Racist Brand Icons in Grocery Store
In recent weeks, a number of popular and iconic brands have come under fire for reinforcing racist stereotypes.

The current cultural reckoning is coming for some iconic labels deemed to be problematic.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewing company, is facing calls to change one of its most popular beers. And believe it or not, it’s actually not beer snobs asking for a little more flavor from Bud Light.

Their ‘Brahma’ brand beer, one of the most popular beers in Brazil, is under pressure from a massive interfaith coalition to completely rebrand and to drop the ‘Brahma’ name. They say it’s offensive to Hindus, who believe Lord Brahma is the god of creation, and that Brahma should not be used as a “toasting tool”. Critics insist the beer represents "religious appropriation, sacrilege and ridiculing entire communities.”

But Anheuser-Busch is not alone. Last week we posted about the long-awaited – and long overdue, many would argue – name change of the NFL's Washington Redskins. Under severe public pressure, the team announced that they’re finally ditching their racist team name and logo.

The move was met with widespread praise as part of a larger cultural movement to reckon with America's past sins. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide civil unrest that followed, everything from monuments to state flags are being re-examined and removed.

This public furor has now landed at the feet of some well-known brands that feature questionable logos and images.

No Way, Trader Jose

Trader Joe’s, a popular nationwide grocery store, is the latest company facing online petitions and criticism over its packaging. A petition started by a high school senior is calling on Trader Joe’s to remove “racist branding” from its packaging.

Trader Joe’s seldom sells outside-branded products; more than 80% of its inventory carries its own brand names, and labels are often named to match the ethnicity of the food.

For example, Trader Joe’s line of Mexican foods is named "Trader Jose’s" and Asian foods are labeled "Trader Ming’s." There’s also Trader Joe-San’s (Japanese cuisine), Trader Giotto’s (Italian foods), Trader Jacques (French products), and Arabian Joe (Middle Eastern recipes).

The petition cites these names and suggests that they “[bely] a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” and that all this does is “further other and distance them from the perceived 'normal.'"

Trader Joe’s has been quick to respond, already announcing that the branding is on its way out the door. In a statement, a Trader Joe’s spokesperson said that "while this approach to product naming may have been rooted in a lighthearted attempt at inclusiveness, we recognize that it may now have the opposite effect – one that is contrary to the welcoming, rewarding customer experience we strive to create every day."

Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben Out

Last month, Quaker Oats quietly retired its "Aunt Jemima" branding, acknowledging the maple syrup logo didn’t exactly “reflect our values [or] meet our consumers' expectations.” Cornell University professor Riché Richardson called them out all the way back in 2015 in a New York Times opinion piece, saying that the Aunt Jemima logo “was an outgrowth of Old South plantation nostalgia and romance grounded in an idea about the 'mammy,' a devoted and submissive servant who eagerly nurtured the children of her white master and mistress while neglecting her own.”

Mrs. Butterworth is also getting a rebrand, for similar reasons, suggesting the shapely syrup container is also rooted in that same offensive 'mammy' stereotype.

Same thing for Uncle Ben’s Rice, which intends to retire the Uncle Ben logo, saying last month that “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do.” Many believe that the use of the word ‘Uncle’, as well as the imagery on the packaging, evoke notions of servitude.

Confronting Racism in America

Those in favor of retiring antiquated brand names were thrilled to see these companies act so quickly in making changes. Getting rid of negative stereotypes and cultural appropriation on the labels of the foods we eat may be a small marker of progress – but it's a marker of progress nonetheless, they argue. 

However, critics worry that by focusing so much attention on things like offensive brand labels, we might be taking away momentum from larger efforts at systemic change, like instituting police reform or expanding voting rights. 

What do you think of these rebranding efforts? By focusing on the "little stuff," do you think activists risk distracting from the larger movement?

UPDATE 07/30/2020: Trader Joe's posted a press release titled "A Note About our Product Naming" that seeks to "clarify" some confusion over their branding strategy. They said that they fundamentally disagree that the packaging in question is racist, and they argue that the packaging is a largely well-received way to "show appreciation for other cultures" and "attempt to have fun with our product marketing." They dispute that certain product lines were retired due to the petition, but rather simply because they didn't sell well. For now, it seems, Trader Jose will remain on the Trader Joe's shelf.

16 comments

  1. the People's Project 5's Avatar the People's Project 5

    Personally as a Minister my focus is on "Souls," the next 10 years are going to be brutal. I am a "Soul" surviving this planet world in my container known as a body. Lord have Mercy, Christ have Mercy. Peace be with you.

