The Racist Roots of Popular Product Names

There has been a great deal of public outcry in the wake of several companies' decisions to drop objectionable marketing identities from their advertising, most notably the characters of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Mrs. Butterworth, etc. (Note: I consistently use all three of those products; I hope that these companies' decisions do not alter anything but the product names.)

In any event, someone I know posted the following image to social media. As you might expect, several people responded to this image by claiming that the companies' decisions to rename their products and drop the marketing identities are an overreaction. And in the case of Aunt Jemima, their assertion was that it would erase the image of a successful African American woman.

Aunt-Jemima-Deception

There was a great deal of banter about erasing history in the name of social justice on the thread, which one person paraphrased as, "people are gonna see what they wanna see." What is ironic, however, is that most of the people failed to read the rest of the Wikipedia article about Nancy Green at https://bit.ly/2AGB6C6. Here's an excerpt to illustrate some of what they missed:

"Biography: Nancy Green was born into slavery on November 17, 1834, near Mount Sterling in Montgomery County, Kentucky.[4] She was hired in 1890 by the R.T. Davis Milling Company in St. Joseph, Missouri, to represent 'Aunt Jemima', an advertising character named after a song from a minstrel show.[3] Davis Milling had recently acquired the formula to a ready-mixed, self-rising pancake flour from St. Joseph Gazette editor Chris L. Rutt and Charles Underwood and were looking to employ an African-American woman as a Mammy archetype to promote their new product.[6]"

Now look up the "Mammy Archetype" at https://bit.ly/2zHHI2n:

"A mammy, also spelled mammie, is a U.S. stereotype, especially in the South, for a black woman who worked in a white family and nursed the family's children. The mammy figure is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States. Enslaved black females were tasked with domestic and childcare work in white American enslaver households. "

So here's the real story: while the actress herself, Nancy Green, may have found a modicum of success, she did so by portraying a racist caricature of herself. However, the text that is appended above the Wikipedia excerpt isn't true; Green was only hired as a spokesperson, and she was not a millionaire. The actual pancake product was created by Chris L. Rutt and Charles G. Underwood, not Green. When Rutt and Underwood couldn't make their product a success, they sold their recipe to the Davis Milling Company, who renamed their company after a racist stereotype from vaudeville shows of their day (see https://bit.ly/2YdmRO7).

Aunt-Jemima-Origins

So in deference to the original image that was posted, the Aunt Jemima character has extremely racist roots in history. With that in mind, it's not a question of people only seeing what they wish to see, it's a question of people choosing what they wish to ignore.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 11th Edition

Following up on the B-17 image that I posted yesterday, here's a quick animation that illustrates how I added successive layers of color to create the finished image.

FYI - a few layers were combined to make the animation a little shorter, and the images in the video are not necessarily in the order that I colored them. I created a series of images based on the layers that I had created, but I did so after I had finished the image.

Freedom, Fanaticism, and Flags

Today I'd like to tackle what seems to be an uncomfortable topic these days: freedom of speech. The impetus for my discussion is that one of my family members recently posted a link to the following petition:

Remove the Confederate Flag From All Government Places

For me, the Confederate flag represents a failed attempt by a group of rebellious traitors to secede from the Union in order to keep their slaves, and I largely feel that way about statues of Confederate Generals like Robert E Lee. The Confederate Generals were traitors, and they do not deserve our adoration. There's a reason why we don't keep statues of Benedict Arnold around; despite his heroism and triumphs as a General for the Continental Army, Arnold sold out his country and fled to England, and his name has become synonymous with traitorship.

I say all of this in order to reinforce the point that if the Confederate flag went away tomorrow, I wouldn't miss it any more than I miss the Swastika. But here's some food for thought: the predominant argument that I see against the Confederate flag is that racist idiots use that flag as a symbol; but think about it - these same idiots also use the United States flag, and they also use the Christian cross. What should we ban, then? Should we also ban the flag of the United States? Should we also ban crosses? Where should we draw the line on what we allow in our society? When will enough be enough?

For some people, the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, whereas for other people it represents their cultural origin. I personally think those people are misguided, but still - we do not complain about people who fly a Mexican flag to show pride in their heritage. Or a German flag. Or a Canadian flag. At my house we fly an Irish flag on St Patrick's Day in honor of my Irish roots. Let's make this more personal - should we deny someone the right to display an Iranian or Chinese flag just because our nation is upset with their nation of origin? Or should we respect their freedom of speech and allow them to display their pride in their heritage?

At the end of the day, the racist idiots of our society can use any emblem they choose as they spew their toxic filth, but that doesn't make the emblem itself a bad thing. If we're not banning Christian crosses, which have been used by the KKK and other stupid domestic terror organizations for over a century, then I think we can let the misguided people who think that the Confederate flag is a representation of their cultural heritage have their freedom of speech. That is what living in a free society is all about.

Once you start banning every symbol of cultural heritage that offends you, then you might as well start banning books next. And when banning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start burning books. And when burning books isn't effective enough, you might want to start locking up the people who write or say things that offend you. And when locking up the people who offend you isn't effective enough, then you're one short step away from becoming the very evil that you despise. Returning to my earlier thought, I have no love for the Confederate flag; to me, it is a symbol of cowardice, greed, immorality, and rebellion. But to ban the Confederate flag would deny others their Constitutional right to freedom of speech, and therein lies one of the fundamental dilemmas of living in a free society. Sometimes the problem with an idealistic goal like banning a flag is that it fails to take the full picture of its ramifications into account.

Let me close with an apropos thought from Adlai Stevenson: "My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. Where it's safe to say what’s on your mind, especially when everyone disagrees. Where it's safe to believe what you believe, especially when everyone else’s beliefs stand elsewhere. Where it’s safe to swim against the current and be perfectly safe from the other fish."

With that in mind, my personal objections to the Confederate flag are secondary to others' right to freedom of speech, and that's exactly how it should be. Freedom of speech does not guarantee freedom from offense; to have freedom, you must accept its consequences.


UPDATE: I occasionally watch John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, and a few years ago he posted the following video, wherein he presented some of the same feelings that I have about Confederate symbols; namely that most of them belong in a museum. We should not attempt to erase all symbols of darkness from our sordid history, but we should place some of those symbols in the proper context, and I think that a museum is the best way to do that.

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 10th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, in this case it was the crew of the "Hell's Angel's" B-17 adding the numbers for their latest bombing mission. (Which looks to be just shy of 40 missions.)

B17-Hells-Angels-Before-and-After

You can read more about this B-17 at: https://bit.ly/3hvp4Mg.

By the way, for those who've never seen it before, Jimmy Stewart helped create an Air Force Training/Recruitment film in 1942, wherein he describes the duties and responsibilities of a B-17 crew. (Although if you know your B-17 history, you can tell that the video is of a very early version of the aircraft, and not the version that saw most of the combat during the war. Can anyone else point out the most-important differences?)

PS - Despite having created this film, during the war Jimmy Stewart flew B-24s.

Winking smile

Coloring Historical Photographs - June 3rd Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum that looked like a good candidate for colorizing, and here's the "Before and After" views. I can't imagine how cold it was in these WWII airplanes, but the scarf, gloves, leather boots and fleece lining that the pilot is wearing would seem to suggest that it was pretty cold. It's because of sacrifices from guys like this that we still have England.

Sailor-Malan-Before-and-After

After a bit of research, it appears that was a photo of Adolph Gysbert Malan, and you can read more about him here: Sailor Malan: a Battle of Britain Pilot.

Those Who Do Not Learn from History…

There is an old adage which states, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," and I think that history is replete with examples that have proven that statement again and again. It is from that same perspective that I would like to share the following thoughts from one of President John F. Kennedy speeches, which are just as true for today's world as they were true in his circumstance almost 50 years ago.

JFK"The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame, as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right, as well as reality."

11 June 1963

You can read and listen to the full text of this speech on the JFK Library website by using the following link:

Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963

Coloring Historical Photographs - May 29th Edition

I found another image on an aviation forum, that I thought might be fun to colorize. To be honest, I did it rather quickly, so there are less layers than I had been using for some of the other images that I had done.

Jet-Pilot-Before-and-After

Some time later, I discovered that this was an image from LIFE magazine of Major Wallace Frank, which was dated September, 1948. (That was kind of a surprise; I would have thought that it was from a decade later.)

Even though I found this image on an aviation forum, while I was researching the image to see who was in it, I found it's information at: https://bit.ly/2zC1aOb.

Condoning the Present to Condemn the Past

I belong to a few veteran's forums that focus on different parts of my years in the military; e.g. one of the forums is for soldiers stationed in Germany during the 1980s, another forum is for soldiers who served in the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, etc. Since I spent eight years as an Army linguist, another of the forums to which I belong is reserved for former military linguists, where the topics of discussion focus on general interest subjects that are centered around learning languages and using languages.

It is with that general spirit in mind that someone posted the following article, which describes how the People's Republic of China has been trying to destroy the native Tibetan language since it conquered Tibet in the 1950s:

Killing a language: China won't let Tibetans study in their own language

This behavior is nothing new for Communists. Lest we forget, the Soviet Union launched these same sorts of language purging campaigns in all of their republics during the USSR's reign of terror. When I was in language school, I knew several teachers from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc., all of whom were forced to learn Russian in school as their primary language. Some were given the option to learn a second language, with their options being English or their native language. (And all of them opted for English, because the "West was cool.") The goal behind suppressing native languages is to remake the culture of conquered territories resemble the culture of the conquering nation. With that in mind, China is simply following the decades-old Communist playbook by killing the local language of Tibet in order to force its citizens to sound more like they're Chinese. As the article that was posted suggests, this is a horrible human rights violation.

