SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:
Aunt Jemima - she's been a part of the American scene far longer than the NAACP, and she continues to smile out from the front of millions of boxes of pancake mix, an anachronistic icon who leaves a bad taste in the mouth of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED commentator Vertamae Grosvenor.
VERTAMAE GROSVENOR, BYLINE: No, Virginia, there is no Betty Crocker or Aunt Jemima. Jolly, good-tempered Aunt Jemima mammy who can cuddle a baby one minute and send flapjacks through the air the next is an American negative myth entrenched in the language and thinking of the American population, white and Black, so much so that to be called Aunt Jemima is to be put to shame, to be humiliated, not to be feminine, to have no sexuality - Aunt Jemima, like one of the family, always a member of the wedding, never a bride. To look like Aunt Jemima, round-faced, and wear a scarf on your head, is to bring disgrace to your race and/or family. Three years ago, when I was invited to the White House for dinner - actually, it was a barbecue on the lawn, but that's another story - a relative called me and begged me not to go there with the rag on my head looking like an Aunt Jemima.
How did it all begin? Would you believe the vaudeville stage? It seems that one evening, a Mr. Chris L. Rutt in St. Louis went to the local vaudeville show. A person or persons danced a New Orleans-style cakewalk to the tune of "Aunt Jemima," and Mr. Rutt, the original creator of Aunt Jemima pancake mix, decided that Aunt Jemima was the perfect name for his product because it, quote, "reflected the festive spirit long associated with pancakes," end quote. I think the manufacturers of Aunt Jemima have an image problem because in the past 10 years, Aunt Jemima on the box has become lighter, younger and slimmer. If they are worried about her image, I have a suggestion for them - take her off the box.
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