  1. Johnny Mac 's Avatar Johnny Mac

    Mankind is doomed to go completely stupid before our LORD GOD returns, so it seems. From my childhood until today, the idiots have run the asylums into the ground. All those precious souls we honored in our kitchen are now null and void per racist terrorist and just GOD and we Christians are the remainder of Sanity. I pray for all and will let Our LORD and SAVIOR judge them for their deranged behaviors. Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen who fed me well in times good and bad. May GOD forgive us for cowering in our homes. Amen

  1. Richard John Lever's Avatar Richard John Lever

    I don't see the problem with old brands staying as they are, everyone knows them like that so why change them.

  1. Archie E. Kline's Avatar Archie E. Kline

    More liberal junk. Let’s make everyone as weak as possible. I never have and never will let words hurt or offend me. I have control of my mind. If words are true, accept them, if they are false, forget them. You decide, not someone else.

  1. Minister John's Avatar Minister John

    Cosmetic changes don't change minds or biases, even if they take place on a mass scale. Similarly, you cannot 'legislate away' people's points of view, contrary to what a good number of people seem to think today. The only thing that truly influences perceptions is how we ourselves interact with others at an individual level. The level of urgency for me personally to expressly change the name of products to combat racism amounts to about zero, but if that's where companies' priorities lie, then so be it. My strategy for countering prejudice is to treat others with respect.

  1. Donna Mayotte's Avatar Donna Mayotte

    I have NO problem with Trader Joe”s using their ethnic names to identify various food offerings. They are lighthearted, meant to be fun and actually DO identify the type of product offered. Would it be any better to call the products Mexican, Japanese, French etc? I’ve never seen their naming as offensive or racist. It’s just part of their gig. There are shades of all types informing this topic. Aunt Jemima, Famous Amos, Uncle Ben’s do hard back to “Uncle Remus” days, but I think TJ’s approach is respectful and enlightened.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    Thats their decision......

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Anybody with a problem with any company doing what they want with their brands should start their own company an do whatever they want with it. If you like Aunt Jemima so much, buy the copyrights and trademark and have fun with it.

  1. Summer Bree Nichols's Avatar Summer Bree Nichols

    This realy isn’t a problem that we need to be focusing on right know the real story is what’s happing across the country with the government taking liberties with are rights

  1. Burma Dene Dugger's Avatar Burma Dene Dugger

    I think that brand names are the purview of the company that owns them and that offense is in the eye/ear of the beholder. My focus us on the Good News of God's love and forgiveness for humanity and teaching "love thy neighbor" and that your neighbor is everyone. As the children's song says " red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Let's start focusing on treating everyone with love and respect.

    1. Archie E. Kline's Avatar Archie E. Kline

      Should love and respect be unconditional or earned?

      1. Burma Dene Dugger's Avatar Burma Dene Dugger

        Love should be unconditional. Respectfulness reflects more on the one showing respect than on the one receiving respect. This is my opinion. Not everyone agrees. A disrespectful person son is 'less worthy of respect than a respectful person, again, that is my opinion. Although I do fail at times, I do try to respect others and treat them with love, even if they show no sign of having any love in their own actions. I believe that what I send out is what will come back to me.

  1. Hazel Diane Graep's Avatar Hazel Diane Graep

    The phrase "Can't see the forest for the trees" comes to mind here. People are so focused on the piddly little stuff that they are ignoring the bigger picture. The people who think it is perfectly acceptable to be racist are the real problem, not the labeling on some packages. It's the people. The labeling on packages are not causing hate crimes. Racist people are. People are the problem., not the packaging.

  1. Mya-Lia Sharizyn's Avatar Mya-Lia Sharizyn

    I understand how these product brands offer a stereotype of racial servitude to the subconscious that would affect, even unknowingly, how people of that race are viewed and treated by others.

    I also understand how people of the exploited race would feel regularly being subjected to these labels

    While the labels are claimed to be widely accepted by mainstream society, they are standing up to say that they ARE part of mainstream society, and rather than submitting to silence, as would be their role if they were NOT part of mainstream society, they are clearly stating, "No, ALL of mainstream society does not feel good about these product labels."

  1. Christian's Avatar Christian

    SET YOUR MIND ON THINGS ABOVE: GOD FAMILY COUNTRY. Put these first in your life and all other things shall be added onto you.

  1. Bradly Mark Wilson's Avatar Bradly Mark Wilson

    Thank goodness there's a company that won't bow to the mob. Is the name Trader Joe's offensive to people named Joe? Then why would the others be any more offensive to anyone. It's like the sports team issue, how the Washing Post surveyed Native American's hoping for them to be offended by the name Redskins, and it turns out we're not offended by silly things and are proud to have our culture represented alongside "Cowboys" and "49ers" and "Patriots". But the woke SJW mob changed the name ANYWAY because the purple haired white folks are offended on our behalf.

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