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By misslake (Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 04:52:00 PM EST) (all tags)
it has come to my attention that everyone else in the western world, (represented in this difference of opinions as ni) has a different opinion of aunt jemima and uncle ben than i had growing up.


as a child in small town central ontario, i had only ever seen black folks on tv.
mostly sesame street, the jackson five, the cosby show and fat albert.

i clearly recall believing as a child that uncle ben and aunt jemima were famous american chefs, and that they were married.
i also wondered if uncle ben was the cream of wheat man, or if they were in fact two different famous black american chefs. my father and i would discuss the theory over breakfast, with the red cream of wheat box next to the box of uncle ben's converted rice. my dad said that since he didn't know many black people in real life he sometimes had a hard time telling them apart. he said that he didn't know for a fact that they weren't the same man, but they might just look the same since they were both cartoons on cardboard boxes. he didn't know if uncle ben and aunt jemima were married in real life, but he thought that would be interesting to find out. why would a husband endorse a competing breakfast? he should be enjoying jemima's pancakes. despite not being sure that they were actually married, my dad based his assertion that uncle ben and the cream of wheat man were different guys on that.
ni tells me that no one else ever thought that and to the rest of the world they were little else but racist caricatures of kitchen slaves or otherwise indentured servants of white america.
i remember talking to my mother about aunt jemima and uncle ben too. i asked her if it was more common for black people to be chefs than white people, just as it was more common for non-hockey playing athletes to be black. i thought it curious that at least two famous chefs with their faces on the boxes of food would be black, when i hadn't seen any black people with cooking shows on television. my mom thought about this for a while, and said that she didn't think it was more common for black folks to be chefs. she thought that in america it was mostly white men who were chefs. she went into the cupboards and produced a can of chef boyardee beefaroni to prove that white people were chefs on boxes of food too. she didn't think that aunt jemima and uncle ben were married, she thought that auntie and uncle were used by black folks as general terms of respect, and that they did not imply familial relationships. she thought that the cream of wheat man and uncle ben were the same guy, because she didn't think it likely that there were two famous black chefs.
it didn't occur to me that uncle ben and aunt jemima might be slaves, and that their faces on the packaging might be racist. to young misslake, this was a bit of an incomprehensible conclusion.
why would anyone racist, who hated black people, want to eat food that was clearly the brilliant invention of these famous black chefs?
my mom told me that it was racist because to a lot of people, black folks belonged only in the kitchen, cooking for the whites. and the pictures on the packages represented this oppression. that in america, black people couldn't ever grow up to become chefs because of racism. that pancakes and cream of wheat were southern foods, (the americans call cream of wheat 'grits' and eat it for dinner, she explained) and it was in the south where black people had the most trouble with slavery and racism.
so much depends on the context.
to little misslake, who clearly remembers the first time she ever saw a black person in real life, concepts such as racism and slavery were hard to grasp. differences between black people and white people were non-existent because i had never been exposed to them. ignorant of the world, i thought black people (and everyone else for that metter) were just like me, lived just like me, thought just like me. i remember going to new york city at the age of nine, and harassing my mom for weeks after because i wanted to have my hair put into cornrows like all the little girls we saw there. she tried to tell me that it couldn't be done. it took several lectures and attempts at explaining the differences between black and white, and finally 2 trips to the hairdresser, the second for a special viewing of a hairdressing book with a chapter about black people's hair, before i was convinced that my hair would never look like the black girls' hair. because their wavy black hair was fundamentally different from my straight brown-black hair.
i remember reading "little black sambo" and "red fox and his canoe". it was only later when my mother was reviewing a controversial new version for her job on the school board that i realized that they too might have been racist. "little sambo and the tigers" was set in india, where there actually were tigers, and him and his mother wore traditional saris and tunics. neither of us could remember exactly the plot details, or the characters and setting in the banned original, and so could not decide if this new version was sufficiently non-racially offensive. but my mother insisted that the old sambo was definately drawn racist-ly. she could not describe why to my satisfaction, something about having big lips, but assured me that cartoons of black people were almost always racist. this later resulted in me assuming that fat albert had been racist, and feeling really uncomfortable around people who mentioned it, fearing that they were somehow being racist and fearing that i was inadvertently racist for not being able to figure out why.

i grew up with that sort of uncomfortable awareness of racism, one where i knew i didn't want to be racist, and that i wanted to keep other people from being racist, but being too far removed from it to understand it or recognize it.

seeing aunt jemima as a great chef and admiring her, never suspecting what might going through the minds of others.