However, any topic with possible political ramifications in this day and age will attract any number of Internet trolls, and the forum thread in this particular situation was not immune to infiltration. The thread hijacker in this instance attempted to steer the conversation away from a discussion on China's present-day transgressions to accuse the United States of having suppressed the native languages of conquered indigenous peoples from a century ago. While English has undoubtedly been a required language in schools across the nation in the centuries since its inception, (to include schools on Native American reservations), the United States has also taken bold steps in its efforts to preserve indigenous languages through legislation like the Native American Languages Act of 1990.

However, as with most misguided social justice warriors in today's "react first / research later" generation, none of that mattered. Nor did China's transgressions. All that mattered was that the United States should be ashamed of itself, because: America = Bad. Bad. Bad.

Needless to say, I took exception to this troll's ill-informed and self-righteous attitude. I wholeheartedly believe that there is nothing wrong with saying "This or that bad thing happened in the past," just as there is nothing wrong with saying "This or that bad thing is happening right now." However, I also steadfastly believe that there is something wrong when someone tries to prevent people from discussing something bad that's happening right now by shutting down conversations and accusing people's ancestors of wrongdoing.

For the record, my Irish American ancestors had nothing to do with the moral crimes of the past that this knee-jerk troll seemed hell bent on pushing as the prominent issue. My ancestors arrived far too recently and settled nowhere near the affected areas, so I feel no personal responsibility to apologize for the sins and stupidity of unrelated strangers. However, I seriously resent the accusation that I am guilty of some sort of moral failure or hypocritical behavior when I look at an atrocity that is taking place in the present and correctly label that behavior as "atrocity" without simultaneously calling out every other similar atrocity across the history of humanity.

Let me be clear, the United States has done many, many things wrong during in its sordid past. I have not forgotten the faults of our nation's founding fathers, but even if I had, that should not prevent my ability to call out evil when I see it. When someone's myopic gaze is so laser focused on the past sins of others that they cannot or will not see what is happening today, then they are just as guilty of subjective hypocrisy as those who would forget or ignore the past.

Coloring Historical Photographs - May 16th Edition

I found another interesting photo in an aviation forum, and I thought that I'd take a quick pass at colorizing it. It's a WWII Navy pilot standing on the wing of a Grumman Hellcat F6F, and despite some trying - I couldn't find out who he is.

WWII-Navy-Pilot-Before-and-After

The colorization isn't perfect, of course, but I think it adds a bit of depth to the story. There is something obvious that I got wrong, though: the undercarriage of the Hellcat should have been colored gray.

Of course, I could go back and fix that now, but… meh. Not today.

It's all about Perspective

One of my former colleagues recently posted a link to the following blog, which I thought does a great job of putting a lot of our current situation into a better perspective:

However, that blogger cites the source as unknown, so he wasn't the original author. With that in mind, I think it's fair to reprint the contents here:

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

When you're 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren't even over the hill yet. When you're 41, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills six million.

At 50, the Korean War starts, and five million perish.

At 55 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn't end for 20 years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening. As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900.

How do you survive all of that?

A kid in 1985 didn't think their 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Let's try and keep things in perspective. Let's be smart, help each other out, and we will get through all of this.

That article, in summary, lists all the ways that the 20th century would have tried to kill you if you had been born in the year 1900. Between world wars and devastating diseases, the previous century was a terrible time to live.

And yet, I cannot help but think that the fatality numbers in that blog mostly reflect only the situations where the Western Hemisphere was somehow involved; they fail to address other mass repressions and genocides like:

  • The Stalinist Purges in Russia (approximately 30 million deaths)
  • The Chinese Cultural Revolution (approximately 30 million deaths)
  • The Cambodian Genocide (approximately 2 million deaths)
  • The Khmer Rouge repressions (approximately 2 million deaths)
  • The Armenian Genocide (approximately 1.5 million deaths)
  • The Rape of Nanking (approximately 500 thousand deaths)
  • And I have no accurate sources to estimate the number of deaths in South America and Africa due to famines, diseases, genocides, and civil wars

In other words, if you had been born in the 1900, but you had lived somewhere other than North America during the 20th century, your chances of meeting with a violent death would have increased even more dramatically than the original article would suggest. I mention that because I met several people when I was stationed overseas who had survived many of those devastations; I knew Germans and Britons who had survived World Wars, depressions, repressions, famines, diseases, etc., yet today's over-privileged youths act like the world is ending if their Internet is too slow. As the writer of that blog suggested, it's all about perspective.

Anyway, it's food for thought.

Thinking smile