Quaker Oats made headlines in 2020 when it declared that it was going to stop selling “Aunt Jemima” products. This decision seems to be done in response to the growing global support for the Black Lives Matter movement. There were others who supported this decision, but it wasn’t shared by everyone. Just one day after the announcement, Larnell Evans Sr., a great-grandson of the woman who created the famous “Aunt Jemima” portrait, expressed his severe disapproval. Evans urged the corporation to recognize the complexity of its legacy, saying that discontinuing the brand amounted to erasing Black history and pain.

An Annotated History of Racial Stereotypes

The “Aunt Jemima” brand has a convoluted past that is intertwined with African American history and racial prejudices. The logo portrayed Nancy Green, a Black woman who had been a slave in the past. Historiographic sources describe Nancy Green as a “storyteller, cook, and missionary worker,” despite her enslavement from birth. The brand was first introduced in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair when Nancy Green served pancakes. After her death in 1923, the brand was later linked to Anna Short Harrington. According to Larnell Evans Sr., his great-grandmother was Anna Short Harrington, who adopted the persona of Aunt Jemima around 1935.

The Aunt Jemima Legacy

A complicated combination of racial stereotype, representation, and servitude characterize Aunt Jemima’s legacy. For more than twenty years, Anna Short Harrington traveled widely in the United States and Canada while fulfilling the role of Aunt Jemima for Quaker Oats. This era followed the end of slavery, and for many Black Americans, Aunt Jemima represented opportunity and fortitude in the face of severe racial discrimination.

The Viewpoint of Larnell Evans Sr.

Being a direct descendant of Anna Short Harrington, Larnell Evans Sr. considers the Aunt Jemima legacy to be a significant part of his own family’s past. In his opinion, the decision to retire the brand erases the legacy of Black people who overcame hardship to succeed as well as the accomplishments of his great-grandmother. Evans highlighted his dissatisfaction with the company’s ability to make money off of a racial stereotype for years and his dismay at how quickly it is being removed without taking into account the harm and historical nuances connected to the brand.

Issues of Accountability and Restitution

Larnell Evans Sr. poses significant queries concerning accountability and remedies. He raises concerns about the number of white individuals who grew up with Aunt Jemima or other such characters at their breakfast table, feeding racial stereotypes while corporations made money without giving it back to the communities they portrayed. He feels that the business owes it to his family and the larger Black community to admit the harm the brand has caused and to make amends or acknowledgement in some other way.