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kitchen racism | 37 comments (37 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Just as long as by joh3n (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 06:01:23 PM EST
you don't tell me that Chef Boyardee isn't a legendary Italian chef, I can let the truth about Ben and Jemima pass.

----
I just ate about 7 pounds of meat
-theantix

Chef Boyardee WAS a real chef by BadDoggie (2.00 / 0) #4 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 01:43:17 AM EST
He changed the spelling of his name (Boiardi) so that people could pronounce it. The caricature of him is pretty close.

woof.

OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
oh thank god -nt- by joh3n (2.00 / 0) #8 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:12:08 AM EST

----
I just ate about 7 pounds of meat
-theantix

[ Parent ]
Get out of town . . . by slozo (2.00 / 0) #9 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:15:45 AM EST
. . . really?

[ Parent ]
Yep. It was onHistory Channel. by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #32 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 03:16:31 AM EST
American Eats.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

[ Parent ]
Don't feel bad. by ObviousTroll (2.00 / 0) #2 Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 06:49:39 PM EST
I always assumed the same thing - that these people were supposed to be symbols of culinary accomplishment not symbols of mockery and denigration.

Honestly, sometimes I think people need to make up their minds - on the one hand we are blasted for not showing enough role models of color and then, with the other we are blasted for reducing people of color to cariactures.

WTF do they think the Quaker Oats dude is? Or Betty Crocker? Would Uncle Ben have been okay if he was selling an ethnically appropriate product like, say, crack? If he released a gansta-rap tune extolling the virtues of a rice-based diet for eluding police capture, would that remove the stigma from his name?

--
Has anybody seen my clue? I know I had it when I came in here.

(Comment Deleted) by ucblockhead (2.00 / 0) #33 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 06:04:22 AM EST

This comment has been deleted by ucblockhead



[ Parent ]
Belated but by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #3 Sat Jul 28, 2007 at 09:46:35 PM EST
Uncle Ben is the CEO now.
--
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
I remember reading that. by ni (4.00 / 2) #18 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 09:41:22 AM EST
Slate has become really very good in the past few years. It's encouraging, in a way: For all "internet media" is supposed to be eroding traditional forms of media, there's very little of it that's of any real quality.

I suppose it may be significant that Slate was created and is owned by traditional dead-tree media groups. Still, it's free and often genuinely interesting, and is an exemplar of what internet media should be.


"Not of this world..." -- 256, on the subject of the New Jersey Turnpike

[ Parent ]
I like slate too -- by garlic (2.00 / 0) #35 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 08:12:57 AM EST
but it doesn't tend to be news, it tends to be commentary on the news. Commentary isn't bad, but it can't stand alone without the news source.


[ Parent ]
i used his mac to ask him a question by misslake (4.00 / 2) #30 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 06:53:07 PM EST
he had left his instant messenger program open on the desktop.

"uncle ben, are you married to aunt jemima"
"It is difficult to type and eat rice at the same time. Let's talk when I am done"

he evaded the question and seemed to only want to talk about rice.
i didn't get any info on the cream of wheat man.

[ Parent ]
I've got a copy of Little Black Sambo by BadDoggie (2.00 / 0) #5 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 02:06:30 AM EST
My mother saved it from destruction when it was removed from the school library as "racist". I just read through it again to try and find something racist in the story and utterly failed. It's a story out of India about a kid who gets nice clothes, then has to give them to different tigers to save himself from being eaten. The tigers then get into an argument over who's grandest, get into a fight and turn each other into a smear of ghee, leaving Sambo to collect his fine clothes as well as the butter with which his mother makes pancakes that the family gorge themselves on.

Mother is "Black Mumbo" and Father is "Black Jumbo", also not racist. There's not a goddamned racist thing in or about the book save for cries that it's somehow racist from the American Black community. The original pictures of LBS are clearly not of a picaninny; they're not even noegroid but "dark-skinned Indian". The knock-offs of the book may have had picaninny caricatures but the original (with illustrations) does not.

