The Truth About Aunt Jemima

Aunt Jemima syrup
via Flickr
Cydney Smith
December 7, 2020

In the 1890s, white entertainers loved using racism for cheap laughs: offensive stereotypes and blackface galore.

But one minstrel show delighted two white advertisers so much, they used the mammy character’s image on their newest product: pancake mix.

R.T. Davis Milling Company took it further, however. Slapping a racist cartoon on a pancake box wasn’t enough. They wanted a living, breathing person to embody the mammy archetype and promote their product. 

Nancy Green became their walking Aunt Jemima.

The formerly enslaved Green would travel and pose as Aunt Jemima at thousands of shows, “joyously” preparing pancakes as a good “mammy” would. 

The company made promises to Green that she’d receive royalties and fair pay for her image and labor … but she was mostly compensated with white lies.

Green abruptly passed in 1923. But even in death, she lived on as Aunt Jemima – until Quaker Oats finally removed the pancake brand from shelves 130 years later!

Still, we must never forget Nancy Green and the way exploitative advertisers reduced this living woman to a mere product for profit.

Racism like this continues today. In Black History Year’s recent episode, “Decoding the Racism in Advertising and Entertainment,” Professor Gene Shelton reveals the racism behind the machine – and gets real about reclaiming our representation in media. 

Find Black History Year anywhere you find podcasts. It’s time to up our media literacy!

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