The Kirkwood Call

Branding racism

Logan Crews, opinions editor

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Welcome to America. The land of a patchwork population made up of a diverse, unique people. But in case you didn’t know, the United States hasn’t had the best track record with being culturally sensitive. We call ourselves the “great melting pot,” yet time and time again, minorities are marginalized when there are potential threats to democracy for white Americans. I’m talking about slavery and Native American removal in the 19th century, Japanese internment camps in the 20th and travel bans on Islamic countries in the 21st. As a country, we’ve managed to move past these lapses in American spirit. In the future, there will be more, but at least we are moving toward accepting diversity. Unfortunately, there are still traces of our racist past in everyday society. One of them might be sitting in your pantry right now.

Much to your surprise, the breakfast brand Aunt Jemima wasn’t started by a homely African-American lady named Jemima who liked to make pancakes. You might’ve been asleep through the first 200 years taught in U.S. History if you thought America would accept an independent black woman’s company that started in 1889. “Aunt Jemima” was actually a song performed in minstrel shows where white people in blackface pretended to be a domestic black woman. The brand sold not only because of its good taste in breakfast food, but also because the original logo was a minstrel actor in blackface. Since then, all the brand has done to address their past is change the logo to be a young, happy looking, actual African-American woman. Little do most know that when they’re buying an Aunt Jemima product, they’re supporting a company that used to feed the heart of white supremacy that has failed to address its past in the present. Yum.

Even more blatant racist branding comes from the sports teams, the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins. “Indians” is an inaccurate description for the indigenous, and “Redskin” is a derogatory term associated with Native American people, but at least they aren’t as bad as the team logos. The Cleveland Indians even named their mascot “Chief Wahoo,” mimicking the stereotypical warcry coming from a bright red man with a feather in his hair and an exaggerated nose and mouth. Such a caricature would fit right into an assimilation-era political cartoon, but the fact that it’s still being used today shows the ignorance that still remains toward Native Americans. Thankfully, though, the Cleveland Indians will be dropping Chief Wahoo starting in 2019, according to the New York Times. Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, said that the logo was inappropriate for modern day use on the field, though they will continue to sell Chief Wahoo merchandise, especially because they haven’t announced a replacement mascot. Hopefully other teams and brands with culturally-appropriating mascots will begin to follow suit.

Part of the problem is that a lot of Americans don’t understand when something is offensive. Eskimo Pies have been selling as a popular dessert for years, but not as much hell has been raised over their brand name compared to the Cleveland Indians. “Eskimo” is yet another insulting term to use for Alaska Natives, and their products are still stocked on shelves. As well as Chiquita, the fruit brand, which originally had a banana in stereotypical Latin American clothes to sexualize “tropical” women. Now, it’s another case like Aunt Jemima: sneakily changing their logo without addressing their history.

The more we as Americans denounce these traces of racism and discrimination ingrained in society, the more we support our wonderful melting pot’s diversity. Then, the more we can push for equality. It’s hard to work toward an even playing field for all races when we still cheer for belittling mascots, buy from brands like Aunt Jemima among many other racist products and deny that we’re still perpetuating a culture controlled by the white majority that should’ve died a long time ago.

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Branding racism