It's a manufactured controversy over a perceived slight which simply doesn't exist, one stemming from ignorance that there are different "blacks". There are a lot of southern Indians who have just as much melanin in their skin as sub-Saharan African negroes. The story uses no derogatory descriptions, no picaninny-style names and assigns no negative traits to the characters. LBS is, in fact, clever. He outwits four ferocious tigers and comes out ahead at the end. That others may have co-opted or corrupted the story for their own purposes in no way makes The Story of Little Black Sambo racist.

woof.

OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

my mom and i did find her old set of wooden puzzle by misslake (2.00 / 0) #20 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 10:12:54 AM EST
boards that day.
jeremy fisher, little red riding hood, and little black sambo were all there, and we both remembered sambo looking like the puzzle, which featured a pickaninny boy as sambo.

my grandmother, of affluent english-american loyalist stock, remembered the puzzles and the books and the man who crafted them. she remembered the book with sambo as pickaninny, and thought that the new version, with everyone living in india made much more sense. she supposed that to everyone of her upbringing, the only dark people they could conceive of were black americans.
she would also inevitably bring up her own racist ignorance, and tell us about naming her childhood dog, a black lab, 'nigger'. it was a common name for black dogs at the time, she insisted, and no one really meant anything bad by it. she certainly didn't know that it was racist, they'd never known anyone who was black.
it is all a question of context.

[ Parent ]
I had the version... by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #21 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 01:13:04 PM EST
with Sambo as a pickaninny as well. And, yes, the Indian version makes much more sense - I had trouble figuring out, when I was a kid, why there were tigers in Africa.
-----
If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco
[ Parent ]
Fat Albert by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 2) #6 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 03:10:58 AM EST
I don't buy that Fat Albert was some crypto-racist show. The character was created by Bill Cosby as part of stand up act. Cosby first mentioned him in 1967 as part of a long story about a childhood game - "buck-buck" - that he and his friends played as kids. After that, Fat Albert would become a regular fixture of the stand up act for the next six years. Albert's last stand up "appearance" would be in 1973, a year after the animated show debuted.

I know that simply being the creation of an African American doesn't mean that a character or work of art is automatically not racist. What makes Fat Albert not a racist show was that it was a loving tribute to real people. It tried to show Bill (Cosby appears as himself in the show - he's the eternally white-shirted Bill) and his friends as they truly were, sometimes wise and sometimes foolish. Certainly there's some hyperbole for comedic effect, but even those traits were often closer to source than believed by most viewers. For example, Mush Mouth's seemingly idiosyncratic way of talking was actually an example of a common 1960s children's language game called Ubbi Dubbi (or Pig Greek).

Finally, it was never dismissive of genuine issues within the kid's communities. Rudy, for example, carried with him all this baggage of being the son of an upper-middle class well-to-do African American family that refused to move out of the ghetto out of a sense of racial solidarity. Rudy's at once one of the gang and always a little distant from them (in their band, he's the only cat with a store bought instrument). No character ever sat down and explained this to viewers. It was simply part of the show's careful and exacting characterizations.

I think the intent, care, and genuine love that went into the creation of the Junkyard Gang prevents them from being racist caricatures. 


thanks. i really was never actually sure. by misslake (2.00 / 0) #16 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 09:10:28 AM EST
i never saw anything in the show myself that seemed 'racist', but as with my relationship to aunt jemima and uncle ben, my own feelings towards something were not always good indicators of whether anything was actually offensive.

i am glad to hear that fat albert is pretty ok.

[ Parent ]
Little-known fact: by Arbeit Macht Pie (4.00 / 1) #7 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 03:39:08 AM EST
Noted African-American writer W.E.B. DuBois was a tireless advocate for Dr. Carl Von Meyer's German homoepathic balsam and insisted that in the event of his own death, it be used in lieu of embalming fluid.

I still don't get it . . . by slozo (2.00 / 0) #10 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:19:48 AM EST
. . . why is the picture of a man or woman on a box of rice or some maple syrup racist?

