In 1966, the Aunt Jemima brand launched a new syrup to go along with its popular pancake mix. The slogan, according to the company’s timeline, was “Aunt Jemima, what took you so long?”
That’s the question many people are asking after the iconic brand announced on Wednesday that it is changing its name and retiring its mascot, a black woman whose character was originally based on the stereotype of the enslaved “mammy” who raised her master’s white children.
“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of parent company Quaker Foods North America, said in a news release.
In its 130-year history, Aunt Jemima had evolved. In 1989, the company noted that she had debuted a more “contemporary look,” with pearl earrings and a lace collar in place of her original headscarf. The brand has been criticized over the years for retaining even the modernized mascot, but in recent weeks, fueled by protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police and calls for racial equity in all aspects of American life, attention had shifted to the brand.
In a TikTok video that has been viewed more than 3 million times, the singer Kirby posted a video in which she explained to viewers how to “make a non-racist breakfast.” She brandished a box of Aunt Jemima mix while reciting some of the brand’s history: how its creator got the name from minstrel shows (“think: blackface” she says), how the original mascot was a woman who traveled around for the company, making pancakes “and telling stories of the good old South.”
“Black lives matter, people,” Kirby says as she dumps the contents of the box down the sink. “Even on the breakfast.”