Friday, February 12, 2021

When Stereotyping Is Promoted

The New York Times reports

Now, Aunt Jemima has a new name: the Pearl Milling Company.

In an announcement on Tuesday by PepsiCo, which owns Aunt Jemima’s parent company Quaker Oats, the pancake-mix and syrup line formally began rebranding itself and moved one step closer to permanently abandoning its 131-year-old name.

The new name comes from the milling company in St. Joseph, Mo., that pioneered the self-rising pancake mix that became known as Aunt Jemima, according to PepsiCo, which said the rebranded products would arrive in stores in June.

The change has been in the works since last June after the killing of George Floyd catalyzed widespread protests over racial injustice and a nationwide reckoning over symbols of the Old South and their meaning. Several large food companies came under fire for using racial stereotypes, including Quaker Oats, which said it would drop the Aunt Jemima name, redesign its packaging and pledge $5 million to support the Black community.

"Several large food companies" indeed, but not insurance companies.  Given that arguably the most prominent of stereotypes about African-Americans is their dancing skill, GEICO seems not to have gotten (or maybe it has) the message:

The Aunt Jemima brand was a bad one, just as GEICO's dancing blacks fosters a stereotype, entertaining and pleasing whites from coast to coast. One has been removed, the other, not.

Double standards abound. Washington "Redskins" nickname was offensive and, under fire, ownership officially changed the team's name to "Football Team," at least until a permanent name is determined. (My personal favorite is "FT" because if the franchise continues its losing ways, the abbreviation could become embarrassing.) In this instance, it's the Kansas City Chiefs who haven't gotten the memo:

Of course, primary blame should fall not on the fans but rather on team ownership, which could put an end to this if it wished. However, they do not, and that's because there is little if any criticism of this disgraceful chant, popular at every Chiefs' home game.

It's not clear why. Perhaps it is because over the last six seasons, Washington's won-lost record is a cumulative -4 as the team has lost 4 more games in the regular season than it has won, with no playoff victories. Over the same period, Kansas City is an extraordinary combined +44, with one Super Bowl victory.  The Chiefs have delighted their fans, the Redskins have not, and attacking (however justifiably) a  losing team is much safer than criticism of a winning team. 

Or there may be an alternative factor, one owing to the parallel between Redskins-Chiefs and Aunt Jemima-GEICO. 

The Redskins image had existed for 88 years, Aunt Jemima for 131 years. That's a very long time. While the Chiefs' tomahawk chant has been in effect for decades, the GEICO commercial has played for far less than one year.  The insurance company could easily pull its commercial and the Kansas City franchise could issue an edict that anyone seen aping the chant would lose his or her season ticket privileges. Done.

Limited evidence indicates that if a practice was begun, or a symbol founded, in a less enlightened era when few people would have thought it offensive, it must now be expunged. But if in our more enlightened age the offensive practice or symbol emerges, it may continue. If this doesn't make sense to you, you're catching on.


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