How Corporate Branding Embedded Racist Stereotypes In American Culture

Quaker Oats changing its Aunt Jemima brand and the Washington NFL team dropping its racist name is part of a long history of consumers pushing brands to stop stereotyping.

As Black Lives Matters protests against police brutality and systemic racism continue, corporations and other civic institutions are reexamining long-brewing critiques of embedded racial stereotypes in American culture. 

Prominently, Quaker Oats retired its Aunt Jemima brand that has been criticized as a racial stereotype and the Washington NFL team announced it would be dropping the racial slur and logo that has been under fire for years. 

“We have to be careful that this isn’t just about brands and symbolic gestures but some kind of structural change.” — Jessica Kenyatta Walker, University of Michigan

But these gestures may prove inadequate in the face of larger systemic solutions protestors are calling for. 

“We have to be careful that this isn’t just about brands and symbolic gestures but some kind of structural change,” says Jessica Kenyatta Walker, an Assistant professor of American Culture and Afroamerican and African Studies for the University of Michigan. 

Walker says that these changes are the result of decades of pressure and criticism.

“The push-back for Aunt Jemima is not new, if you think about her invention in 1889 all the way until 1989 actually, there have been consistent cries for changing that image because it is stereotypical,” she says. 

And what started out as a stereotype transformed into reality across the course of a century, become embedded in American culture and harder to uproot. 

“There are actual women who went around the country becoming and embodying Aunt Jemima,” Walker says. “She has really saturated our culture and with that comes a stereotype of what an African American woman should be or could be.”

Click on the player above to hear Jessica Kenyatta Walker on the history of racist corporate branding and how stereotypes become embedded in our culture. 

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  • Tia Graham
    Tia Graham is a reporter and Weekend Edition Host for 101.9 WDET. She graduated from Michigan State University where she had the unique privilege of covering former President Barack Obama and his trip to Lansing in 2014.