Pancake flipping. Broadly grinning. Greasy, smiling, shining face. Teeth broadly flashing a huge show of white. Head rag, bandanna wearing, servile, anything for the white folks. Icon of the world of segregation and meek utter unconditional unending servitude.
The racist, sexist image of Aunt Jemima has become entrenched into the subconscious memory and culture of all Americans, and like a health-destroying bad habit, has sneaked into our existence and psyches as to have become a normal image that no longer holds feelings of disgust, shame and revulsion. That the manufacturers of Aunt Jemima have for over 100 years been able to so skillfully integrate this disparaging symbol into American culture, as to lend it as imparting endearing qualities across all racial, gender and ethnic groups, has had a profound impact on the image black Americans have had of themselves and of the image whites, and other races, have had of black people, and especially the image that black women have had to contend with.
That black women were relegated to being wet-nurses for the children of white people, that this asexual image of the all-giving mammy was created by white men to cover up their massive rapes of black women during slavery, regardless of the fact that black women in slavery on average were very thin/skinny because of a sub-standard slave diet, and that the majority of black women slaves did not live past the age of fifty years, this image was created to present the propaganda that black women were so matronly, so obese, so un-womanly, that there was no way any white man would have sex with such a black woman, let alone rape her.
Hence the creation of the Mammy/Aunt Jemima icon to justify rape of black women not only during slavery, but the continued perpetuation of legally and publically sanctioned rape of black women during Jim Crow segregation. Contrary to what many people think, the many black women who were forced into white homes to care for the white family because of the role of domestic servant was the only employment they could obtain, the image of the well-endowed, obese black Mammy is a lie. The majority of the black women who worked in white homes during segregation were young, slender black women. The creation of Aunt Jemima by white men was to soothe the conscious and fears of white women who felt that these “Jezebels” (ironic that the white men who raped black women would have the balls to call black women whores after they, the white men, raped black women for generations, and would slander black women with the epithet “Whore/Jezebel), but, white men created the Mammy image so white women would not have to fear that the Jezebel black woman would lure their weak-willed white men away, so that white women would not have to fear that these “temptresses” would wreck their already in turmoil white home life, therefore, Aunt Jemima was created to give the South an image of tranquil, docile, happy ex-slave black people who only lived to serve the white people’s bottomless needs. On the contrary, the many black women who were forced into working in white people’s homes resented this type of work and the horrors that came with it, since the job of domestic was all that was allowed to black women then.
And the all-pervasive degrading image of Aunt Jemima has relegated black women into a low economic status of life, forever slaves to a hateful stereotypical image of the all-serving, selfless, all-giving, give-out, work to the death, slave like a mule hitched to a plow, deny any and all essence of her being a human being—–MAMMY.
And despite all their efforts, despite all their work and accomplishments that so many black women have done, the mammy image always forces them back into the slave plantation kitchen of many American’s minds. As the author, Deborah Gray White, author of “Ar’nt I a Woman?” put it so well:
“In the pictures painted by Americans, Mammy towered behind every orange blossom, mint julep, erring white child, and gracious Southern lady. . . .In the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Hollywood film producers and New York advertising agencies built their own monuments to Mammy. With their films, their pancake boxes, and their syrup bottles, they imprinted the image of Mammy on the American psyche more indelibly perhaps than ever before.We probably can not measure the effect of the mass packaging of Mammy with precision, but the fact is that Mammy became a national symbol of perfect domesticity at the very time that millions of black women were leaving the cotton fields of the South in search of employment in Northern urban areas. Surely there is some connection between the idea of Mammy, the service and domestic jobs readily offered to black women, and their near-exclusion from other kinds of work.”
A CHRONOLOGY OF THE HISTORY OF THE RACIST STEREOTYPE AUNT JEMIMA
Pearl Milling Company founded by Charles Rutt and Chris Underwood.
Creation of the first ready-mixed pancake flour.
Aunt Jemima chosen by Charles Rutt as advertising’s first living trademark.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company replaces Pearl Milling Company.
Aunt Jemima trademark registered by Bert Underwood, brother of Chris.
Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company sold to R. T. Davis Milling Company.
Nancy Green debuts as Aunt Jemima at World’s Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893.
Aunt Jemima paper dolls introduced.
Master of promotional strategies for Aunt Jemima trademark, R. T. Davis, dies.
Reorganization of R. T. Davis Milling Company.
Aunt Jemima rag dolls introduced.
R. T.Davis Milling Company reincorporated as Aunt Jemima Mills Company.
Aunt Jemima Mills Company sold to Quaker Oats Company for $4,202,077.28
Painted package illustration of Aunt Jemima becomes a realistic photograph.
Aunt Jemima Restaurant opens at Disneyland.
Aunt Jemima image featured on packages and in advertising campaigns becomes a composite.
Aunt Jemima trademark is 100 years old.
Trademark modified and reintroduced on May 27.
Quaker Oats/Aunt Jemima forms an alliance with the National Council of Negro Women.
THE ANATOMY OF A STEREOTYPE THAT HAS MOCKED, DENIGRATED AND VILIFIED BLACK WOMEN FOR OVER 100 YEARS
The term stereotype was coined by a Frenchman named Firmin Didot in 1798. Stereotyping was associated with a printing mechanism that consisted of a plate upon which letters had been cast to create a permanent and unchangeable record or image. Around 1824 the term was being applied in a metaphorical sense due to its association with consistent monotony of perceived expectations and ideas that arise from prejudicial notions of fantasy, versus reality based in fact.
The phrase was introduced to the general public by Walter Lippmann in 1926. He described it as:
“An ordered more or less consistent picture of the world to which our habits, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves. . ., it is a form of perception which implies a certain character on the data of our sense before the data reach intelligence.”
Stereotypes are the set of traits used to explain and predict the behavior of members of socially defined groups, therefore, based on this definition, stereotypes can and will result in perceptions of an extreme consistent nature, allowing for little, if any, variation within the target it seeks to define. Cut to the chase, a stereotype can be defined as a consistent representation of black people in advertising with images, words/text, and situations that in the end suggest that ALL members of the race (ergo, black people) are the SAME.
The stereotypes most associated with Aunt Jemima are considered as very negative by many black people. Traditional stereotypes are negative and always portray the intended group of people given the stereotypes in an unfavorable and disgusting light, and the main intent of stereotypes serves to stand for a whole diverse group of human beings. And nowhere is this more seen than in the case of Aunt Jemima, who is known to blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, etc. as the motherly-think-of-everyone-else-before-herself-even-if-it-means-her-demise-both-physical-and-mental Mammy image, due to 100 years of mass marketing.
And it is the negative stereotypes of Aunt Jemima that seriously hinder and degrade the image of all black American women.
And it is through the mass media that the images of Aunt Jemima are proliferated and bombard the mental cognizance of persistent memory. And make no mistake about it, mass media plays a very vital role in the perpetuation of racist/sexist stereotypes against black people. The stereotyping of black people by media provides negative role models for both the minority/subjugated group (black people) and the majority/dominant group (white people). This causes a rift of cultural isolation, racial and residential segregation, increasing the distance between the two, making communication extremely difficult, and fuels the lingering legacy and detrimental effects of the pervasive stereotypes.
And the stereotypes of Aunt Jemima/Mammy are the most insidious that black women continue to have to challenge, fight and suffer from:
-The happy slave
-The devoted servant
-The happy non-white
-The natural-born cook
-The mental inferior
-The woman who is so ugly in appearance that she is no one a man would want to romance, love, or bring into his life or show off around his male buddies/friends
Aunt Jemima would also be the happy-go-lucky, clowning, grinning, childlike, soulful, hostile [but wary] perpetual servile slave.
Other attributes of Aunt Jemima/Mammy are the following:
-Strong, kind, loyal
-Obese, almost cow-like in image
-Slatternly, lazy and filthy in her appearance
-Her dark skin was mocked with a greasy eye-blinding shine
-Asexual, unattractive, matronly in appearance
-Always the “motherly type”—-but, not the type for a man to marry
-Good-humored to a fault, never had reason to cry or experience sorrow
-The ubiquitous head rag (which incidentally, was originally a West African gele headwrap worn by black Africans, but made into a pernicious stereotype by white people during slavery and by media ads of the 20TH Century). This image gave way to the phrase “handkerchief head”.