Aunt Jemima = kitchen slave by BadDoggie (2.00 / 0) #11 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:42:29 AM EST
That's the sort of shit I've come across only because of the do-rag. Thing is, anyone working in the kitchen or house would wear some sort of scarf or bandana. No idea what the big fuss about Uncle Ben is, unless it's because somehow "Uncle Ben" is so similar to "Uncle Tom". People looking for racism behind everything will always manage o find it.

woof.

OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
Read Me. by Arbeit Macht Pie (2.00 / 0) #12 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 05:18:12 AM EST
While I don't entirely disagree with that... by atreides (4.00 / 4) #13 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 06:26:09 AM EST
... the terms "uncle" and "aunt" were also attempts by the people of a racist society to show affection for specific members (usually older, less inherently dangerous members) of it's underclass without having to give them respect as a race and therefore empowerment as a race. It comes back to the long held idea that in that time the South likes blacks as persons but not as a people while the North liked blacks as a people, but not as persons.

Or some kind of crap like that...

He sails from world to world in a flying tomb, serving gods who eat hope.

[ Parent ]
What a load of shit by BadDoggie (4.00 / 1) #14 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 06:49:49 AM EST
"Uncle" was never diminutive. Ask any Black in the South which word the racists use. It's "Boy" no matter what age the man it's directed at actually is. "Boy". Got it? Not "Uncle", "Boy". That second paragraph in the Wikipedia article is absolute bullshit, speculative, opinionated, and so lacking in fact that "citation needed" is also attached. "... Which is considered by <u>some</u>" my ass.

woof.

OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
don't you start trolling me! by misslake (4.00 / 1) #19 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 09:48:08 AM EST
"my mom told me that it was racist because to a lot of people, black folks belonged only in the kitchen, cooking for the whites. and the pictures on the packages represented this oppression. that in america, black people couldn't ever grow up to become chefs because of racism."

aunt jemima and uncle ben were popular symbols of black people being kept in the kitchen serving. they represented an ideal where everybody white could enjoy having food cooked for them by their very own black slaves.

this does not mean that it is the only possible interpretation, (i for one thought they were famous chefs and never picked up on the whole slave thing) or that this is what the companies want you to think about their products now. eg. uncle ben is the ceo and jemima is well-dressed.

the slate article might explain it better to you than i have.
pictures of people on packages aren't necessarily racist, but it is what they might represent, how they are used and marketed and idealized that can be.

[ Parent ]
Oh, see, I always thought . . . by slozo (2.00 / 0) #28 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 05:56:05 PM EST
. . . of them not as blacks in the kitchen, but rather, as people who worked in the kitchen.

Just like the Quaker Oats guy -  I never felt that the quakers were being mistreated! He was chosen because people would associate with quakers the feeling of purity, wholesomeness - a favourable feeling to elicit from your target audience. So you slapped on the logo of a grinning caricature just like every other caricature before it; ridiculous in some way, or exaggerated in phoniness, or a funny cartoon.

Ha ha, the funny Quaker Oats guy. That crazy Chef Boy Ar Dee. That silly Vachon baker guy. Old Laura Secord . . . and there's lots more. Shit, how racist are these guys? It would be ridiculous at one point to disseminate every single feature of a logo so as to possibly be taken in some bizarre way as an insult. I think it's actually racist to do so - to attempt to find the slight, where it really isn't.

I don't troll, really. And I still truly don't get how portraying someone as a maker of maple syrup making, or a master preparer of rice, is detrimental to that person, or the their colour of skin. Don't. Get it.

[ Parent ]
uh... actually slozo, it *sounds* like you get it by misslake (4.00 / 1) #29 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 06:48:04 PM EST
"And I still truly don't get how portraying someone as a maker of maple syrup making, or a master preparer of rice, is detrimental to that person, or the their colour of skin. Don't. Get it."

nothing wrong with portraying someone as a master preparer of rice.
portraying a person of colour as a slave/servant, and marketing your product to people by playing to their racist prejudices = bad
uncle ben was among a class of spokespeople referred to as "uncle tom" they played on a stereotype of a happy servant who really likes being your slave, and the idealized affluent white people who could afford to keep him. eating uncle ben's rice was just like having your very own black slave in your kitchen! you could by buying that brand aspire to keeping your own slaves! offensive and racist.

but that was a marketing scheme that only worked on people with the existing societal racism that would breed such desires and prejudices.
to people with a distaste for slavery, it was undesireable.
to people with no concept of slavery, it was incomprehensible, or misinterpreted.

to me, uncle ben looked like a chef. i assumed that he must be a pretty important and famous guy being honoured with his face on the box. not offensive or racist.
modern uncle ben is a jet-set CEO of a multinational corporation. not offensive or racist.

