Let’s begin with this: what’s racist about Uncle Ben?
Yesterday we discussed PepsiCo dumping Aunt Jemima on the silly pretense that doing so would “make progress toward racial equality,” thus grabbing the lead in the breakfast food grovel sweepstakes. Even though Aunt Jemima no longer looks like a “mammy,” the idea was that she began as an offensive racist stereotype, and once a stereotype, always a stereotype. First they came for Aunt Jemima…and then it was Mrs. Butterworth. Like Althouse, who blogged about Mrs. B yesterday, I never thought of the female-shaped syrup container as having any race at all. An article in the New York Post claimed that the bottle was modeled after Butterfly McQueen, the black actress who played the mentally-challenged slave Prissy in “Gone With The Wind.” That’s odd: I don’t recall Prissy being filled with syrup. This is one more example (among many) of activists desperately searching for things to be offended about to bend individuals and companies to their will at a time when so many of those with power appear to be ready to agree to anything to prove how woke they are.
Now we learn that Mars is going to rebrand Uncle Ben’s Rice because Ben evokes a racist stereotype. What would that be? Uncle Ben appears to be a middle aged-black guy in a bow tie, and that’s how he’s always looked. What’s the theory here?
The clue may be the Cream of Wheat man, who never had a name that I was aware of.
Reportedly he’s on the chopping block too. Is it because he’s a chef? Is it because he’s smiling? Is it because he had a relationship with Aunt Jemima?
Right…it’s the food connection, right? Blacks were, indeed, often are still, though Hispanic-Americans have taken a lot of the jobs, employed as in the food industry and as domestic servants. So that’s a stereotype making any connection of food with blacks offensive? How do you justify this, then…
…which commercializes another racial stereotype?
CNN’s legal analyst Elliot Williams, who is black, writes,
Which brings us back to our favorite aunt and uncle, Jemima and Ben. Any suggestion that the two are just winsome old black people and that we should get over it, misses the point. The very fact that these characters are even part of the American consciousness in the first place is a problem.
Hold on there…Aunt Jemima was based on a slave-era archetype and an ex-slave personified her for decades. I get that the logo has a “racist” origin, and someone passed a rule that origins are all the count, not present day reality. (Unless the origin doesn’t fit the racist narrative, so something else will become the focus. As I have explained here previously, for example, the Washington Redskins, which I assume will face another round of protests by people being offended about the team name on behalf of Native Americans who mostly don’t care, was not named after the usually derogatory term for American Indians, but to evoke the Boston Red Sox, with whom the NFL Boston Braves had decided to share Fenway Park….Red Sox, Redskins, get it?)
But there is no connection that I can find between the Uncle Ben image and slavery or racism, unless it’s “Uncle” because that evokes Uncle Tom of Cabin fame—which, if true, is too silly for words. One aspect of racial equality should be that if a white middle-aged man can be called Uncle, so can a black middle-aged man; in fact, it’s discrimination if he can’t.
All I can see happening after Uncle Ben is suddenly stashed in the memory hole as offensive and racist symbolism is that blacks will soon only be able to be safely represented in advertising, TV and media in counter-stereotypical roles and occupations. No more black chauffeurs, chefs, servants, bus drivers, or bartenders; no more sprinters, football players, basketball stars, rappers or tap dancers. Definitely no black drug-dealers, pimps or prostitutes. Americans will only be able to see black computer programmers, astronauts, brain surgeons, nuclear physicists, Shakespearean actors, diplomats, Olympic swimmers and ice skaters, while any of the stereotypical representations will be regarded as affirmatively racist.
It seems to me that the goal in seeking equal treatment and opportunity for all races means avoiding these kinds of artificial restrictions in fact and fiction. I also find it ironic that in his article, Williams reminisces about how blacks were invisible in American culture when he was growing up. How does banning black faces and characters from product logos today constitute progress?
My whole life as a rice lover, I associated Uncle Ben with the rice I loved (Minute Rice…blechhh!). He did his job well, with dignity. Now he’s out of a job because of his race,
How is that racial justice?