Uncle Ben might soon be joining Aunt Jemima in retirement. Brand owner Mars says it is planning to change the rice's "brand identity," which has long featured a photo of an African American man. The name, which dates to 1946, comes from a black Texan rice grower, while the picture is of a "beloved Chicago chef and waiter named Frank Brown," according to a company website. Mars said Wednesday that "now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do," CNN reports. It added that it doesn't "yet know what the exact changes and timing will be," but it is "evaluating all possibilities." Mars exec Sara Schulte tells AdWeek that the company was looking at changes "even before the news of Aunt Jemima."
Historians including Ronald L.F. Davis note that in the Jim Crow era, black men were often called "Uncle" or "Old Man" to "denote inferiority"—and because white Southerners refused to call black men "Mr." "The only time blacks were put into ads was when they were athletic, subservient, or entertainers," Marilyn Kern Foxworth, author of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, told the New York Times in 2007 after the company "promoted" Uncle Ben to chairman. The company was "asking us to make the leap from Uncle Ben being someone who looks like a butler to overnight being a chairman of the board," she said. "It does not work for me." (Read more advertising stories.)