[ Parent ]
oh sweet lordy no no no no no by persimmon (2.00 / 0) #15 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 08:37:48 AM EST
(the americans call cream of wheat 'grits' and eat it for dinner, she explained)

Grits are made from corn. I am half west-coast Chinese and half skanky Midwestern and even I know that. I think it's in our American muscle memory. Corn corn corn corn America!!
-----
"Nature is such a fucking plagarist."

Also, by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #17 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 09:39:30 AM EST
grits are tasty. Cream of wheat is not. But then, I'm from the South, where I never even tried cream of wheat until I was in my teens, while I was practically weaned on grits.
-----
If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco
[ Parent ]
AMEN! by StackyMcRacky (2.00 / 0) #34 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 06:09:18 AM EST
although I only like grits prepared certain ways.

[ Parent ]
I meant to answer that by BadDoggie (2.00 / 0) #22 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 02:02:49 PM EST
Yes, grits are made of corn. White hominy, to be specific. You can eat them for dinner just like you can have an omelette for dinner (BG requested I cook her one tonight), it's normally breakfast fare. Bacon or sausage, eggs (sunny side up) and grits. Substitute scrapple for the meat if you're in Philly. Grits require butter and either sugar or salt (regional preference).

woof.

OMG WE'RE FUCKED! -- duxup ?

[ Parent ]
A favour, please. by Arbeit Macht Pie (4.00 / 1) #23 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 03:31:43 PM EST
I'd like you to never again refer to "scrapple" in this forum, thanks.

[ Parent ]
How about liver pudding? by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #24 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 03:35:09 PM EST
Grits and liver pudding was a regular dinner for me when i was a kid. Pair it with some sort of green vegetable (collards, for instance, or lima beans), and it was awesome. I really wish they sold it up here. Sadly, unlike country ham, instant grits, and muscadine wine, my mom can't ship liver pudding to me.
-----
If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco
[ Parent ]
Thanks, but I don't do offal. by Arbeit Macht Pie (4.00 / 1) #25 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 03:43:04 PM EST
That's for vultures and the jackals.

[ Parent ]
But liver pudding tastes /good/. by toxicfur (4.00 / 1) #26 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:06:29 PM EST
I don't like chicken livers, or beef livers, or even goose livers, but I do loved spicy pork liver. With grits. Mmmm.
-----
If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco
[ Parent ]
hog jawl by garlic (2.00 / 0) #36 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 08:20:49 AM EST
we had a heck of a time finding hog jawl (for black eyed peas and hog jawl on New Years) in the madison area. When my brother did find it, he had to buy 10 lbs of it if he wanted any.


[ Parent ]
10 lbs, yikes! by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #37 Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 09:11:51 AM EST
I'm not sure where I'd store that much.... I haven't looked for hog jawl - I was just excited to find salt pork for my black-eyed peas on days other than New Year's.

There is one grocery store somewhere near me that has, in its "ethnic" aisle, a Southern food section. It amuses me, but canned collard greens - ick.
-----
If you don't get a Bonnie, my universe will not make sense. --blixco

[ Parent ]
another childhood myth busted! by misslake (4.00 / 1) #27 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 04:42:21 PM EST
cream of wheat is yummy.

i had grits once, cooked for me by a woman from atlanta georgia. she wanted to prove to me that grits was nothing like cream of wheat.

it tasted remarkably like salted cream of wheat. but i think all porriage-type foods are more of a warm textural experience and a vector for carbohydrate ingestion than a flavour based experience.

there used to be a korean southern style resturaunt near the shawshack. "southern soul food seoul style" they made cheese gritcakes that were very tasty.

[ Parent ]
Grits are more coarsely ground. by Arbeit Macht Pie (2.00 / 0) #31 Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 08:36:37 PM EST
Hell, you can even smell the difference.

[ Parent ]
kitchen racism | 37 comments (37 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback