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Uncle Ben’s Rice becomes Ben’s Original as re-brand hopes to ‘put an end to racial injustices’

Uncle Ben’s rice will now be called Ben’s Original as owner Mars announced a new name for the 70-year-old brand they claim will ‘help put an end to racial injustices’. 

Critics had pointed out that white southerners once used ‘uncle’ as an honorific for older black slaves because they refused to call them ‘Mr’, and suggested the logo – which showed a white-haired black man with a bow tie – evoked servitude. 

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The move comes amid a campaign against allegedly racist branding by activists energised by the Black Lives Matter movement , and was praised by some Twitter users who wrote ‘a welcome move’ and ‘good for them’. 

But others called the decision ‘ridiculous’ and insisted the logo – which depicts a fictional rice farmer – was not a racist caricature. ‘Bye, bye Uncle Ben’s. We won’t be buying “cancelled products”,’ one critic tweeted. 

The Uncle Ben’s rice brand is being re-branded as Ben’s Original. Parent firm Mars Inc. unveiled the new logo for the 70-year-old brand and say new packaging will hit stores next year

Uncle Ben's is the latest company to drop a logo criticized as a racial stereotype

Uncle Ben’s is the latest company to drop a logo criticized as a racial stereotype

Twitter users were today divided on the decision, with Professor Chris Elliott tweeting 'good for them' but others calling the decision 'ridiculous'

Twitter users were today divided on the decision, with Professor Chris Elliott tweeting ‘good for them’ but others calling the decision ‘ridiculous’ 

The history of the Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima branding

Since 1946, Uncle Ben's products featured a picture of an elderly African-American man

Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products featured a picture of an elderly African-American man

Uncle Ben’s is the brand name of a partially-boiled rice product which was first introduced in America in 1943.

The brand, based in Houston, Texas, was introduced by Converted Rice Inc., which was later bought by Mars, Inc.

The produce became popular in Britain through the British Armed Forces during the Second World War.

Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products, including its much-loved microwave rice packets, have featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man – said to be based on a famous head waiter at a Chicago hotel.

Meanwhile, Mars Inc, the company who own the brand, say the name Uncle Ben refers to an African-American rice-grower, famous for the quality of his rice.

The name was chosen by Gordon L. Harwell, an entrepreneur who had supplied rice to the armed forces in the Second World War, as a means to expand his marketing efforts to the general public.

The Aunt Jemima character also has racist origins as it is based off the stereotype of the ‘mammie’ (or mammy) a black woman who worked for white families and took care of their children. 

Her name comes from the 1875 vaudeville/minstrel song ‘Old Aunt Jemima’, referring to mammie archetype that was usually performed by a white man in blackface. 

The term ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ in this context refers to how white southerners addressed older black people or African American slaves because they refused to give them courtesy titles such as ‘miss’ or ‘mister’. 

The Aunt Jemima image has evolved over the years to meet socially acceptable standards of the times, but the brand could not shake its history of racial stereotypes and connections to slavery. 

By 1989, Aunt Jemima had lost weight, abandoned her kerchief and looked more like a typical modern housewife.  

Many women have been tapped as Aunt Jemima over the years, with the first being Nancy Green in 1890, according to the pancake company’s website. 

 Since 1946, Uncle Ben’s products, including its much-loved microwave rice packets, have featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man – said to be based on a famous head waiter at a Chicago hotel.

Meanwhile, Mars, the company who own the brand, say the name Uncle Ben refers to an African-American rice-grower, famous for the quality of his rice.

But earlier this month it announced the brand would be ‘evolving’, before announcing its new name today.  

‘We listened to our associates and our customers and the time is right to make meaningful changes across society,’ she Mars Food global president Fiona Dawson. 

‘When you are making these changes, you are not going to please everyone. But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing.’

Several companies have retired allegedly racial imagery from their branding in recent months, a ripple effect from the Black Lives Matters protests over the police killing of George Floyd and other African Americans.

Quaker Oats announced in June that it would drop Aunt Jemima from syrup and pancake packages, responding to claims that the character’s origins were based the ‘mammy,’ a black woman content to serve her white masters. 

Quaker said packages without the Aunt Jemima image will start to appear in stores by the end of the year, although the company has not revealed the new logo.

The owner of Eskimo Pie has also said it will change its name and marketing of the nearly century-old chocolate-covered ice cream bar.

Beyond food brands, the Washington NFL franchise dropped the ‘Redskins’ name and Indian head logo amid pressure from sponsors including FedEx, Nike, Pepsi and Bank of America.

Geechie Boy Mill, a family-owned operation in South Carolina that makes locally-grown and milled white grits, is also planning a name change. 

Geechie is a dialect spoken mainly by the descendants of African-American slaves who settled on the Ogeechee river in Georgia, according to Merriam-Webster.com.

‘We are in the process of changing our name and have developed a whole new brand. We look forward to sharing it with the public,’ said Greg Johnsman, owner of Geechie Boy Mill.

Mars had announced in the summer that the Uncle Ben’s brand would ‘evolve.’

Since the 1940s, the rice boxes have featured a white-haired Black man, sometimes with a bow tie, an image critics say evokes servitude. Mars has said the face was originally modeled after a Chicago maitre d’ named Frank Brown. In a short-lived 2007 marketing campaign, the company elevated Uncle Ben to chairman of a rice company.

Dawson said months of conversations with employees, customer studies and other stakeholders led the company to settle on ‘Ben’s Original. 

She said the company is still deciding on an image to accompany the new name.

Mars also announced several other initiatives, including a $2 million investment in culinary scholarships for aspiring Black chefs in partnership with the National Urban League. 

It also is planning a $2.5 million investment in nutritional and education programs for students in Greenville, Mississippi, the majority African-American city where the rice brand has been produced for more than 40 years.

Mars said it has set a goal of increasing the ranks of racial minorities in U.S. management positions from 20% to 40%. 

The company did not give a timeframe for reaching that number.  

The original branding featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man

The original branding featured a picture of a well-dressed elderly African-American man

Uncle Ben's previously posted a statement on their UK Facebook page saying they would 'evolve the brand's visual identity'

Quaker Oats filed its first registration of the Aunt Jemima trademark in 1937

Uncle Ben’s previously posted a statement on their UK Facebook page saying they would ‘evolve the brand’s visual identity’, following in the wake of other brand’s like Quaker Oats-owned Aunt Jemima who changed their branding from their original racist stereotypes

The Aunt Jemima character comes from the vaudeville song 'Old Aunt Jemima' and is based off the mammie - a black woman who worked for white families, nursing their children. Anna Robinson (pictured) poses as the character in ads

The Aunt Jemima character comes from the vaudeville song ‘Old Aunt Jemima’ and is based off the mammie – a black woman who worked for white families, nursing their children. Anna Robinson (pictured) poses as the character in ads

Here is an American print advert for Aunt Jemima which was published in the 1940s

Here is an American print advert for Aunt Jemima which was published in the 1940s

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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