(Ironically, the name “Jemima” is biblical in nature and is an anglicized version of the feminine Hebrew name Yamimah, the second of Job’s daughters born to him at the end of his self-entitled book of the Bible. Jemima, the offshoot of irascible mammy, was sweet, jolly, even-tempered, and polite. Yamimah/Jemima, Hebrew for “dove,” was Job’s youngest daughter, symbolizing innocence, gentleness, and peace. But the name belies its meaning. The caricature connotes not naïvéte but stupidity, not peace but docility. Jemima was an obese, darkly pigmented, broad-bosomed, handkerchief-headed, gingham-dressed, elderly servant content in her subjugation.)
When black women slaves stepped off the plantation, they envisioned a life free from perpetual toil of slavery, but, white America would not let them shed the shackles of the racist image of Aunt Jemima. With the packaging of Aunt Jemima securely embedded into the minds of all Americans, the icon of Aunt Jemima was here to stay.
In the 1923s, the Daughters of the Confederacy asked the Congress to set aside a site in the Capitol area where a monument in recognition of the “Black Mammy” could be built. Black people were so angered and offended at the thought of such an outrage even being suggested that they protested vociferously against this monument of insulting degradation against the image of black womanhood, and as a contemptuous sign of black servitude. Black women across the nation were enraged at the proposal for a Mammy statue. Civil rights leader Mary Church Terrell wrote that if it were built, ‘there are thousands of colored men and women who will fervently pray that on some stormy night the lightning will strike it and the heavenly elements will send it crashing to the ground.’ They instead suggested that “a better memorial would be to extend the full rights of American citizenship to the descendants of these Mammies”. Ending the lynching, public humiliation of black people on trolley cars and other forms of transportation, giving black people the right to vote, were what black people needed, not more racist/sexist slaps in the face. So great was the pressure brought by black people, black leaders and black groups, that the monument was rightfully killed in the House of Representatives.
I have admiration and reverence for Nancy Green and the many black women who portrayed Aunt Jemima.
They made do as they could with the world that was handed to them, and showed themselves, as so many, many black women have, that they were of better, sterner stuff than those white people who insulted, belittled, degraded, and mocked them.
The many Nancy Greens who had to go into white homes and face rape from the white husbands and sons, faced abuse from the white wives, faced disrespect, faced being cheated out of wages that amounted to nothing more than $2-3 dollars a day for hard labor under conditions that were no better than slavery—–those black women were the real humans, the real women, the real Southerners.
On days when I think I have it so bad, when I think I can’t go on, I remember all those brave black women who came before me, and I say to myself: “If they can go on after enduring hells that I can only conceive of in nightmares, then who am I to complain?”
It is white-run America that created these images; created these images to destroy the integrity, the value, the humanity of black women. That white men used black women as sexual toilets, and that white men tried to justify their sexual hatred of black women with the creation of “Mammy” was white Southern society’s way of sweeping under the rug white male sexual aggression against black women. By creating “Mammy”, white men , and white women, were seeking to assuage their guilt over all the hundreds of thousands of rapes done to black women during slavery and segregation. The creation of Mammy was to deflect from the reality of what many black women and girls suffered at the hands of white male rapists in the South. And this subservient image was created as a controlling image against black women. Black women who had more honor and humanity than all the white people who sought to destroy them.
Would that white America and all of America could learn from these fine women’s humility and love of life that they were willing to take the brunt of abuse so that their children, and their children’s children would have a better, less hellish life.
That is what a real woman does.
