Richard J. Reddick is an associate dean and associate professor of educational leadership and policy at The University of Texas at Austin, where he also holds courtesy appointments in the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

Perspectives Richard Reddick

In the wake of the protests following the killing of George Floyd and many other Black Americans by police, several brands that produce items Americans buy and use every day are facing a long-overdue reckoning.

Quaker Oats (a subsidiary of PepsiCo) decided to retire Aunt Jemima because of its racist origin. Conagra and Mars said they’re reviewing or changing the Mrs. Butterworth’s and Uncle Ben’s logos (which are both Black and depict racial stereotypes), respectively. And Cream of Wheat has now said, it too, is reevaluating its imagery.While the current sociopolitical context explains many of these actions, these changes might have come earlier if perspectives representing Black, indigenous, and other people of color were embodied and integrated into these corporations. In order for these changes to truly indicate a pivot toward equity and inclusion, they must be coupled with changes in leadership and in the boardroom.Racist logos and labels are nothing new—they’re a vestige of homogeneous, monocultural business leadership. Amazingly, in 2020, only four Fortune 500 companies have a Black CEO, and, as of last year, more than a third of S&P 500 companies have no Black board members. But these changes are about more than just packaging. They represent the need for diverse and inclusive leadership in corporate America, and they serve as examples for other corporations that might need to look inward at their own history. By doing so, these companies are showing what needs to be done in order to work toward more inclusive and respectful depictions in products and leadership. Earlier this year, we saw a similar wave of actions regarding depictions of Native Americans. Universities, sports team and businesses sought to remove age-old Native American images and depictions from their branding and logos. Of note, Land O’ Lakes removed the Native American woman from its packaging, instead replacing her with branding that pays homage to the farmers behind its product. Read MoreColgate is still selling 'Black Person Toothpaste' in China. Now that's under reviewColgate is still selling 'Black Person Toothpaste' in China. Now that's under reviewColgate is still selling 'Black Person Toothpaste' in China. Now that's under reviewMany Americans may not understand why such changes are necessary. For some, Aunt Jemima was an amicable character synonymous with pancakes. They may be asking: Why would they remove a smiling Black woman from the packaging? I imagine still others will believe this decision exemplifies political correctness run amok. These perceptions, however, are due to the normalization of white supremacy in American culture.As psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum has remarked, racism and White supremacy are like smog — we don’t choose to breathe it; we breathe it because it’s the only air available. It isn’t until we have an opportunity to breathe fresh air that we can imagine a world free from these constraints. This fresh air comes from more inclusive and diverse leadership — without different perspectives and different backgrounds, businesses can suffer. More inclusive leadership can help avoid pitfalls, such as Prada’s 2018 blackface scandal. As part of its settlement with New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, the high-end fashion house has agreed to create a diversity and inclusion advisory council and for all of its employees to receive racial equity training. It will also endow a scholarship for members of underrepresented groups looking to break into the fashion industry. Sportswear giant Adidas was recently challenged by its employees to do more than profit from the images of Black athletes, and Adidas responded by committing to fill 30% of new positions in the United States with Black or Latinx people, add millions in investments in community-based programs and finance 50 scholarships.At a time when consumers are increasingly seeking social consciousness with brands, it should be evident to corporate leaders that the commitment to diversity should be real and sustained—from advertising to top executives and board of directors.It also means we must reassess the stereotypes and imagery of White supremacy that have become normalized in our society. From the 1830s to the 1950s, minstrel shows depicted Black people as subservient, dim-witted, lazy and docile. Black women were portrayed as “mammies” — obese, desexualized and devoted to a White family, to the exclusion of her own (the Aunt Jemima logo was originally based on the “mammy”). The impact and influence of minstrelsy on American society is hard to understate: the term “Jim Crow,” describing the segregationist laws that oppressed Black Americans, came from a minstrel character. Tropes and stereotypes about the Black people from minstrelsy far outlived the performance: Because minstrelsy was couched in humor and paternalism, it was a more palatable portrayal than stereotypes promulgated by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are going away. Are these mascots next?Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are going away. Are these mascots next?Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are going away. Are these mascots next?Images like Aunt Jemima hearken not only to minstrelsy, but also to the subservience of enslaved Black people and Black domestics — often called “aunt” or “uncle” and only existed to serve. Her hair and physical appearance have changed over time, but even a modernized rendering does not erase the origin and problematic positioning of Aunt Jemima and other such imagery. As we have witnessed since 1619, when slaves were first brought to North America, Black people are not afforded equal humanity and respect as White people. The diminution of humanity starts with seemingly innocuous portrayals of people as stereotypical depictions and can end in death, as the same value afforded to White lives is not extended to Black lives. I commend the brands that have decided to move on from their racist logos. More brands must elevate Black, indigenous, and people of color to positions of power, both internally and on boards—and honest (sometimes uncomfortable) discussions regarding who is included, who is embraced and who is exalted can advance our ongoing need for truth and reconciliation not only in the corporate sector, but also in American society. Quaker Oats’ decision along with those of Conagra and Mars have sparked conversations in college classrooms, places of worship and community discussion forums across the country and world. This moment, where we are continually confronted with the absence of value for Black lives, calls for real commitment and leadership that embraces diverse voices. It’s a breath of fresh air we all need.

Source Link:
https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/20/perspectives/aunt-jemima-racist-logos/index.html

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