Actor and political commentator Ben Stein landed himself in a bit of controversy last week when he posted a promotional video on social media referencing the syrup formerly known by the brand name “Aunt Jemima” – comments which have since been branded racially insensitive, as Newsweek reports.
In the clip posted to his Truth Social account, Stein used the syrup’s name change as an example of corporate “woke” culture gone too far, and unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift and sure.
Stein sounds off
During the video segment in question, Stein is standing in his kitchen and explains, “I am about to do something which I sometimes do, which is to make breakfast for dinner.”
He then hoists a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup, and observes aloud, “Now this used to show a large African American woman chef, but because of the inherent racism of America’s corporate culture, they decided to make it a white person.”
Stein concluded his musings on the topic by saying that he “preferred it when it was a Black person showing their incredible skill at making pancakes.” WATCH:
The riff about syrup was said to be a promotional piece for an impending installment of the podcast The World According to Ben Stein focused on the topic of racism in corporate America.
As Black Enterprise notes, it was back in 2020 that Quaker Oats decided to remove the image of Aunt Jemima from product packaging – including on its famous syrup – declaring that “Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype.”
“As we work to make progress toward racial equality through several initiatives, we also must take a hard look at our portfolio of brands and ensure they reflect our values and meet our consumers’ expectations,” a company executive said at the time.
The Aunt Jemima character that had adorned syrup bottles for decades was, critics argued, derived from a “mammy” caricature portraying female slaves as happy-go-lucky individuals devoted to the care of their white overseers, as Newsweek noted.
Those rationales do not appear to resonate with Stein, however, who made his opinion on the matter clear in his social media post, and will presumably do so in the aforementioned podcast episode, but that is not to say that the reaction he received was – or will be – a warm one.
Critics speak out
There was no shortage of critical voices ready to take issue with Stein’s remarks, with lawyer and podcast personality Exavier Pope stating, “To go out of your way to complain about not having the racist depiction of Aunt Jemima on a bottle of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavoring and coloring shows the profound absurdity of latent racism that persists in many people like Ben Stein.”
Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor weighed in as well, saying that Stein’s riff was a “prime example of ‘When you don’t know the context and history behind a conversation you should just STFU and listen.”
Especially outraged, however, was actor and comedian D.L. Hughley, who tweeted, “If you called #Kanye or #Kyrie anti semites but are silent about #BenStein saying he misses #AuntJemimah on the syrup bottle you’re a f*****g hypocrite!”