I know it’s been hard these last weeks, months, and decades. I know you’ve struggled with the increasing racial strife in the United States… a division that was intensified under Barack Hussein Obama after several years of previous improvement, a division that has become excruciating since embittered Democrats actually lost a presidential election in 2016. It’s been a long haul, but I finally have some good news.
We’ve ended racism. We’ve dealt a death blow to the forces of prejudice in the wake of centuries of slavery and maltreatment.
We’ve retired Aunt Jemima.
Now, I know that this is hard to believe. Finally doing away with Aunt Jemima makes the fall of the Berlin Wall pale in comparison. When I think of how many people were being oppressed by pancakes and syrup, this accomplishment staggers me. Finally, all races of humanity can come together in their shared hatred for a 130-year-old breakfast food brand. Take THAT, systemic injustice!
Now, it’s a fact that the Aunt Jemima brand was born of racial stereotypes. Like the “maid” character on the old Tom and Jerry cartoons, the depiction of Aunt Jemima as a “mammy” caricature was the very definition of insensitive. I’m old enough to remember when the image was modified, most recently, to remove Aunt Jemima’s bandanna and give her a more modern, contemporary look. The decision was somewhat controversial at the time, but most people today don’t even recall it. It’s irrelevant now, though; the entire brand has been retired, to be replaced by a new brand that has yet to be announced.
What’s absurd about all this, of course, is that Aunt Jemima was not a cause of racism. It was a symptom, in its origins… but as it evolved over time, it was also a weather vane. As our attitudes toward race became far less casually prejudiced, as society became far more conscious of how these depictions reflected on them, we made changes. You can see the evolution of Aunt Jemima as vaguely reflective of the improvement in American race relations over the years. That’s not a bad thing.
What bothers me, at least a little bit, is that these changes never seem voluntary. I would be much more impressed by a company that announced, in the absence of national controversy or astroturfed activism campaigns, that it was retiring a brand that it now considered obsolete. Brands change all the time; attitudes evolve; advertising is fluid. Look at the ads in a magazine from the 1970s sometime. Not only have our attitudes changed, but the ways in which advertisers approach audiences have evolved considerably.
No, the current purge of anything and everything that can be considered even tangentially, indirectly evocative of race dictates that it all MUST be deleted and eliminated. These range from objects and institutions of considerable history, such as Confederate monuments, to the most trivial of projections (such as the monkey mascot of Kellogg’s Coco Pops).
Land O’ Lakes removed the Native American woman from its box covers. Gone with the Wind was removed from an online streaming service, ironically erasing the first Academy Award won by a black actress in Hollywood. Amazon is now considering removing the execrable Dukes of Hazzard from its streaming service, because it features an ugly orange car with a Confederate Flag on it. Disney Plus, meanwhile, has been censoring or flagging with “trigger warnings” various historical pieces of Disney entertainment whose depictions of race are, shall we say, less than in keeping with modern sensitivities.
Overall, none of these things have hurt anyone. When a century-old Carousel in Rochester, New York was modified to remove a piece of artwork depicting black children, no one was hurt by the image before or after its installation in a museum. No fires of racism have been fanned by the existence of syrup with a black woman on the bottle, butter with a fictional Native American on its face, or television shows involving idiot felons whose primary accomplishment is wrecking large quantities of Dodge Chargers.
But in a world where we always scream “Do something!” without bothering to question the nature of the thing that is done, eliminating these things makes someone feel better. If it emboldens just one smirking social justice whiner, why, it must be worthwhile. Right?
Aunt Jemima thus joins other brands that have been modified or retired to combat largely imaginary racism. The erasure of history doesn’t change what has happened before — but it does reduce the likelihood we will remember. The deletion of culture does not combat racist thoughts or attitudes — but it does exert control by the minority over the majority.
I’m not speaking of racial demographics, but of pure numbers. In every case of corporations bowing immediately to the slightest public pressure, the complainers are but the tiniest percentage of the population overall. So weak and cowardly are the nation’s commercial brands that they will grovel and scrape at the first utterance of contrived outrage, no matter how few voices are involved.
There is an old meme from The Critic in which the protagonist pronounces, “And nothing of value was lost.” No one will be harmed by the loss of Aunt Jemima. Few will miss Bo and Luke’s reruns (while a few more will bemoan the loss of Daisy Duke’s posterior). But we should all be uneasy when the first response to any controversy is to erase history, to pull down monuments, to trash memorials, and to memory-hole our nation’s past.
No long-term good comes from avoiding the mistakes of the past by burying them in shallow graves. No benefit is derived from sticking our fingers in our ears and humming loudly, hoping we can avoid seeing things that make us uncomfortable. The answer to “What should we do?” is never “Hide it!” Censorship, voluntary or otherwise, is not a solution to any problem. It is the appearance, the simulation of action, while in reality it only throws gasoline on the fire.
There are real solutions to the problems of racism in modern society… but selective recall is not one of them.