by Lexi Kupor
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to sweep the United States, hopes of reform are visible not just in the social, political, and structural spheres, but also among popular brands and media. In response to this renewed focus on racial equality and police scrutiny, companies nationwide are reconsidering racial stereotyping and police glorification in their branding and initiatives.
On Jun.17, Quaker Oats announced that it will alter the name and image of its Aunt Jemima syrup brand due to the racist stereotypes present in the current version as well as its history. According to Riche Richardson of Cornell University, the current image of a black woman sporting pearls and lace “harkens back to the antebellum plantation” and has roots within the song “Old Aunt Jemima,” previously used within blackface productions.
The first woman to act as a representative for this branding in the late 19th century was Nancy Green, a former slave herself. The logo, Richardson explains, promotes ideals reminiscent of slavery and the “mammy” stereotype, advocating for docile servitude of the black woman depicted. Quaker Oats, owner of the Aunt Jemima brand, plans to release a new logo later this year, with name changes following; the company also recently announced a five million dollar donation over the course of five years that will support the black community.
On the same day, Mars announced upcoming changes in the brand identity of Uncle Ben’s rice, which depicts the face of a black man on each package. While the original use of this image and name ostensibly referenced a black rice farmer, the Uncle Ben’s brand maintains that the image represents Frank Brown, a chef and waiter from Chicago. Critics of this branding acknowledge the fact that titles such as ‘uncle’ were formerly used by whites as substitutes to ‘Mr.’ when speaking to African Americans so as to avoid addressing this group with a tone of proper respect.
However, these reforms do not apply only to commercial branding; such effects are also taking place across media companies. HBO Max recently announced a temporary removal of the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. The plot of the film not only fails to acknowledge the true tortuous nature of American slavery but also remisces on the Confederate era with a sense of tenderness and respect. HBO Max clarified that Gone With the Wind will become available for streaming once again in the future without any scenes altered or removed “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed,” a spokesperson reported to NPR.
Additionally, the reality show Cops has been cancelled after a 30-year run, and a similar fate appears likely for related programs such as Live PD. These moves came after public scrutiny of police heightened following the death of George Floyd and the pressing of charges against the four officers present at the scene. Police departments nationwide have also recently received criticism for their violent responses to growing protest movements. A&E, the company behind Live PD, stated to USA Today that they made their decision “out of respect for the families of George Floyd and others who have lost their lives, in consultation with the departments we follow, and in consideration for the safety of all involved.”
Finally, GitHub, a coding program, plans to alter the term used to reference the main branch of code on its site — currently known as ‘master’ — to distance the company from language reminiscent of slavery. Other technology companies released similar views as they aim to replace common language such as ‘blacklist’ and ‘whitelist,’ as well as the term ‘slave,’ sometimes used to denote a secondary coding branch.
While these reforms and acknowledgements are certainly significant, they likely do not signify the end of this movement. The continued fuel of the Black Lives Matter revolution and the spread of knowledge and awareness concerning America’s policies and systemic discrimination are sure to kickstart additional brand shifts and announcements in the coming weeks, months, and years.
(Sources: CNN, New York Times, NBC News, NPR, USA Today, ZDNet, BBC)