Look, just because Uncle Ben looks like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Django Unchained” doesn’t mean he is Samuel L. Jackson’s character in “Django Unchained.”
But there are some similarities.
Free tip for all U.S. businesses: If your company uses an African-American mascot that dates from the Jim Crow era or earlier, just go ahead and woke-ify now. Take the political cover created for you by this morning’s news and put it to use.
Don’t let Aunt Jemima have died in vain.
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. As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.
We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.
Racism has no place in society. We stand in solidarity with the Black community, our Associates and our partners in the fight for social justice. We know to make the systemic change needed, it’s going to take a collective effort from all of us – individuals, communities and organizations of all sizes around the world.
New logo idea, hear me out: Uncle Ben with a Kaepernick afro, kneeling with an American flag in the background.
Mars has long been aware that “Uncle Ben” isn’t a progressive mascot, shall we say, to the point where they gave him an image makeover around 15 years ago. The character originally was based on a waiter at the restaurant where the two (white) founders of the company came up with the product in the 1940s; the name “Uncle Ben” came from a Texas farmer whose rice was well-regarded at the time. NBC notes that the term “Uncle” was often used by whites during Jim Crow to refer to older blacks so as to deny them the respect of addressing them as “Mister.” Thus, while Uncle Ben isn’t a house slave, he’s not a fully dignified character either.
Mars tried to change that in 2007 by refashioning him as the symbolic chairman of the company. Why, that’s not the bowtie of a servant that he’s wearing in the logo, it’s the bowtie of a business tycoon! But his Jim Crow origins remained, and having a “symbolic” black chairman isn’t a great look for a company that’s actually run by whites. He’s never even been given a surname, just plain ol’ Ben despite his supposed esteemed status.
Django was destined to take him out eventually.
We’re all thinking the same thing now: You’re next, Butterworth. But the owner of that brand is way ahead of us.
Conagra Brands, the company which manufactures Mrs. Butterworth’s, responded to the calls for change by Wednesday night.
“The Mrs. Butterworth’s brand, including its syrup packaging, is intended to evoke the images of a loving grandmother,” a Conagra rep told The Post in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with our Black and Brown communities and we can see that our packaging may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values. We understand that our actions help play an important role in eliminating racial bias and as a result, we have begun a complete brand and packaging review on Mrs. Butterworth’s.”
What’s wrong with Mrs. Butterworth? you say. Well, apparently the female form for the bottle was based on Butterfly McQueen, who played the slave “Prissy” in “Gone With the Wind.” (Which was also canceled recently, then semi-uncanceled.) I had the vague notion that Mrs. B was designed to look like a “mammy” character, but honestly my only mental associations for her are the old ads with the somewhat unnerving animation from my youth (where, if anything, she sounded too white) and the much more recent KFC crossover ad where she’s about to hump Colonel Sanders.
So maybe a brand reboot here isn’t a terrible idea.
Exit question: Are these companies going to find new mascots or are they doing away with mascots altogether? If they’re sticking with mascots then they’re going to need imagery of someone who’s African-American; it’s unthinkable that Uncle Ben would be cashiered in a show of wokeness only to be replaced by some white guy. I wonder if Kaepernick’s getting any luxe endorsement deals this week.