Girl Bye...So Aunt Jemima Wasn't Just Syrup?
“This Aunt Jemima logo was an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the "mammy," a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own. Visually, the plantation myth portrayed her as an asexual, plump black woman wearing a headscarf.” ~Riche’ Richardson, The New York Times
As a child, I remember having Aunt Jemima syrup in the kitchen. There was never a conversation about the lady on the syrup bottle. Our family just knew it was tasty and the favorite brand for pancakes. So, as I matured and realized there was a story behind Aunt Jemima, my reaction was Girl Bye… So Aunt Jemima wasn’t just syrup?
Although twelve different women portrayed Aunt Jemima, the original brand started with an enslaved person from Kentucky named Nancy Green. Nancy became a caretaker and servant. She spent most of her time cooking for and serving white families. Eventually, she became the original representation of the Aunt Jemima brand.
Knowing the story of Aunt Jemima is critical to the plight of the black girl. The marketing of black women influences the perception of black girls. Although Aunt Jemima was rebranded, the original brand created a stereotype that has stuck with us for over 130 years. Black girls need to see themselves or those who look like them in positive marketing campaigns. Brands need to go beyond conversations and become more inclusive.
The first step in becoming more inclusive is getting to know the culture. How can brands appeal to black girls if they know nothing about them? As I walk through stores, the only representation of black girls and black women is on skincare and hair products. Brands have learned to appeal to black women in these areas because they know our passion for our skin and hair. What if they inquired about other areas of our life?
Some black women work in construction, manufacturing, aerospace, hospitality, agriculture, education, and other industries. Yet, how often do you see the images of black women in commercials for hammers, saws, airplanes, hotels, farming supplies, or authors of textbooks? Failing to market these women makes it difficult for black girls to imagine being in those positions. We are what we can see! As a society, we must develop a more in-depth concept of how we’re presenting the world. Remember, children (including black girls) are 100% our future, and regardless of the current narrative, to make a difference, you must… Slay What Ya Hear!