Racism in Marketing and Advertising

Aunt Jemima and the Mammy

It’s Black History Month, y’all!

For the first week of Black History Month 2021, focused our posts on a history of racism in marketing. We decided to take a look at some racist branding, logos, and advertisements throughout the years.

1889: The Aunt Jemima brand was founded, just 26 years after the emancipation proclamation. The origins of the brand date back to 1889 in St. Joseph, Missouri when the owners of Pearl Milling Company, created the world’s first ready-made pancake mix. Shout-out to our VP, Kristine, who is also from St. Joseph.

To promote the new pancake mix, Rutt (one of the owners) named the product after a song name from a minstrel show featuring Mammy performers wearing an apron and bandanna headband singing “Old Aunt Jemima.” The first woman to play Aunt Jemima was an unidentified actress in St. Joseph in 1891.

Mammy is the most well known and enduring racial caricature of Black women. Aunt Jemima became Mammy’s most successful commercial expression. The tone of the Aunt Jemima ads also portrayed and contributed to racist stereotypes of Blacks as domestic servants.

Over 100 years since the creation of the Aunt Jemima mammy logo, you’d hope that brands would have moved on from using racist stereotypes.But during Black History Month in 2019, one of the world’s biggest luxury brands launched an $890 blackface sweater. After getting blasted on Twitter and being forced to remove its deeply offensive sweater from stores, Gucci then made the mind-blowing 🤯 statement that it didn’t know blackface images were racist.😬

In 2020, Aunt Jemima came under renewed criticism amid protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Quaker Oats announced that it would be changing the name and logo of Aunt Jemima saying that the company recognized that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.

Has anyone seen the new name and logo? Anybody? Anybody?

UPDATE‼️: They have announced their new name.
Aunt Jemima is now “Pearl Milling Company”.

Pearl Milling Company was founded in 1888 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and was the originator of the pancake mix that would later became known as Aunt Jemima.

NBC News

General Electric – Not Always Bringing Good Things to Life

Continuing our Black History Month posts focusing on racism in marketing and advertising. Today, we’re taking a look at 2 vintage General Electric ads that infused racist stereotypes into their messaging.

These two ads date back to the 1930s and ’40s. General Electric has done much better with their marketing. Fortunately, they didn’t wait until 2020 to remove the racist stereotypes in their advertisements. However, as recently as 2010, the company agreed to pay $3 million to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by Black workers from the Monroeville area in Alabama.

The company was sued by 62 African American workers who claimed that their supervisor used racial slurs like “lazy blacks”, “monkey”, and worse. Plaintiffs also alleged that the supervisor denied bathroom breaks and medical attention to Black workers and fired others because of their race. In addition, management knew about the discrimination but didn’t take steps to investigate it.

Well… at least they’re no longer using images of Black people eating fried chicken and speaking in broken English to market their products.

Cream of Wheat – Perpetuating Racist Stereotypes

Rastus? Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Rastus 🙋🏾‍♀️…… Now tell us if you raised your hand.

In his first Uncle Remus book in 1880, Joel Chandler Harris included a Black deacon, characterized as a cheerful simpleton, named “Brer Rastus”. “Rastus” has been used as a derogatory name for Black men since. The name became linked with African Americans through its use in minstrel shows. In the shows, the “Rastus” character was happy, simple, and often a criminal.

The original Cream of Wheat artwork was created by Emery Mapes who had some commercial art and advertising experience. He named the chef he put on the product, “Rastus”.

“Rastus” was central to the product’s success and made Emery Mapes millions. The proceeds from his campaign built 2218 Lake of the Isles Parkway, a mansion for Mapes on the city’s most elite lakes.

Cream of Wheat was another major brand that announced it would review its controversial mascot following the uproar over George Floyd’s murder. The company stated that the image of the Black chef would be removed from Cream of Wheat’s packaging. The new packaging is expected to roll out in the first quarter of 2021.

Maxwell House – Blackface, don’t do it.

A lesson in blackface:
The End 🎬

Blackface was the process where white people used shoe polish, greasepaint or burnt cork to darken their skin and painted on enlarged lips and other exaggerated features.

As poor and working-class whites who felt squeezed politically, economically, and socially from the top, and the bottom, invented “minstrelsy” to express the oppression they felt being members of the white majority, but outside the norm. Blackface performances became more popular after the Civil War.

White racial anger and hatred grew following Emancipation when antebellum stereotypes clashed with African Americans and their demands for full citizenship including the right to vote. Using blackface to distort African Americans’ looks, language, dance, character and culture, whites dehumanized Black people and perpetuated stereotypes. White people were able to define “whiteness” as the opposite of the negative stereotypes they portrayed in blackface.

When more mainstream actors like Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney performed in blackface, it helped normalize minstrel performance and made blackface (racial parody, and stereotypes) family entertainment. Minstrelsy, performances of “blackness” by whites cannot be separated from racism and racial stereotyping, mockery, and ridicule.