First, Aunt Jemima. Now, Uncle Ben.
Aunt Jemima has been known for more than a century for its savory pancake mix and syrup; Uncle Ben, for more than half a century for its savory rice. In the name of political correctness and “racial sensitivity,” America’s favorite aunts and uncles are being shown the door.
In the wake of the George Floyd killing, companies have begun pledging to overhaul brands with logos and names out of step with the times. And activists and others are spurring this, complaining that the branding could perpetuate “racial stereotypes.”
Uncle Ben’s is the latest casualty of this hypersensitive political climate. Uncle Ben’s parent company, Mars Inc., has changed its name to “Ben’s Original,” which is anything but original. The company will also replace the logo image, as critics complain it evokes “servitude.” (Maybe it’s the bowtie?)
“We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand and, as we announced in June, we have committed to change,” said Mars executive Fiona Dawson.
Following its debut in the 1940s, Uncle Ben’s was the best-selling packaged rice for decades. The logo depicts a kind, trustworthy bow-tied black man.
But here’s the kicker: he’s not the owner, and his name isn’t “Ben.”
The man on the logo is Frank Brown, the head waiter and chef at an upscale Chicago restaurant in the 1950s. Gordon Harwell, the founder of Uncle Ben’s, would frequent the restaurant for its delicious food. He was fond of Frank Brown, and the two soon developed a close friendship. Harwell wanted to increase his packaged rice sales, but one important thing was missing: a friendly, trustworthy face on the logo. So he asked Frank Brown if he’d be willing to be that face. Brown agreed.
At the time, titles such as Aunt and Uncle were commonly used to refer to black people, especially in the southern states. Harwell, though, didn’t just pick the name “Uncle Ben” out of thin air; instead, he named the company after a black Texas farmer in the 1940s known for his high-quality rice. And, like Frank Brown, Uncle Ben was a kind, older black gentleman.
She and other executives have no qualms starting anew, even when, arguably, their products’ historical significance overshadows any racial connotations.
Blacklisted. Censored. Punished. This is what happens when you don’t show complete allegiance to liberal ideologies and movements, such as Black Lives Matter. In today’s hypersensitive political climate, people are scorned and rebuked for deviating from prevailing orthodoxies. This knee-jerk reaction to call someone a “racist” or “bigot” is intolerant because it forces people into silent submission.
The rise of social media has made it possible for citizen journalists and others (without huge platforms and power) to voice their opinions and concerns about critical issues. But now, people are hesitant to express their opinion for fear they’ll be scoffed at, or scorned by some in power. Powerful journalists, writers, and academicians are defining the boundaries when it comes to debating issues, making it clear that crossing certain boundaries can have serious consequences, such as job loss.
David Shor, Emmanuel Cafferty, and Harald Uhlig are just some of the casualties of “cancel culture.” David Shor, a data analyst and progressive, cited a research study suggesting that nonviolent protests are more effective than violent protests.
He was fired.
Emmanuel Cafferty, a truck driver, had his arm hanging from outside his truck and was cracking his knuckles. Another driver misinterpreted this as a “white supremacist” gesture since it looked like he was making an “Okay” hand sign, which has been appropriated as a symbol meaning “white power.”
Nonetheless, he was fired.
Harald Uhlig, a professor of economics and editor of the Journal of Political Economy, tweeted criticism of the BLM movement’s push to defund the police. Soon, a petition–with 500 signers–demanded his removal from the editoral board of the Journal. The University of Chicago didn’t bend under the pressure of the powerful signatories; instead, they investigated the allegation impartially and concluded that Uhlig didn’t engage in any discriminatory conduct.
He survived the mob and remains on the editorial board.
Recently, a group of prominent journalist, writers, and academicians signed a letter, published in Harper’s magazine, that ostensibly supports free speech and encourages open debate and discourse. Let’s hold the signers of the Harper’s letter accountable and ensure that they don’t demonize those with opposing viewpoints or ideologies.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked WE Charity to host a 2017 Canada Day weekend event on Parliament Hill, the organization’s co-founder said, for which the government paid $1.18 million. And Trudeau’s mother, who had been receiving fees for making public appearances at WE events at the time, was a speaker at the event.”
“WE Charity said last week that Margaret Trudeau had been paid a total of $312,000 in speaking fees for attending 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020. During those speeches, she spoke ‘primarily on the topic of mental health,’ WE Charity explained. Mental health was also the topic she spoke about at the 2017 Canada Day event. The prime minister also spoke at the event.”
“The WE event appears to promote Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government while also doubling as a promo for the charity.”