Why The Dignity of Black Lives is Vastly More Important than a Brand
After a short Facebook browse, I stumbled across an article about the Cream of Wheat logo. Its mascot of a smiling Black cook is under “immediate review.”
In the words of B&G Foods, owners of the Cream of Wheat brand:
We are initiating an immediate review of the Cream of Wheat brand packaging. We understand there are concerns regarding the Chef image, and we are committed to evaluating our packaging and will proactively take steps to ensure that we and our brands do not inadvertently contribute to systemic racism. B&G Foods unequivocally stands against prejudice and injustice of any kind.”
Sounded pretty fair to me.
But, to my shock, I discovered a similar response from dozens of people on Facebook. Many shared comments such as…
- I’m “ashamed” of our country for changing everything!
- “No words can express the disappointment…” (in changing the brand)
- “This is seriously getting out of control now!” (in reference to changing brands)
- “Oh my God this is getting so ridiculous.”
- “This is completely out of control at this point. I think people are taking it over the edge. Taking down statues, removing pictures from packages come on…”
So, is this really shameful, out of control, and disgusting to change the Cream of Wheat logo?
Is it bad for our nation to change or dismantle icons of oppression and racism?
The History Behind the Cream of Wheat Logo
Well, B&G Foods believes its a worthwhile endeavor. For them, they don’t want to “inadvertently contribute to systemic racism.”
Some may wonder, How on earth could a Cream of Wheat logo contribute to racism?
Here’s the original mascot for Cream of Wheat:
It features “Rastus,” a racial caricature.
The Chicago Tribune described him as “a racial stereotype from blackface minstrel shows of the time and a pejorative for black men.”
In other words, the current Cream of Wheat logo shares this history of stereotyping Black men. Yes, it has “evolved” since the days of Rastus, but it still shares the same history.
In Response to those “Disgusted”
For my part, I felt shocked and angered by the commentators’ lack of concern for Black dignity.
They expressed ample concern over brands, statues, and icons in our country, but little concern for the lives of people.
So, here’s how I responded (still waiting for a reply):
“Ok, so in response to everyone saying they are ‘ashamed’ or ‘disgusted’ that we’d dare change a logo with racist tropes:
I’m glad you are as ashamed as I am at the multigenerational trauma of racism and oppression of Black Americans in our country.
I’m glad you see human life and dignity are far more valuable than a brand.
Because the histories of Black Americans are far more important than the history of a logo, you and I can quickly agree that changing a logo is vastly less important than creating change in the hearts of Americans.
Above all, I’m glad you see all ethnicities made in the image of God and therefore worthy of any endeavor (no matter how disruptive it may be) to offer dignity and justice to those oppressed in our nation.
Since you believe, as do I, that the Creator (not the King or the Party) has granted all people the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then we can brush the dust off our shoulders over a little ol’ logo being changed for the greater good.
Oh, and I’m sure the Cream of Wheat will still taste the same.”
What Really Should Disgust Us
I know change takes times, especially when it comes to hearts.
What should really disgust us, though, is the lack of empathy for others.
What’s interesting is how Jesus directed the story to his audience, and His message is so relevant right now.
A Story for us to Hear
An expert in the Law of Moses had approached Jesus and had asked Him about the greatest commandments. Jesus replied that loving God and loving others are the two greatest—so much so they sum up “all the Law and the Prophets.”
But then, the man wants to “justify” himself in his own eyes. He wants to narrow his field of neighbors. There are some “others” in his life he probably doesn’t care for so much.
So, Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Please, take a moment and read it in full here.
In short, the very people you’d expect to show mercy to the battered man passed on by. The religious elite chose to turn a blind eye to the injured person. Only the Samaritan–someone “unclean” in the eyes of others–stopped and helped.
But his way of helping is mind-blowing. He stops, looks at the man, feels pity, dresses his wounds, takes him to a hotel, pays for all of his care, and leaves him in the care of a hotel and agrees to pay any future costs.
In other words, the neighbor to the Samaritan showed costly love.
It took his time. His money. His reputation. His safety.
He probably got behind on his errands. Maybe he disappointed others for stopping to help a Jewish person.
At the end of the conversation, Jesus turns the question back on the expert in the Law:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise…
So, Jesus’s command to be a neighbor is not about loving corporations. Or brands. Or statues. Or false notions of the “American dream.”
Jesus felt it so important to teach who our neighbors are and what the orientation of our hearts should be.
The story illustrates how compassion, dignity, and empathy should drive how we treat others—especially those who are different than us.
So, back to changing that Cream of Wheat logo…
Go ahead and change that logo.
Take Aunt Jemima with you as well.
Take the icons of our nation that stand for oppression and racism.
Look, I have fond memories of pouring Aunt Jemima syrup on my pancakes too, but my fuzzy-feelings over the American dream are infinitely inferior to Jesus’s command to love our neighbors.
In the end, our neighbors’ histories and lives are far more valuable than a brand or my own self-interest.
Go, and do likewise.