Ain’t cha’ mama on the . . .

. . . pancake box? Thats one of the things we’d say as kids, when we were putting someone down. At the time Aunt Jemima was a fat, smily, handkerchief head black woman. It meant your mother was a poor, fat, black servant in some capacity. Yesterday I happened to be in the syrup aisle and closely examined a bottle of Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. She is no longer dark, fat or wearing a handkerchief on her head. She is grinning and still has the white collar that says she is domestic help. I went home and researched Aunt Jemima products. Noted are bits of information I found interesting.

* In 1889 Chris Rudd, one of the founders attended a vaudeville show where he heard a catchy tune called “Aunt Jemima” sung by a blackface performer who was wearing an apron and bandanna headband. He decided to call their pancake flour “Aunt Jemima”.

*Old Aunt Jemima was a popular American song composed by African American comedian, songwriter and minstrel performer Billy Kersands (c. 1842–1915). White men in black face also performed the song.

* The first Aunt Jemima was born a slave in 1834. There have been several other female representatives since.

*In 1909 you could buy rag dolls of Aunt Jemima and her family.

*In 1989 her kerchief was removed and she has looked the same ever since.

Excerpts from Wikipedia follow;

There is a subtext lurking beneath the Aunt Jemima advertisements. She embodied an early twentieth century idealized domesticity that was inspired by old southern hospitality. There were others that capitalized on this theme such as: Uncle Ben’s Rice and Cream of Wheat’s Rastus. The backdrop to the trademark image of Aunt Jemima is a romanticised view of antebellum plantation life. The myth surrounding Aunt Jemima’s secret recipe, family life, and plantation life as a happy slave all contribute to the post civil war idealism of southern life and America’s developing consumer culture. Early advertisements used an Aunt Jemima paper doll family as an advertising gimmick to buy the product. Aunt Jemima is represented with her husband Rastus, whose name was later changed to Uncle Mose to avoid confusion with the Cream of Wheat character, and their four children: Abraham Lincoln, Dilsie, Zeb and Dinah. The doll family was dressed in tattered clothing and barefoot with the possibility to see them transform from rags to riches by buying another box with civilized clothing cut-outs.


The term “Aunt Jemima” is sometimes used colloquially as a female version of the derogatory label “Uncle Tom”. In this context, the slang term “Aunt Jemima” falls within the “Mammy archetype”  and refers to a friendly black woman who is perceived as obsequiously servile or acting in, or protective of, the interests of whites. The 1950’s television show Beulah came under fire for depicting a “mammy”-like black maid and cook who was somewhat reminiscent of Aunt Jemima.


*By the way, during slavery and shortly afterwards, black women were addressed as “Auntie” or “girl.” They were never called “Miss.” or “Mrs.” White women did allow black servants and acquaintances to call them by their first names, but”Miss” was always the modifier. “Miss Scarlett” is one such example.

These days we don’t have to leave the black community to find Aunt Jemima/mammy characterizations. Just check out some of Tyler Perry’s films. We would resent and protest a black woman playing such a character as his Medea, but we laugh when he plays her, minus of course, the painted on black face.

Enough said about one of our favorite aunts.