Poem: ‘Aunt Jemima’ by Lucille Clifton.

Poem: ‘Aunt Jemima’ by Lucille Clifton.

The Poem below is presented by Russell Evans, Associate Lecturer from the School of Society and Culture:

aunt jemima

white folks say i remind them
of home i who have been homeless
all my life except for their
kitchen cabinets.

i who have made the best
of everything
pancakes batter for chicken
my life

the shelf on which i sit
between the flour and cornmeal
is thick with dreams
oh how i long for

my own syrup
rich as blood
my true nephews my nieces
my kitchen my family
my home

Aunt Jemima is a well-known brand of food in the USA. But the face used to sell the product came to embody the racist tropes in American home life of the African-American female housekeeper. The face used on the products changed over time but was initially a former slave, Nancy Green. The image used from then on with various models perpetuated the idea of the Black motherly housekeeper figure looking after a white family who was forced to see little of her own children. Green perhaps embodies something of history of African-American women housekeepers – she died in 1923 and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Chicago. She was forgotten for nearly a century until researchers told her story. Lawsuits against Quaker Oats, the company which owns the Aunt Jemima brand, failed in efforts to fund a headstone, as the company erased the images of successive Aunt Jemima’s.

Green was required in a binding lifetime contract to visit American towns to advertise the brand but perhaps she cleverly managed to get what she could from the company’s exploitation of her, according to Romi Crawford, who researches African American visual imagery at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “That is absolutely the irony, that she is playing a role: a derogatory type and caricature of Black women,” she told Katherine Nagasawa at National Public Radio. “In actuality, this is a Black woman who was moving around the country and, in a way, the world.”

The Aunt Jemima brand was only ‘retired’ by Quaker two days before ‘Juneteenth’ in 2020. In September 2020, the brand of rice products Uncle Ben’s also changed its name to ‘Ben’s Originals’ by Mars, the brand’s owner, citing awareness of the racist stereotypes the figure of Uncle Ben perpetuated.


The original Aunt Jemima:

Nancy Green:


Lucille Clifton was born in Depew, New York, on June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Time. During a rich career, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She served as Poet Laureate for the State of Maryland and Distinguished Professor of Humanities at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. Lucille Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.



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