As protests for racial justice continue around the world, companies are taking a long-overdue look at their corporate structures and branding. Aunt Jemima, a breakfast foods brand, was the first to announce that it would rebrand to no longer be based on a “racial stereotype.”
Rice brand Uncle Ben’s, which is owned by Mars, Inc., has now also committed to making changes to its visual identity. It has not said exactly what will be altered, but is “evaluating all possibilities.”
“As a global brand, we know we have a responsibility to take a stand in helping to put an end to racial bias and injustices,” Mars said in a statement. “As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that one way we can do this is by evolving the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity.”
The brand also tweeted their announcement.
We have a responsibility to help end racial injustices. We’re listening to consumers, especially in the Black community, and our Associates. We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we will evolve Uncle Ben’s visual brand identity. pic.twitter.com/n0e1pZ75OF
— Uncle Ben's USA (@UncleBens) June 17, 2020
Uncle Ben’s logo, which first appeared in ads in 1946, has long been criticized for being racist. It features an illustration of a Black man, whose clothing has changed over time from a bowtie to a white collar. According to the brand’s website, the Uncle Ben’s name was decided upon by Gordon Harwell, creator of Converted Brand Rice, and a partner as they were discussing how to market the product to customers at a Chicago restaurant.
“The name comes from a Black Texan farmer, known as Uncle Ben, who was known for growing high-quality rice,” a spokesperson told HuffPost. “The gentleman on our boxes, who has come to personify the brand, was a beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown.”
Critics of the name have always argued that it appears to reflect how white Southerners once used “uncle” and “aunt” when talking to or about older Black people because they refused to say “Mr.” and “Mrs.” Additionally, the image reflects an era when Black representation in ads was limited to athletes, entertainers, and those who were subservient in some way.
The news invoked a mixed response on Twitter. Some commenters described the move as “ridiculous,” with one commenter declaring, “it’s rice and it’s not worth worrying about.”
But others, like @Chanice90004538, applauded the move, saying, “It has truly been a long time coming.”
Yes thank you. Please make some changes. It has truly been a long time coming.
— Chanice (@Chanice90004538) June 18, 2020
In addition to Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, Cream of Wheat has announced it is issuing a review of all its branding and packaging to ensure it does not “inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”