“When we think of Uncle Ben now, we think of the mockery of African American families. ”
Mars Inc. announced on Tuesday that it was changing the name of its rice to Ben’s Original and ditching the controversial logo that had appeared on the packaging for more than 70 years.
Miller celebrates the decision he said was “a long time coming.”
But rebranding, he says, will never be enough to make amends as long as the company lines the pockets of white business owners without investing in the black community.
That’s why he launched his own food brand, Uncle P’s, in June, with a selection of packaged foods that serve as alternatives to products benefiting from black stereotypical imagery.
We just need some diversity in these grocery stores to say that we can strengthen our culture and our community – and that’s what I did.– Percy Miller, alias Master P
There’s rice, for example, along with pancake mix, cereal and syrup to replace Aunt Jemima – another controversial logo that was scrapped in June due to its racist overtones.
“I just think it’s so important to us as a culture. They made billions of dollars with us, out of mockery, ”Miller said.
“Imagine you have real people who are engaged, who care about community and culture, and who are reinvested in community and culture. ”
Uncle P’s boxes feature the smiling face of Master P. And the company, he says, hires black employees at all levels and returns part of its profits to black communities in the form of scholarships, shelters for young people and programs for seniors.
“We just need some diversity in these grocery stores to say that we can strengthen our culture and our community – and that’s what I did,” he said.
The products are sold in select grocery stores across the United States, but are not yet available in Canada.
The problem with Uncle Ben’s
The biggest problem with Uncle Ben’s original logo is his lie, Miller says.
According to Mars, the name was originally inspired by a true African-American rice farmer from Texas, known for the high quality of his produce, while the image was modeled after a Chicago Master of named Frank Brown – who was reportedly paid the equivalent of $ 50 for his likeness.
“We thought that image represented us, it represented the African American community, it represented the hard work, the work of our ancestors,” Miller said.
“And when we realized this guy was just the model. This is what makes him shocking. ”
Over the years, many critics have noted that the logo evokes an image of black bondage, and that the nickname “Uncle” dates back to a period in American history when African Americans were deemed unworthy by whites of the “M . ” honorary. and “Mrs.”
Characters like Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima “were actually meant to be replacements for what whites saw as a generation of once enslaved black cooks,” food historian Michael Twitty wrote for NBC.
“As mascots, they were designed to be seen by these whites as nothing more – and wanting to be nothing more – than faithful servants, in a frightening time of growing equality and empowerment of people. Black. “
Mascots withdrawing one by one
Mars is just the latest company to walk away from these images in a summer of unrest in the United States sparked by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We have listened to our associates and customers and now is the time to make meaningful change in society,” said Fiona Dawson, global president of Mars Food, in a statement.
“When you make these changes, you’re not going to be popular with everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing. “
In June, PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats announced it would be changing the name and branding of its Aunt Jemima products.
This logo was based on the likeness of Nancy Green, a former cook and enslaved activist who briefly modeled for the company.
She was making so little from the business that she was still working as a housekeeper when she died in 1910 at the age of 76, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Dreyer’s also promised to rename their iconic chocolate-covered ice cream bar, which is currently named after an insult to Inuit.
Miller says the only way to move forward is to diversify our grocery shelves.
“We are just the spark plug. We want thousands of African Americans, Latinos and minorities to own a product and say, “We created it. Let’s check that, “” he said.
“And that’s how we control our future. This is how we can send our children to college and not send them to jail. This is how we save our community. We buy back our blocks, we don’t burn them. ”
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview conducted by Kate Swoger.