Podcast Recommendation

1619, Episode Three

Photo by SLT

Based on recent discussions, such as the Aunt Jemima thread, I would highly recommend episode 3 of the 1619 podcast, “The Birth of American Music” specifically because of its discussion of minstrelsy.

Some background on minstrel shows here:

White supremacy and the belief in black inferiority remained at minstrelsy’s base even though the structure of the performances and subjects discussed in the music varied over time. The genre shaped the nation’s views on race for over a century and reinforced white superiority well after the abolition of slavery. While some today assume that minstrelsy’s blackface has roots in the American South because of the genre’s focus on black degradation and slavery, minstrelsy was born and evolved initially in the North.


If slavery was the commodification of black labor, minstrelsy, with its focus on presenting authentically black songs and dances, was the commodification of black culture. However, the depictions of blacks in minstrel performances were exaggerated, dehumanizing and inaccurate. Instead of representing black culture on stage, blackface minstrel performers reflected and reinforced white supremacy.

Note that a prominent minstrel character was Jim Crow. It is also the source of blackface and why blackface is so problematic. See my post “The History of Blackface” for more on that.

So, yes, it is a good idea to remove symbols that grew out of that era from our breakfast products.

See, also, this from Adweek: Mrs. Butterworth’s and Cream of Wheat to Review Mascots and Packaging.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. James Joyner says:

    I’m old enough to have been around when Mrs Butterworth’s was introduced and it’s also my favorite syrup (I find pure maple too thin and sweet). It never occurred to me that she wasn’t white, likely of British origin.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @James Joyner: it turns out the syrup was introduced four years before I was born. For whatever reason, the ad campaign of what had to be the very early 1970s put into my mind that it was a new product.

  3. @James Joyner: I will admit, I think I always thought of Mrs. Butterworth as more of a generic grandma.

    I remember thinking Aunt Jemima was a problem when I was a kid, however.

  4. @James Joyner: Indeed, if the brand is from the 1960s, it doesn’t fit what I was talking about over in the Aunt Jemima thread.