‘I’m surprised it has taken this long’: Virginia Tech professor explains racial history of Aunt Jemima

Quaker Foods announced controversial character will be discontinued

BLACKSBURG, Va. – The Aunt Jemima brand is merely a smiling face on a syrup bottle for some people, but Virginia Tech professor Dr. Wornie Reed considers it a reminder of America’s history of racism.

“I, and people like me, will never accept it as anything more than a black Mammy,” said Reed, who directs Virginia Tech’s Race and Social Policy Center.

Quaker Foods announced Wednesday it would discontinue the Aunt Jemima brand after more than 130 years.

In a release, Quaker Foods North America Vice President Kristin Kroepfl said, “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype. While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”

Reed said the lasting legacy of Aunt Jemima is of a caricature that intentionally dehumanized black Americans, especially black women.

“It has been used to show that slavery wasn’t that bad,” Reed said. “It illustrates, ‘Look at these smiling Aunt Jemimas taking care of all of these white kids.‘”

Some white shoppers, such as Rose Martin, have also avoided buying Aunt Jemima because of the connotations.

“It just seems racist to me,” Martin said. “It’s time for it to go.”

Reed believes Aunt Jemima’s downfall can be attributed to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, which he regards as a political force not seen in generations.

“We had no real national movement pushing for racial progress from the mid-1970s until the Black Lives Matter movement came along in 2014,” Reed says. “Without outside pressure, we get no movement. I’ve been making that argument most of my adult life.”