Friday, June 19, 2020

Aunt Jemima and General Lee

Early rendition of Nancy Green as Aunt Jemima

In the past week, Quaker Oats announced they were changing the name and logo for their Aunt Jemima products. This announcement has spurred public outcry against Quaker Oats, leading one of my friends on social media to repost a rant about Ms. Nancy Green and how if they remove the Aunt Jemima name they are "erasing" all of Ms. Green's accomplishments and history.

This same argument has been made regarding the removal of civil war statues. People are crying out that removal of these statues erases part of American history.

This idea of "erasing history" by removing a likeness is a false notion. For those who have posted lengthy essays on the memory of Nancy Green and all her accomplishments, did you know or care who she was prior to Quaker making this announcement? Do you know that "Aunt Jemima" was not Ms. Green's nickname prior to her work as the face of the product? In fact, the term "Aunt Jemima" was generally considered to be a black woman who was a servant to white people. Also, according to Quaker's website, Aunt Jemima was developed as the first ready-mix pancake mix in 1889, while Ms. Green did not become their spokesperson until 1893.

Removing the name "Aunt Jemima" and the current likeness from their products cannot erase anyone's history. First, Ms. Green was not Aunt Jemima and the current likeness the company uses was implemented in 1989, long after Ms. Green had passed away. Second, removing someone's likeness cannot erase them.

Statue in Richmond VA
This takes us to the statues of confederate war heroes. People all over the South are claiming that removing these statues of men who lost their war is erasing American history. They claim to believe that everyone will suddenly forget about Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and others with statues in their honor.

Have you ever heard of Idi Amin? I doubt there are many (if any) statues commemorating this Butcher of Uganda. Does this mean that the atrocities he carried out did not happen? What about Adolph Hitler? If you haven't heard of Amin, you have heard of Hitler. I do not know of any statues honoring him, either. Does this mean the holocaust didn't happen?

Taking down statues which honor heroes for a war that they lost does not take away the war or the efforts those men put into that war. American history will forever be marked by the Civil War. The men who fought valiantly on both sides of this war will be studied and talked about for years to come. This is part of our history. It will not be erased by the removal of the statues that remind many who gaze upon them of why the South fought so diligently (to maintain their status as slave owners).

For those who are afraid of history being erased, take it upon yourselves to study history more thoroughly and to encourage your children to study history more thoroughly. Not just American history (which, really, is a minor portion of our overall history), but world history. It is important to have an understanding of why nations and peoples made the decisions they made. What led up to conflicts and how resolutions were reached.

History is simply the story of what has happened; and removing symbols and statues will not change or erase history. If keeping history alive is important to you, the best way to do that is to learn as much history as you can. Do not deny the parts which make you feel uncomfortable and embrace only the parts that make you feel good. If anything, seek out the parts of history that make you feel uncomfortable. If we do not learn about the mistakes of our past we are bound to repeat them.

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