Many people know and love Aunt Jemima Pancake mix , but the history behind the brand and others like Uncle Ben, is a little less known.
The figure of Aunt Jemima is one that began with caricatures of African women namely Saartji Baartman, and was popularised through minstrel shows, memorabilia and even cartoons. Ne t time you watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the large Black woman who screams and lifts up her many colourful frocks is just that. A ‘mammy’.
Like Aunt Chloe in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a mammy was a jolly, head tie wearing, illiterate, overweight motherly black slave who would perform much of the childcare duties of a household or plantation. She’ll cook for you, wash your clothes, clean your mess and do it all with a smile and a song. Together with the archetypal submissive and exaggerated language, the mammy archetype helped to form the basis of many people’s attitudes to Black women in the early 20th century. The first Black person to win an Oscar went to Hattie McDaniels in 1939 whose character in Gone With the Wind was actually called Mammy.
The Aunt Jemima which is advertised today is slightly different. She has been given earrings and hair, but bares the same wide thick red lipped smile and dark complexion which was a feature of minstrels the minstrels in the 1800’s. The figure of Uncle Ben falls under the same category, the submissive older Black servant, ready to serve you that good southern cooking. Uncle Ben is more closely associated with the term Uncle Tom, or someone who will say or do anything to find favor with White people.
Are they good logos? Or throwbacks to minstral shows? Racist? Acceptable? Maybe. Money making? Obviously.