The manufacturer of parboiled rice finally recognized it can no longer rely on racial stereotypes to sell its products.
Trigger Warning: Images of Racial Stereotypes
The past few weeks have been a great reckoning for global brands that use racist imaging in order to sell their products. Uncle Ben's, following in the footsteps of maple syrup manufacturer Aunt Jemima, announced that the company will be reworking their branding. At present, all their packaging features their logo, a smiling black man. His gray hair and fine lines indicate he is a little older. For decades now, the logo has been highly criticized for propagating racial stereotypes. Its time may have finally come, The New York Times reports. Uncle Ben's, the producer of parboiled rice and other related food products, announced the move on their social media pages.
"As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to help put an end to racial injustices," the company affirmed. "One way we can do this is to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand and visual identity, which we will do. We’re listening to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to our associates worldwide. We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities." There is no doubt that the decision to rebrand was prompted by the ongoing anti-racism, Black Lives Matter demonstrations taking place across the United States.
Y’all literally do know that Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus from the Cream of Wheat brand are all racist depictions of black people right? Cuz it’s late and I don’t mind giving y’all a racism in advertising lesson before bed. pic.twitter.com/NmrVLsIdcu— Elle (@KissedByElle) June 17, 2020
There is now a renewed focus on brands that still rely on racist packaging to sell their goods. While the criticism has existed for several years, the pressure to changing their imaging has never been stronger. Perhaps this is evident in just how many brands have come forward to make the same change. Right after Uncle Ben's announced its upcoming revamp, ConAgra Brands, the maker of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake syrup, too released a statement confirming that they would do the same. B&G Foods Inc., the parent company of Cream of Wheat, made a similar announcement.
Their porridge box features an image of "Rastus," a Black man with a bright smile in a white chef’s uniform. The firm stated, "We understand there are concerns regarding the chef image and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism." The man depicted on Uncle Ben's packaging is modeled after a Chicago maître d'hôtel named Frank Brown. Mars. Inc. claimed the character was a "rice grower known for the quality of his rice." Through an advertising campaign in 2007, the company "promoted" the man from servant to chairman of the board.
Of course, many believed this was not enough. Kevin D. Thomas, a professor of multicultural branding in the Race, Ethnic and Indigenous Studies Program at Marquette University, hopes that the current social climate would finally result in real change. He wants to see a "substantial overhaul" in the marketing world, an industry that profits off of the appropriation and stereotyping of Black folks and their culture. "I’m hoping this is a reckoning and we’re going to start seeing something that becomes pervasive," he said. Earlier this year, dairy product manufacturer Land O' Lakes changed their packaging, dropping the Native American woman who was formerly a staple on all their butter boxes. They have shown other brands it's possible, so, really, it's just about damn time.
Uncle Ben origins are based on a racial stereotype. He was referred to as “Uncle Ben” instead of “Mr Ben” is because back then white people would not want to call a black man “Mr” so "Uncle" was a shitty compromise. It's time to get rid of the racial stereotypes #UncleBens pic.twitter.com/vZ6anmVJqh— Geoff_Brew (@Geoff_Brew) June 17, 2020