Rice company follows in the footsteps of Aunt Jemima, others.
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A bag of Uncle Ben's rice is seen on a store shelf on June 17, 2020 in Washington,DC. - Amid nationwide protests against racism, major US food companies on June 17, 2020 said they would change the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's brands, both of which feature African American mascots. The United States has a long history of racist caricatures of African Americans and other minorities across popular culture, though in recent decades those images have become increasingly taboo.Businesses across the world's largest economy are facing a reckoning over branding following last month's killing of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, which sparking many protests against racism. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)
Credit: EVA HAMBACH / Contributor / Getty Images

Over the past month, a number of brands have released statements responding to the pain caused by the deaths of George Floyd and many others, as well as a burgeoning social movement meant to draw greater attention to the inequalities and disparities Black people experience in America today. In some cases, these company statements have involved financial commitments and other pledges to — in some small way — try to right the wrongs of systemic racism. But in a few cases this week, certain brands rooted in racist imagery have realized that the only way forward at a moment like this is to start over entirely.

Today, Uncle Ben's rice has decided now is the time to reevaluate and overhaul its brand identity, which has long been criticized for its perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. The decision mirrors a similar move made by Aunt Jemima and Quaker Oats to sever ties with its racist roots and iconography.

Uncle Ben's Parent company, Mars, Incorporated, announced its commitment to initiate a "brand evolution" via a statement posted on its website: "As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben's brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do."

The branding and iconography used by Uncle Ben's has been the subject of criticism for years. It's clearly reached a boiling point amid the current political moment. At issue is the fact that "Uncle" was often used as a way to refer to both freed and enslaved Blacks by white Southerners who refused to refer to them with titles like "mister." Also at issue is that the white-owned business has used the image of a Black man named Frank Brown, who had nothing to do with the product, since 1946.

Mars' rice business won't cease to exist, but the packaging and promotion of it will look different soon enough. Mars' statement admits that they "don't yet know what the exact changes or timing will be." The statement does not explicitly declare that they will do away with Uncle Ben's entirely, but that they are "evaluating all possibilities" moving forward.

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