Mars Inc. said it will change its “Uncle Ben” rice mascot in response to criticism from consumers who said it’s based on racist stereotypes.
The company announced the upcoming change on Wednesday, not long after Quaker Oats announced it stop carrying its Aunt Jemima syrup branding over a similar issue in the midst of calls for equitable treatment of black Americans and protests over police practices following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
“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,” Mars said in a statement. “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.”
The brand dates back to 1946. Mars has previously claimed the mascot was based on two people, a Texas farmer and a Chicago chef and waiter, AdWeek reported.
However, historian Ronald L. F. Davis of California State University noted in a paper that terms like “uncle” and “aunt” were used by white people as a sign that they viewed black people with “disrespect or inferiority” during the Jim Crow era, the post-Civil War period characterized by racist laws that targeted black people and enforced segregation.
The Uncle Ben mascot is also an example of a “Tom caricature,” according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. The caricature dates back to the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” People in favor of slavery reappropriated the character to show black men “as faithful, happily submissive servants,” according to the museum.
Mars said it wasn’t sure how soon it would make a change or what the replacement branding will look like.
“Racism has no place in society,” the company said in a statement. “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.”