Pancakes And Politics

SINGER GLADYS KNIGHT DIDN'T have to hear it through the grapevine when some folks disapproved of her TV ads for Aunt Jemima syrup. "Aunt Jemina is a reminder of how whites saw African-Americans 100 years ago--as servants," says Ken Smikle, publisher of Target Market News, an advertising magazine aimed at blacks. Two black academics quoted in USA Today and The Wall Street Journal said that many African-Americans were upset that Aunt Jemina owner Quaker Oats used Knight to offset the stereotype. But Knight, 50, thinks the ads are in fine taste. "They contemporized the logo long ago, so it's not really an issue with me," she says. "What matters is whether their breakfast foods are good, and they are." The manufacturer has been quietly spiffing up Aunt Jemina's image since the 1970s-- and a dramatic 1989 makeover transformed the head-rag-wearing mammy into a chic modern woman with a smart perm and pearl earrings. Perhaps it's time to call her Ms. Jemima.

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