Alumna Kirby's Viral Video Helped Bring Down Aunt Jemima Brand
In the wake of recent protests, there’s been a call to eradicate symbols of slavery, from the town square to the pantry. As statues of Confederate soldiers toppled around the country, another figure went down with them: Aunt Jemima, the face of Quaker Oats’ pancake mix and line of syrups.
The company announced June 17—two days after a viral TikTok video by Berklee alumna Kirby Lauryen ’09 criticized the racist origins of Aunt Jemima—that it was retiring the brand. Aunt Jemima, a familiar character on grocery shelves for the past 131 years, is based on the racial stereotype of a “mammy,” a black woman who worked for white families, including as a slave.
In Kirby’s June 15 post, called “How to Make a Non Racist Breakfast,” she gives a 25-second summary of Aunt Jemima’s history and ends with, “Black lives matter, people, even over breakfast.” The video has been viewed 4.7 million times and has been credited with pushing Quaker Oats to scrap the brand.
According to the New York Times, Kirby’s TikTok video picked up traction after Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian linked to it from his Twitter account with the comment, “How is Aunt Jemima not canceled??”
Kirby told NBC News that she felt "a sense of relief knowing that my future children will not grow up in a world where their ancestors' oppression is insensitively used as a marketing tool on a box."
Since leaving Berklee in 2009, Kirby has worked as a singer and a songwriter, collaborating with Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Ariana Grande, Beyoncé, Rhianna, and others. On June 11, she was the featured performer in NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert series.
Watch Kirby's viral TikTok video:
— KIRBY (@singkirbysing) June 17, 2020