Friday, June 19, 2020

4604 Juneteenth and Cardboard Boxes




4604 Juneteenth and Cardboard Boxes

The day’s news mostly traveled slower back in the day.  So when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, it took more than two and a half years for word to get into the ears of the black slaves of Texas.

An army general mounted a soapbox in Galveston and made the announcement.  That was June 19, 1865.  It’s a state holiday there and an unofficial national holiday. Juneteenth.

Here’s the exception to the speed rule: some people have yet to get the message.  And many believe in the convoluted darkness of their hearts and minds that it shouldn’t have happened at all.

Surely, by the end of World War II, it would have sunk in.

Uncle Ben was created in 1946. So the message hadn’t yet reached the makers of the rice for which he was named. What makes that even more twisted is that Uncle Ben is not a real person. He’s an image on a rice box.  Nothing about slavery here. But caricaturing men and women of color has not really stopped.  And the rice company is about ready to retire Ben after 74 years on the job.

Is that because using the image is politically incorrect? Or is it because in today’s world, they can’t risk the wrath of the withheld African American dollar?  We’ll never know.  But it’s good for the likes of Ben.

Aunt Jemima’s creation came much earlier, 1899.  Both characters are positive images of a sort. Jemima evolved, over time, from a BBW --Big Beautiful Woman-- to a sleek lady of many anglo facial features, no one you would take for a house worker in the Civil War or even today. 

The people at Quaker Foods, now owners of the brand, decided enough was enough.  But neither Quaker nor Mars of Snickers fame which now makes Uncle Ben’s know quite what they’re going to do to change the brands, deeply imbedded in the psyche of the American grocery customer.

This is an old problem.  What would we do about black stars of early radio?  The guys who created and portrayed Amos and Andy were white.  Black Lives Matter only because the program made huge bucks from a huge white audience that didn’t seem to care about the notions behind the programs.

When the show shifted from radio to television, originators Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were shocked and angered when CBS insisted on casting black actors playing black people.  The most famous of them were Broadway and Vaudeville star Tim Moore, who played the character “Kingfish” and his show-wife, “Sapphire,” played by Ernestine Wade and later, Amanda Randolph.  It was the first troupe of black actors on a recurring broadcast.  But it still was parody.

Amos ‘n’ Andy wasn’t -- or weren’t -- alone.  There was the housekeeper “Birdie” on The Great Gildersleeve and Jack Benny’s “Rochester” -- Eddie Anderson in real life.  And how many women of color played the housekeeper “Beulah” on that TV show.

All these actors made union scale or better.  They weren’t at all slaves. But it still was parody.  As long as the money rolled in, Beulah, Birdie, Kingfish, Sapphire, Rochester were pretty secure.

But today’s racial situation has had what might be an unintended consequence:  It stopped or will stop the money.

And the insult.  And maybe bring some sense to the relationship of white people in general and white cops in particular to their senses about people of color.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Any Questions:  wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2020


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