Who took a knee for Aunt Jemima? That was my first thought when Quaker Oats made the decision to remove Aunt Jemima from the pancake box. In all the protesting and looting going on, I haven’t read one sign, or heard a single statement, demanding Aunt Jemima be taken down like she’s Mrs. Robert E. Lee.
To white folks who want to hang on to the symbols of the confederacy, seeing those monuments defaced and taken down is a painful thing. Since none of us were around when the north and south were scrapping, its obvious the affection whites have to those confederate symbols have been passed to them from their parents and teachers starting at a very young age as something to cherish and be proud enough of to honor and protect.
In many ways, seeing that big red box of pancake mix with the black lady on it sitting atop the kitchen counter has become a childhood memory I cherish. It meant we were having pancakes for breakfast. My mom and dad never made an effort to hide the lady’s image or even explain her origin. In fact, she was almost like an aunt indeed.
As I got older, I came to understand the stereotype Auntie J represented but it still didn’t offend me. I see her as a reminder of a time when black women cooked in white people’s kitchens in servitude. It’s not a fantasy. There really was a time in America where this was going on. She not a hero but a reminder of my slave lineage that I learned a little about in school and none at home.
When I saw Auntie’s photo was being removed from the familiar red box, I was reminded how her image has been transformed from the one I remember as a child to the current one where her head rag has been removed to show off her perm and her skin was bleached. It makes me wonder how Quaker Oats came to the decision to take such a big leap to remove her from the box when the most logical iteration would have been to contemporize her even further by giving her dreads or a natural hair style popular among black ladies today (no weave, please.)
This move reflects the real issue of not having enough black people in the corporate suites, newsrooms, fashion industry, TV, movies, and other decision making positions. When things go wrong, black people just shake their heads and say ‘We know a black person didn’t check this off before it hit the racks.’ Even in this case, if a black person were asked 130 years ago what image should go on the pancake box, I’m willing to bet they would say, ‘a stack of pancakes.’
My new concern is what Quaker Oats is replacing one of my favorite aunts with. I don’t want to see Gabrielle Union on the pancake box just like I will have a hard time seeing Idris Elba replace Uncle Ben. Is Tracy Morgan going to replace the OG on the Cream of Wheat box?
I guess it’s nice Quaker Oats is finally doing something to address their corporate white guilt without responding to a black people pancake boycott. Ironically, I would be surprised during the looting if black people left all the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup on the shelves to send a message to Quaker Oats.
No one took a knee for Auntie J.