LITTLE FALLS, NJ -- Dan Gasby, partner and husband of B. (Barbara) Smith and CEO of B. Smith Enterprises, spoke with TAPintoTV’s Stephanie Willoughby to discuss why the Aunt Jemima brand was finally dropped by Quaker Oats after years of controversy. Gasby also shared how he and Barbara had previously petitioned to abolish the Aunt Jemima brand, though at the time the two were met with resistance.
B. Smith came from a small town in western Pennsylvania and became a successful model in New York and Europe. She opened a restaurant in midtown Manhattan in 1986, which was one of the few Black-owned restaurants in that neighborhood. Barbara later authored several cookbooks, and that endeavor later developed into a TV show. B. Smith also created a home decor line sold at Bed Bath & Beyond and was the first African-American woman to have a national magazine.
“The list goes on and on of what she did and what she accomplished, always with a casual elegance and understated style and demeanor, and a belief that it’s about bringing people together,” said Gasby. Sadly, B. Smith lost her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease earlier this year. “As she used to say, B. Smith is about bringing together a diverse group of people under one stylish umbrella,” Gasby said. “She was lace, but she was also steel.”
Gasby shared a personal experience the two had several years ago when they had been exploring opening a supermarket. They were in a store in one of New York’s outer boroughs and encountered a Black girl buying an Aunt Jemima product. Barbara asked the girl if she knew who Aunt Jemima was and the girl replied that she was a celebrity, and had a very positive impression. Barbara’s words at the time, Gasby said, were: “This is not right. She doesn’t know that if someone called her Aunt Jemima, it would be an affront.”
The two then decided to contact corporate leaders, trying to convince them to do away with the character, but it was argued that Aunt Jemima was considered to be a wholesome brand. “In my letters to them, I said there is not a Black woman in America that wants their daughter to be called Aunt Jemima,” Gasby said.
Why does Gasby think that Quaker Oats and parent company Pepsico decided to drop the brand now? New attention was brought to Aunt Jemima after Miami-based artist Kirby posted a TikTok video “How to Make a Non-Racist Breakfast,” but the move is also part of the groundswell of change that has come as a result of the murder of George Floyd, said Gasby.
“Aunt Jemima is the small crime that had become part of the filament of America,” he said. “People don’t even think it’s wrong, but there’s not one person who wants to be called Aunt Jemima.”
“The universe ultimately moves for balance and moves for equality,” Gasby said, commenting that the death of Floyd “hit a nerve.” He added, “People who are standing up and people who are protesting every day are making a difference.”
For information about Dan Gasby and B. Smith, visit their website at: www.bsmith.com.