The devastation of the enduring legacy of Aunt Jemima/Mammy still haunts all black women no matter how substantial their successes in America. In 1986,became offended when “ ” producer Lorne Michaels asked her to perform a skit with her playing Aunt Jemima in the process of being laid off by the Quaker Oats Company. Oprah was incensed and refusing to play the part, instead wanted to open the show with a sketch showing her arguing with Michaels over the skit, that no matter how much education, fame, knowledge, or position a black woman gains in America, in the end she is still a servile, slaving, mule of the world Aunt Jemima/Mammy in white America’s eyes. Even the Secretary of State has not escaped the slanderous insult that Aunt Jemima brings with it; she too, has been called an Aunt Jemima, as well, by a radio host who refused to apologize to Madame Secretary, but, he was willing to apologize to Aunt Jemima, and give radio listeners of a contest, free pancake mix and syrup!
This contemptuous insult is hurled at all black women no matter what their occupation, acheivements or station in life.
And that is how many people, of many races, still wish to view black women.
That no matter what we accomplish, we will always be mammies, wet-nurses and proverbial cooks in people’s eyes, no matter how many degrees we have, no matter what board room corporation we run, no matter how we take care of our families and communities. That someone of the stature ofcould be relegated to being seen as a selfless serve Massa and Missus Mammy is a testament to the America’s love and desire to keep black women in the kitchen, on the plantation, cooking and slaving away for white-run America’s benefit, white-run America’s contentment, white-run America’s happiness.
AUNT JEMIMA MAKES A CHANGE IN 1989
In 1989, the Quaker Oats Company changed their image of Aunt Jemima. Gone was the greasy shine, the head rag, the obese figure. In its place came the pearl earrings, a slimmed down face/figure, and a helmeted perm. But, no matter what the changes, Aunt Jemima is still Aunt Jemima—a hated, racist, sexist icon, that continues to haunt black women. She may look like a black Betty Crocker, but, she is still Aunt Jemima.
In 2007 America, Aunt Jemima commands a huge share of the breakfast foods market in pancake mixes, syrup, and frozen waffles/pancakes. But, there are still some black people today who are insulted by the continuing image of this icon still being sold and merchandised to Americans. And as a stereotypical image Aunt Jemima has offended some members of the black community, many of whom refuse to buy the product for fear of looking like aiders and abettors in this most sexist and racist of symbols that has lived for so long in the world of advertising and the perpetuation of a stereotype that will not die and go down into that grave and stay dead.
In 1991, the Quaker Oats Company fearing the backlash of the 1960s and 1970s of the Black Power Movement, and recognizing the challenges the black community was putting on the marketers of racist merchandise (Cream of Wheat, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and Aunt Jemima), created a contest and entered into a venture with the National Council of Negro Women in the hopes of making the trademark into a more positive symbol with the black American community. They ran the year-long contest, which was to recognize the leadership skills and talents of black female college students. Many women were honored across various sectors of black society, from many cities across America. The program ended with a national winner representing:
“The nominees and winners in each city will symbolize community involvement and strong family values—those traditional qualities that Aunt Jemima brands continue to represent and support.
“There are many women across the country whose hard work and dedication deserve recognition and appreciation. We want to lift up examples of women in different fields who inspire us all to greater community service.”
Slavish servile support of other people’s interests other than her own.
Sounds very Aunt Jemimaish to me.
The winner at the breakfast award that was held at the Quaker Oatsheadquarters, was given an award and was named “Black Woman Community Leader of the Year”.
However, the program did receive some flak from the black community.
SO WHERE DO WE STAND WITH AUNT JEMIMA?
The selling of Aunt Jemima adorned merchandise is still with us. People continue to buy this product which has outlasted (with the exception of Uncle Ben’s Rice and Rastus of Cream of Wheat) many racist stereotypical products created to insult and degrade black Americans.
Aunt Jemima has outlived:
-Gold Dust Twins
-Nigger Head Oysters
-Racist trade cards
-Rising Sun Stove products
-Pickaninny Brand Peanut Butter
And that’s just to name a few.
Enough is enough.
“Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow”, by Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, foreword by. Praeger Publishers, 1994.
AUTHENTIC HISTORY: “Stereotypes of African-Americans: Products and Advertising” (AUNT JEMIMA PANCAKE AD)