The flap over flapjacks

The Aunt Jemima brand was not a tribute to Nancy Green. It was part of a horrifying culture of racist mascots.

John I. Carney
5 min readJun 21, 2020

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NOTE: This essay was originally published in 2020, but has been updated as of April 2024 in response to a flurry of misinformation-packed Facebook shares.

Photo by Mae Mu, Creative Commons license, obtained through Wikimedia Commons

Back in the 1990s, my father took his ship models to a “collector’s fair” at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville, and I went to see the event. Set up right next to my father’s table was a black couple that had a collection of racist advertising imagery going back to the 1800s. Some of it was just absolutely horrifying. They were not trying to celebrate those images; they were trying to preserve them so that we could remember the days when you could sell a product that way. They were trying to open people’s eyes to the reality of our history.

Five years ago, I went with the youth from my church to Youth 2019, a nationwide conference held in Kansas City. It’s apparently United Methodist policy that when a big UMC event is held in a city with a professional sports team name that’s considered racist, the issue of mascots is addressed somehow in the programming. In the case of Youth 2019, there was an optional breakout session on the topic, as well as a video presentation during one of the big group sessions.

I attended the breakout session, and it was really eye-opening. The speaker, Rev. Chebon Kernell, a Native American who serves as a United Methodist pastor, did an eloquent job, passionate but without antagonism or hyperbole, explaining how caricatures and stereotypes have been used throughout modern history to dehumanize other cultures. The type of caricatured “Indian” used as a sports mascot is part of a long line of such images and stereotypes.

White fans may claim that the caricature has lost its racist connotations. The people who root for the Kansas City Chiefs or the Atlanta Braves may think to themselves, “I’m not racist,” and they may say that a cartoon mascot is a silly…

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John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike