I’ve seen reports this morning of various brands/products being withdrawn in the US to be rebranded. I’m not American so I’m probably missing some nuance or history here. The two main ones from what I see is Uncle Ben’s (I’ve been aware of for some time) and Aunt Jemima (which I only saw for the first time about 6 months ago). I can clearly see the racial stereotypes that are offensive with those products.
The one I don’t get is Mrs Buttersworth. Before today I was completely unfamiliar with the brand, and the only reference I have is looking at pictures of the bottle online. It’s a little hard to see the detail from a picture, but I’m not seeing the same sought of stereotype as the other two. Anyone care to fill me in on the background I’m missing?
My memory of Mrs Butterworth, as a logo, is a clear plastic figurine filled with syrup. That is certainly a dark brown color, but directly attributable to to the syrup, not skin color. I don’t ever recall seeing Mrs Butterworth as human character who might be assigned a particular race, the way Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are.
But maybe that’s only because my caucasian skin blinds me to such things.
I never thought of Mrs. Butterworth’s as racist – she was voiced by a white actress and the bottle – as far as bottles with low resolution can show – doesn’t to me suggest that she’s black. This site’s claim that Thelma McQueen modeled for the bottle is the first I’ve heard of that.
I don’t think I buy it.
Others don’t, either:
I suspect that this is a case of some people’s conception being taken as fact with no good basis for it. It reminds me of the case a few years ago when some people claimed that the label on Snapple iced tea (with its colonial-era costumes and ships) represented slave traders. That was a stretch – the obvious connotation of such a picture on the label of iced tea is that it represented the Boston Tea Party. “Slave Ship” didn’t seem to be a rational thing to stick on a bottle of iced tea.
At least in the case of Mrs. Butterworth there’s a more logical series of inferences that can justify the assumption – Aunt Jemima, a racist holdover from older times, sold pancakes, and was a plump woman in a head kerchief, so why not a similar figure selling the syrup that goes on it? And the syrup is brown in color, so the transparent bottle kinda looks like a brown person.
I’m fully in sympathy with the current feelings – Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben and Rastus on Cream of Wheat should have gone ages ago. But I honestly don’t think Mrs. Butterworth is intended to be black, or a racist symbol, and I think people are throwing out the pancake syrup with the pancakes.
I don’t think Mrs. Butterworth’s was ever marketed using the imagery and stereotypes used for Aunt Jemima, with the minstrel-show style portrayal and dialect. I think it was just a bottle in the shape of a matronly woman and anything else was projected onto it by consumers. It wasn’t even introduced until 1961. They did not have any representation of her other than the bottle.
For what it’s worth, by the way, I’ve never used Aunt Jemima pancake mix OR Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. I was brung up on Bisquick, but now I make my pancakes and waffles from scratch. And I was raised on Log Cabin syrup and Vermont Maid. In its early years Vermont Maid was pure Maple syrup, but around the time of WWII they began blending in cane syrup. Now I think it’s sweetened flavored corn syrup. I don’t think Log Cabin (or Mrs. Butterworth’s) ever was maple syrup. It’s telling that the word “maple” doesn’t appear above “syrup” on Log Cabin, Vermont Maid, or Butterworth’s today. I’ve been using pure maple syrup for years, despite the price.
Vermont Maid ingredients from Amazon:
High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Natural & Artificial Maple Flavor, Cellulose Gum, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate (To Preserve Freshness) And Sorbic Acid.
Growing up on a farm in western Minnesota, our farm neighbors objected to Mrs Butterworths syrup because it was a fraud – not a trace of butter in it. As Dairy Farmers, that fraudulent name bothered them.
As per the information provided by the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia situated in Ferris State University in Michigan, the mother character was displayed as an obese Black woman with her head covered with a scarf. Identical to Mrs. Butterworth’s iconic lady.
Just two problems with this. Butterfly McQueen was not obese (though Mrs. Butterworth isn’t either), and Mrs. Butterworth does not wear a headscarf. Her hair is pulled back in a bun like a stereotypical white grandmother.
We couldn’t afford the real stuff when I was a kid. Now, when we vacation to the North Country, we buy 100% pure and local maple syrup. Not only is that stuff the schnizzle, but taking a tour of the buildings where it’s processed is magical.
You seem to be conflating a number of different scenarios all under the same umbrella.
Keebler isn’t looking to change the name of “Famous Amos” cookies. That’s because Wally Amos was the guy who baked the original cookies, and he intentionally lent his name and image to its marketing. He owned them and sold them.
Aunt Jemima, on the other hand, was a character, based on one common in racist minstrel shows, developed in order to capitalize on a racist stereotype. So Quaker is quite rightly looking to change the branding to exclude those racist elements.
Betty Crocker is a character developed to sell baking supplies, but her name and image were not based on racist tropes, so there’s no need for General Mills to look into changing that branding.