Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Amidst the rightfully earned social unrest that now permeates our day to day existence, there has also been a much needed reckoning of our past. Things that must now be laid to rest, like the celebration of confederate flags at our state capitols. Things that must now be removed, like centuries old marketing images harvested from Black pain, to perpetuate a stereotype that garnered millions for the Quaker Oats Company and wreaked havoc on Black femininity and womanhood. The history behind how "Aunt Jemima's" pancake batter and syrup came to be is insidious, yet at the time served its purpose. To proliferate the narrative that the aspiration of Black life was to be in service to white comfort.
There are things we are reconsidering, like offensive team titles that illustrate our lack of care and concern regarding the genocide and brutality dealt to Native Americans. As well as the reexamination of cinematic art created at a time of oppression and despair.
We are shaking the tree.
Unraveling lies and forcing necessary yet painful conversations.
While I respect every American’s right to have any flag represented on their own personal property, I do not believe flags of treason have any place in government buildings. The confederate flag, represents a rebellion against our nation's constitution. A rebellion done in the name of retaining kidnapped human beings in brutality, cruelty and inhumanity. And while it may have personal reverence for some, the FACTS of history tell it’s story. It is anti-American.
And though I am not Native American, as a woman, and as an African American, I can empathize with the negative effect an offensive moniker can have on your soul. No team should be called the “White Trash Ravens” or the “Lazy Coon Eagles” and likewise “The Washington Redskins” must meet its end.
But as we continue this reckoning and reshaping of social mores. There was bound to be things that felt like overreach. Corporate gestures that felt like superficial gratification and not meaningful change.
Recently there was quite the hullabaloo on social media about whether or not HBO was going to remove the movie classic Gone with the Wind, from their roster. As it turns out, they were not. They were simply removing it temporarily to provide a warning regarding its content, before viewing.
And though I am not a fan of the movie, I was relieved to hear it. While I do appreciate a woke warning label. I have no interest in erasing all evidence of Black oppression to appease white guilt.
In a statement, the AT&T-owned Warner Media, which owns HBO Max, called “Gone with the Wind” “a product of its time” that depicts racial prejudices.These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible,” said an HBO Max spokesman in a statement.
The company said that when “Gone with the Wind” returns to the recently launched streaming service, it will include “historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions, but will be presented as it was originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
Let me be plain, nazi-esque banning of art does NOTHING to benefit my black experience. It does not make it easier for me to get a loan to start a business. It does not level the playing field in education opportunities for my nieces and nephews. It does not rid urban communities of food deserts. Nor will it provide more affordable healthcare or housing. It doesn't stop certain states from impeding African Americans access to vote. It doesn't make rogue racist police officers suddenly recognize my humanity. And it does not lead to more representation for me and folks who look like me in corporate boardrooms across America.
All of the aforementioned, I actually need. Appeasing white guilt by trying to hide history exposed through art....not so much. I am very proud of my history and the legacy of strength from which I come from. So while it may be hard for YOU to look at the role you put this strong beautiful black woman in...I INSIST THAT YOU DO. I insist you do it in the brilliance of the backdrop of other valiant African American women like Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Ayanna Pressley, Mae Jemison, Regina King and Susan Rice. Because they all have something uniquely in common with the late great Hattie McDaniel, they too faced systemic racism, extraordinary challenges and yet rose to the top in spite of it.
Hattie is a part of my history. She suffered things off screen so that I could walk on a set and play a cop, a criminal, a mother, a nerd, an African princess and a neighborhood hottie whose cousin got Cain killed. You do not get to remove the sight of the limitation you put on her talent from my view. No...I want to see it, because it is a daily reminder of how far we've come and how far we still must go. Art is a reflection of life, no matter how painful, no matter how inconvenient. It is a part of the story. And I'm gonna need the WHOLE story, not just the parts that make you feel good.
Because while her onscreen role was limited and regulated to the ridiculousness of the arrogant erroneous perception of her Black skin, her off screen achievement in the face of all she endured is WORTHY OF CELEBRATION. And BOTH must come into FULL VIEW in appreciation of her sacrifice for African American actors, and for the truth of her own journey.
Likewise, as the Quaker Oats Company grapples with new imaging for their lauded Aunt Jemima syrup, I have enjoyed social media’s promotion of black owned syrup companies, that were not started under the auspice of pillaging black pain for white profit. And I wonder if Quaker Oats or those calling for it’s demise really get it?
Yes, stopping the perpetuation of negative stereotypes is needed change. But are we getting distracted with surface reimagining versus systematic change that benefits future generations. True power is a seat at the table and the opportunity to build wealth. If the Quaker Oats Company truly wants to make a difference, it can begin with the people whose images they plundered for gain. How many African Americans are CEOs in the Quaker Oats company? How many African American women are on the board of directors in the Quaker Oats company? How many black owned businesses has the Quaker Oats Credit Union given low interest loans too? It’s time to GO DEEPER. Change can’t begin and end at a picture on a bottle. The picture is a surface fix that doesn’t do a thing to change a cops knee on the neck of a compliant man begging for his life for over 8 minutes. And it doesn’t provide a road to wealth for the community that put this company on the map through the marketing of our subjugation.
So what I’m saying is....Imma need MORE.