A friend of mine recently sent me a text asking for my opinion about Quaker Oats removing Aunt Jemima from their product line. She shared an article with me which was most insightful:
The world knew her as "Aunt Jemima," but her given name was Nancy Green and she was a true American success story. Born a slave in 1834 Montgomery County, KY, she became a wealthy superstar in the advertising world, as its first living trademark.
While in Kentucky, Green was employed by Charles Walker, then an attorney and later a distinguished Circuit Judge. She moved with the family to Chicago just after the Great Fire in 1872.
Walker heard that a friend was looking for a model for the Aunt Jemima character, and he suggested Green who, by that time, had served the family for many years. She was instantly recognized with the characteristics the guy was looking for... charisma, humor, and a fantastic cook.
Green was 56-yrs old when she was selected as spokesperson for the new ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour and made her public debut in 1893 at the World’s Fair in Chicago. She demonstrated the pancake mix while serving up thousands of pancakes... and became an immediate star. She was a wonderful storyteller, her personality was warm and appealing, and her showmanship was exceptional. Her exhibition booth drew so many people that special security personnel were assigned to keep the crowds moving.
Nancy Green was signed to a lifetime contract, traveled on promotional tours all over the country, and was extremely well paid. Her financial freedom and stature as a national spokesperson enabled her to become a philanthropist, a leading advocate against poverty, and a fighter for equal rights.
She maintained her job until her death in 1923, at age 89, after becoming one of America’s first black millionaires.
Here's my response to my friend:
We can't erase our history with current day political correctness. Nancy Green became a millionaire by propagating the stereotype of Aunt Jemima. She took advantage of her current situation and banked on it. Good for her! Hattie McDaniel won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for portraying a slave maid during the civil war in Gone with the Wind. Brad Pitt portrays a hero as a sympathetic white person during the Civil War era. We romanticize the relationships between two white people, making the Lakota people a convenient background story in Dances with Wolves.
In their times, these were noble efforts.
We can't take morals from past generations, transport them to the present and judge them with our current moral standards. Not fair.
Here's a stunning fact. The last US President to own slaves was .... Ulysses S Grant, the commanding general of the Federal Army! Should we tear down his statue too? As well as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington? Shall we erase the philosophies of Aristotle and Socrates because they lived with Male Privilege in a society which demeaned women?
We live in precarious times.
As a friend of mine, a woman of color, declared last week, "I can't hold my brothers and sisters of all races accountable for transgressions of their past nor their ancestors' transgressions. My history begins today." Brings tears to my eyes to share the courage she demonstrated to make such a declaration. She let me off the hook for decades of microaggressions and unconscious bias.
To respect her, I have work to do. I must be VERY aware I enjoyed White Privilege as a MAJOR contributing factor that brought me to this present moment. I must speak out for the microaggressions I see and actively eradicate my unconscious biases.
Time to even the playing field!
We don't level the playing field by judging the past. Rather, we do it by bringing our history to the present moment. Learning from it. Converting learnings into Wisdom. Sharing wisdom and putting it into Action with Significant Impact!
I have my plan. Time to build yours!
For more information on my views of what's happening and how to build a strategy for social movement, here's my Wisdom 4 Humanity blog post from last week.
Those are my hipshot thoughts on a Sunday afternoon. Philosophic. Idealistic. Hopefully with a touch of Wisdom, some Inspiration... and a lot of Healing Actions ahead of us.
What is YOUR next Best Action of Integrity?