environment for their employees as well as their consumers.
Food and drink conglomerate PepsiCo, the parent company of Quaker Oats who owns Aunt Jemima, announced they will be rebranding the pancake mix and syrup because its origins are rooted in a racial stereotype originating in the times of slavery. “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, Chief Marketing Officer at Quaker Foods North America, said in a statement, as reported by NPR. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”
Although many celebrated the decision of the conglomerate, family members of Lillian Richard, one of several actors who portrayed Aunt Jemima for years, are not satisfied with the initiative. “Erasing my Aunt Lillian Richard would erase a part of history,” says Vera Harris, who supports the Black Lives Matter movement and is the historian for the Richard family of Hawkins, according to WBUR. “All of the people in my family are happy and proud of Aunt Lillian and what she accomplished.”
ConAgra Foods, owners of Mrs. Butterworth’s as well as Mars Inc. who owns Uncle Ben’s Rice, released a statement announcing they will also revise and evaluate the possibility of changing their packaging. “As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” Mars said. “We recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.”
ConAgra said that it has “begun a complete brand and packaging review” of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. “We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values.”
Although right now it is uncertain if other brands with similar racist imagery will follow, it is inevitable not to notice that the food sector has a race problem. “I call it ‘ethnicity as authenticity.’ If you consider a stereotype as something being based in a perception such as ‘Black people aren’t good at anything but music, cooking, and sports’, there is a certain authenticity that comes with that perception,” said Jason Chambers, an associate professor of advertising at the University of Illinois and the author of Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry to The Guardian. “So you take the myth of the south and the happy black woman cooking for the white family, and suddenly you have a product that gains more ‘authenticity’ through that image and, as a result, sells more.”
These racist ideologies have lacerated every industry for decades, including sports. “I hope a sports team like the Washington Redskins will stop standing behind a line like, ‘Well, this is what we’ve always been called.’ That they look at these other brands and see they can withstand a name change. No one is going to forget you are based in Washington or what you’ve been named. But you can be called something else,” said Chambers. “My question is, why fight it any longer? Why not get on the right side of this discussion and be held up as an example of a company or organization that finally listened to consumers?”
While these big corporations’ resolutions and changes are validating the significance of the BLM movement, according to Chambers, they always need to do more. “I hope the words of these companies are matched by their deeds. And by that, I mean doing more than donating money. It’s about opening up opportunities for recruitment, retention, promotion within the company, and asking hard questions of yourself,” he said. “Otherwise, the statements are just empty words. So if you post a statement, you better be prepared to make changes within your organization.”