Tuesday, at Donald Trump's hate rally in Arizona, Reagan Escudé said words that were dumb and racist. Escudé already lost a job after she claimed on social media that Black Lives Matter is hypocritical because the movement doesn't protest abortion clinics. Now the Louisiana native is upset that “cancel culture" has ruined the Black life of Aunt Jemima, who does not exist.

ESCUDE: Aunt Jemima was canceled. And if you didn't know, Nancy Green, the original, first Aunt Jemima, she was the picture of the American dream. She was a freed slave who went on to be the face of the pancake syrup that we love and we have in our pantries today.

Random white girl here suggests that the “picture of the American dream" included slavery. That was never a “dream." It was an American nightmare. Nancy Green technically wasn't the “original, first Aunt Jemima." In 1889, newspaper editor Chris L. Rutt attended a minstrel show in St. Joseph, Missouri, where a stupid white man performed the song, “Old Aunt Jemima," while wearing an apron and a red bandana on his head. Yes, the original Aunt Jemima was a blackface drag act.


Rutt “borrowed" the name and image of Aunt Jemima, a mammy stereotype, from the vaudeville house. I'll note here that “Aunt" doesn't refer to Jemima's own family. Black people, regardless of age, were denied courtesy titles such as "Mr.," “Mrs.," or “Miss," so their enslavers perversely called them “Aunt" or “Uncle." (God knows what happened to their actual nieces and nephews.) This even continued after slavery during the Jim Crow era.

Nancy Green was hired to play Aunt Jemima, the "happy slave," to promote Rutt's pancake mix (not a syrup). She was the “original, first" Aunt Jemima the way Sean Connery was the “original, first" James Bond. Advertising campaigns end (presumably so will the Bond franchise). Escudé is acting as if Green herself was “cancelled."

Aunt Jemima "I'se in town, Honey!" www.youtube.com

Green made appearances at fairs, grocery stores and events, reliving her former enslaved state for the amusement of white people. Aunt Jemima had zero complaints about the antebellum condition. She was always described as “smiling" and “happy." "Mr. Charlie" would ask if she had a "tantalizing old plantation saying for us today?" She was just thrilled to comply.

AUNT JEMIMA: De lord meant for the sky to be blue but if the day is blue, that's probably our fault!

Yes, Black people's crippling misery during slavery was because we just didn't have the right outlook! "Mr. Charlie" would chuckle and say, “That's right, Aunt Jemima!" and sort of smack his lips in anticipation for her pancakes and more personal debasement.

Green died in a car crash in 1923, and a couple years later, the Quaker Oats Company bought the Aunt Jemima brand. Several white women would play the part of Aunt Jemima on the radio. The most famous was Tess Gardella, an Italian-American actress who played Queenie in Showboat. She apparently specialized in minstrel performances.

stand up and cheer.mp4 www.youtube.com

Gardella, who was white as fuck, became so associated with the name “Aunt Jemima" that she successfully sued NBC for allowing "imposter to broadcast as 'Aunt Jemima,' when as a matter of fact she [Gardella] had been using that name for years on stage and air." She won $116,000 in damages or about $1.7 million in today's blackface currency.

Shockingly, Green didn't make out as well as Gardella. The "picture of the American dream" died while still working as a housekeeper. The descendants of other Black women who played Aunt Jemima at one point — Anna Short Harrington and Lillian Richard — have complicated feelings about Quaker rebranding the syrup and pancake mix. However, I very much doubt Escudé or other whiny conservatives even knew these women's names before last week.

Harrington's family sued Quaker Oats for $3 billion in 2014, arguing that the company never properly compensated her estate with royalties. Quaker's official statement was as follows:

[T]his lawsuit has no merit -- the claims are frivolous and unsubstantiated. The Aunt Jemima brand is not, and never has been, based on any one person. We are confident this legal matter will be resolved in our favor.

A judge dismissed the case in 2015, and I now dismiss Reagan Escudé.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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