The Taste of Subservience

 

Sign of the changing times: Aunt Jemima, the minstrel-based, cringey racist "mammy" figure on the classic fake maple syrup of our childhoods - and for some white people, their only black friend - is about to go. Amidst ongoing national protests for racial justice, parent company Quaker Oats has announced that before the end of the year it will remove the woefully outdated name and image on their 131-year-old, well-camouflaged corn syrup to better "reflect our values and meet our consumers' expectations." While originally portrayed as a happy maternal servant who "many Americans nostalgically associate (with) fond familial memories," the director of the Jim Crow Museum and many others see in her "the vestiges of enslavement and segregation." Recognizing Jemima's origins "are based on a racial stereotype," the Jemima brand says it will "continue the conversation" by gathering diverse perspectives on race and donating at least $5 million over five years “to create meaningful, ongoing support and engagement in the Black community.” Hours after the announcement, Mars, the owner of the equally dubious rice, said the brand will also "evolve" in response to concerns about racial stereotyping; rumor has it that the racially ambiguous Mrs. Butterworth may swiftly follow.

Weirdly, hours before the demise of Aunt Jemima was announced, The Onion ran a spot-on spoof about Quaker Oats replacing her with Sheila, a black public defender who "eats pancakes on occasion, isn’t an aunt per se though she is godmother to the child of a dear friend she met as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, (and) speaks fluent Italian, likes U2, is bisexual, and enjoys cross-country skiing." On social media, meanwhile, the actual news was met with the usual mix of right-wing freakouts - was a warm and comforting image of black people in their childhood and what's the problem? - and regular people suggesting that if those people had to learn their sense of racial justice from syrup bottles, that's the problem. From Rex Huppke: "MSNBC: Quaker Oats will remove the name and image of Aunt Jemima. Fox News: WE MUST PRESERVE OUR SYRUPY HERITAGE! OANN: SOROS-FUNDED ANTIFA DEATH SQUADS ARE COMING TO STEAL THE SYRUP OF WHITE PEOPLE!!!" In a time of upheaval, others mused about the fate of other traditional breakfast faves: Is Capt. Crunch a symbol of a colonial past? Is Fruit Loops part of a gay agenda? Is Betty Crocker ageist? Most importantly, if we take away all the elements of the most important meal of the day, will we be unstoppable? Damn, we hope so.

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