In 2007, Uncle Ben’s producer Mars, Inc. said they wanted to give the character a raise from cook to board chairman of the company, rebirthing him simply as Ben. The company will finally make good on that idea by removing “uncle” from the box and calling the brand Ben’s Original instead. The company announced the change via Twitter on September 23.
“Over the last several weeks, we have listened to thousands of consumers, our own associates and other stakeholders from around the world,” Fiona Dawson, Global President at Mars Food, said in an online statement. “We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the previous brand, and as we announced in June, we have committed to change.”
That June announcement is still on the rice-maker’s homepage. Acknowledging and actually fixing the 74 years of frustration that Black consumers have had over the character since he appeared on packaging in 1946 may be more complex than calling the brand “Ben’s Original.” The New York Times addressed Uncle Ben’s racist history in 2007 when they wrote:
That reticence can be traced to the contentious history of Uncle Ben as the Black face of a white company, wearing a bow tie evocative of servants and Pullman porters and bearing a title reflecting how white Southerners once used ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ as honorifics for older Blacks because they refused to say ‘Mr.’ and ‘Mrs.’” By calling the brand Ben’s Original, Mars has essentially done away with all honorifics for the fictional elder.
“When you are making these changes, you are not going to please everyone,” Fiona Dawson, global president for Mars Food told the Associated Press. “But it’s about doing the right thing, not the easy thing.”
In June, the company behind Aunt Jemima announced that it would change its packaging and brand name “to meet our consumers’ expectations.” As for Ben’s Original, CNN reported that shoppers can expect to see it on shelves next year.
The brand’s statement said that in addition to superficial changes, they’re collaborating with community outreach programs that center underserved communities to increase access to healthy meals and to “help culinary entrepreneurs of all colors get educational opportunities” through a partnership with the National Urban League and scholarships for Black chefs.
Because no changes to an iconic character can go without commentary, people have taken to social media to share their thoughts:
I’m glad they changed the out dated and racist packaging. Stop using black people and other POC as mascots.— 🍓𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗼𝗳 𝗦𝗵𝗲𝗯𝗮 👑 (@SabaSmw) September 23, 2020
Imagine if the people upset about Aunt Jemima being removed from Quaker Oats products and Uncle Ben’s rice changing its name were at all upset about police murdering black people.— The Volatile Mermaid (@OhNoSheTwitnt) September 23, 2020
Uncle Ben’s after changing the name pic.twitter.com/LjmqYvahPA— Maggot Brain (@MaggotBrain16) September 23, 2020