Profs plot new strategy to smash racism in branding as flat as an Aunt Jemima pancake

Two graphic design professors built a course called “Racism Untaught,” which applies the framework of anti-racism to the discipline of design.

The professors have taught workshops and seminars at multiple leading universities, as well as corporations like Spotify, PayPal, and Target.

One activity involves revamping a “racialized brand” like Aunt Jemima.

Two graphic design professors built a non-credit course toolkit for students and other academics called “Racism Untaught,” which applies the framework of anti-racism to the discipline of design.

Terresa Moses of the University of Minnesota and Lisa Mercer of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign established the Racism Untaught project to create  “workshops for academics and industry to identify forms of Racialized Design — design that perpetuates elements of racism.”

In the past several months, the pair has been invited to run workshops for faculty at Louisiana State University, Columbia College in Chicago, the University of Utah, and several other institutions. Corporations such as Spotify, Target, and PayPal have also hosted Racism Untaught programming.

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According to The Minnesota Daily — the University of Minnesota’s student newspaper — Racism Untaught also exists as semester-long classes at academic institutions.

Among other activities, students completing the semester-long experience revamp a racialized brand, such as Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben’s. In 2020, amid nationwide racial protests and riots, Aunt Jemima revised its branding to no longer include a depiction of an African American woman. Uncle Ben’s faced similar calls of racist branding. 

Images on the Racism Untaught site include past examples, which depict the food packaging stripped of its African-American characters. 

”There is a long history of Black archetypes and racist stereotypes in the food industry. Well-known examples include Uncle Ben’s and Aunt Jemima,” the website states. 

“The re-design for Aunt Jemima wouldn’t be enough to just remove her face,” Moses explained to The Minnesota Daily. “It’s like, okay, how do we apologize for that? How do we recognize as an institution and an organization that we were okay with this for so long?”

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Moses also told The Minnesota Daily that she wants students to “understand their agency in the positionality of racism” and know that “it’s not impossible to create an anti-racist design approach.”

“It is a hard conversation, but if you can commit to it, we can actually begin to change our culture and make a better world for everyone; liberate all the people who are oppressed and marginalized,” she added.

One University of Minnesota undergraduate who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Campus Reform that creating better branding is better than “tearing down existing icons or images.” However, she also believes that “the future of branding” will move toward a “focus of equity and anti-racism.”

Campus Reform reached out to Moses and Mercer for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft