Reflections on Aunt Jemima

My post yesterday addressed the decision by PepsiCo (the parent company for Quaker Oats) to move away from the racial stereotype of Aunt Jemima appearing on its pancake mixes. Today, I came across an excellent opinion piece by Michele Norris for the Washington Post in which she asks why it took recent events for the corporation to make this long-needed change:

Norris writes about her grandmother joining “an army of women who worked as traveling Aunt Jemimas” in the 1940s. As living, breathing stand-ins, these traveling women came to life as pancake-making emblems of modern convenience. As servants there to help women whip up a stack of fluffy sweetness in no time.

Norris’ writing style is engaging and her argument is spot-on. I’m planning to order a copy of her memoir, The Grace of Silence.

Changing up Aunt Jemima

Amid the protests brought on by the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, many companies are finally (reluctantly?) moving forward with altering images and messages that denigrate African Americans. It’s a little late to be stepping up, and stepping up in a climate of intense pressure isn’t the same as independently taking the bull by the horns, so to speak, but at least change is in the air.

Among the images to be transformed is Aunt Jemima, the iconic woman who appears on pancake mix boxes. The original image of Aunt Jemima was based on a woman named Nancy Green, a woman known for animate storytelling and excellent cooking skills. She was also born into slavery.

While the icon has been revised several times over the years, corporate spokespersons acknowledge that the image is based on a “racial stereotype” (i.e., caricature) of Black women, namely the mammies portrayed in books like Gone with the Wind (the film version of which is returning to HBO Max with added historical context in an attempt to situate the characterization of Scarlett O’Hara’s devoted slave, Mammy).

Up next? Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth.

A must-see

For anyone questioning the power of COVID-19 to continue to destroy lives, this opinion piece by Ron Suskind for the New York Times is a must-see:

Suskind presents the perspectives of forty doctors in their own words (including an emotional video chat between two doctors) who have tended to the sick, prayed with families, and observed heartbreaking goodbyes of patients young and old, hearty and frail.

Before rushing to a restaurant or mall to beat the quarantine blues, read this moving piece and think twice.


Baby girl

Today is my youngest’s 19th birthday, She and Celia, my older daughter by three years, have reminded me several times today that this is the last year that my husband and I will be able to say we have teenagers. Quite true and a little bit sad.

I remember the day my 19-year-old entered the world like it was yesterday. Cliche, I know. Within hours, Helena’s disposition became evident–and it hasn’t changed a bit since then. Calm. Independent. Delightful. She was the kind of baby who occupied herself without making a fuss, biding her time until one of us swept her up for food or play.

Helena remains a caring, considerate young woman. She’s smart and driven, finishing her freshman year at Auburn with superb grades, meaningful volunteer experiences, and many good friends. We are so proud of all that she has achieved and know there’s plenty more to come.

Even if this is her last year as a teen.

Helena's 19th bday

To buy or not to buy?

The second installment of my column, “Farming from Afar,” for Prairie Farmer was published today on the website (the print version will appear in the July 2020 issue).

This piece addresses my thinking process when faced with the prospect of acquiring more farmland some two-and-a-half years into my inherited role of absentee landowner.

Letters in response to “Sheltering Mom”

I was pleasantly surprised to see two letters to the editor in today’s LA Times in response to my op-ed “Sheltering Mom”:

I’ve received a number of personal messages via email from other caregivers of those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It seems that many are struggling with how best to care for loved ones with this disease amid the pandemic.

Keeping an eye on G’ma

I can’t not share an essay appearing in today’s Washington Post:

Drawing on Trump’s claims that the 75-year-old man in Buffalo who was pushed to the ground by police while protesting might have been an “ANTIFA provocateur,” columnist Alexandra Petri penned a hilarious, albeit disturbing, litany of “signs” that readers’ own grandparents might also be members of a nefarious collective.

We’re keeping a keen eye on my 83-year-old mom, who displays many of these behaviors.

Craziness abounds.

The marshmallow test

Paul Krugman published a great piece in today’s NYT about America “failing the marshmallow test” in a coronavirus era:

Most of us have heard of the “marshmallow test,” which measures kids’ willingness to delay gratification. Simply put, if they hold off on eating a marshmallow that’s been placed before them, they’ll be rewarded with an additional marshmallow (both of which can be consumed). So, wait and reap more.

It’s a principle behind the American Dream. Put in the hard work now and enjoy a better future, whether the subject is education or laboring to move up the ladder at work.

Krugman’s point is that Americans are accustomed to immediate gratification. As a result, they/we are risking the health of the nation. Staying safe and reducing the toll of COVID-19 necessitates continued quarantining, social distancing, protective gear. If we do all of that, the day will come when we can safely emerge from our cocoons.

I get it. We’re all itching to eat at local restaurants, enjoy live concerts, kick back at the movie theatre. But first, we have to be patient. Forfeit the immediacy of gratification for a future that will be healthier and safer for all of us.

More nursing home woes

On the heels of my essay in the LA Times yesterday about debating how best to keep Mom safe during this time of uncertainty, I came across the following article in the Washington Post:

The question at the core of the article is how to answer to loved ones (and their families) who received insufficient care in skilled nursing facilities amid the pandemic, while trying to do right by an industry surprised by coronavirus. Lots of regulation will surely come from these heartbreaking stories.

Things have changed.

An op-ed that I wrote appears in today’s LA Times:

My mom, who’s struggling with late Alzheimer’s, has been living with us since August 2019. After two years of driving back and forth to Illinois (1200 miles roundtrip) to assist my aging parents, my husband and I made the decision to move Mom here.   And while a long-term nursing facility is needed to care for Mom properly, keeping her safe in a way that we increasingly find ourselves unable to manage, the pandemic makes that choice problematic. Simply put, there is no good solution to our current predicament.

The print version of the article appears alongside two other opinion pieces that reveal how much all of our lives have changed during 2020: an essay on the need for improved public safety in LA (and, let’s face it, everywhere) and another addressing the need for reparations amid current racial tension and protests that are turning more violent every day. Things have changed, at the same time they remain (disturbingly) the same.