News & Politics

Uncle Ben's Rice No Longer Has a Black Man on the Box Because That's Racist

Leah Barkoukis

Ever since a black man named George Floyd died in the custody of a multiracial group of Minneapolis police officers, America has learned a lot about what is and isn’t racist. Just to name a few examples: The phrase “master bedroom” is now racist, because it has the word “master” in it. Refusing to yell “Black lives matter” on command is now racist, because Jimmy Kimmel wants to keep working in Hollywood. Hiring a white person to do the voice of a black cartoon character is racist, because… I dunno, it just is. Rather than trying to list all the things that are now racist, you should just assume that every single thing you do and say is racist until you’re instructed otherwise.

For example, have you bought any rice lately? Did it have a picture of a black man on the box? Well, guess what?

Noah Manskar, NY Post:

Mars Inc. has renamed its Uncle Ben’s rice products “Ben’s Original,” making it the latest food producer to ditch a brand steeped in racist imagery.

The Virginia-based company is also scrapping the portrait of a white-haired black man that has adorned its rice boxes for decades — an image that’s long been criticized as a racist stereotype…

The Uncle Ben’s brand was established in the 1940s and originally named for a “legendary” Texas rice farmer, according to an archived page on its website. The portrait long used on the box was that of Frank Brown, the maitre d’ of a Chicago restaurant who agreed to pose for the brand, the page says.

That’s right: A rice company used for its logo a portrait of a living, breathing individual human being, a person who actually existed on this planet in real life, and now that’s racist because George Floyd is dead.

Here’s the racist imagery, if you can even bring yourself to look at it:

Uncle Ben's Rice
(@unclebens Twitter screenshot)

Doesn’t really look like Al Jolson to me, but that must be my white privilege talking.

That’s from the company’s Twitter avatar, which you can see here as they grovel for forgiveness:

We’ve listened.
We’ve learned.
We’re changing.

Over the last several weeks, we have listened to thousands of consumers, our own Associates and other stakeholders from around the world. We understand the inequities that were associated with the name and face of the Uncle Ben’s brand and as we announced in June, we have committed to change.

We will change our name to Ben’s Original™ as well as remove the image on our packaging to create more equitable iconography. This change signals our ambition to create a more inclusive future while maintaining our commitment to producing the world’s best rice.

If you know what “more equitable iconography” means, please let me know.

Look, I don’t even like rice, and I don’t spend much time worrying about what Uncle Ben’s — oh, sorry, Ben’s Original — puts on the box. But the idea that somehow the old packaging is evidence of “systemic racism” and “inequities” and other buzzwords is nonsense. They make rice, man. That’s it. They didn’t do anything to anybody. It’s rice. Okay, so there’s a picture of a black guy on the box. You eat the rice, you don’t eat the rice, whatever. How is it hurting you? The worst that can happen is you’ll get fat from all the carbs.

What happened to representation and diversity and all that stuff? What’s the point of demanding more black faces in movies and on TV, while erasing black faces from grocery stores and kitchens?

If you see a black person eating rice in real life, are you supposed to scold them for perpetuating racial stereotypes? I’m not being sarcastic, I honestly don’t know. What’s acceptable and what isn’t?

It just seems like a mistake for companies to bow to pressure campaigns like this. No matter what they do, it won’t be good enough.

I mean, it used to be racist to capitalize “Black,” and now it’s racist not to. Now I have to go through my cupboards for racist rice to throw out. How am I supposed to keep track of all this crap?