I think my baking powder might be racist...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Really, I've been giving it some thought. It dawned on me one morning when I was putting some oatmeal together in a baggy so I could have something tasty and warm to eat at my computer. As I reached for the currants, the can of calumet caught my eye. In an instant a chain of nerves in my brain suddenly linked together instantly electricity formed recollection and from recollection thought. My thought being, this image, is it offensive.

Now, I've learned that people get defensive about this sort of thing. Some people hate hearing sports teams like the Red Skins called a racist stereotype. The argument between "honorific title," "state heritage," and "team history" come into play against "racist rolemodel," and "offensive figure." I think that the calumet container falls into this similar dilemma. It could be seen as harmless image of a native american or another staple image of red man in feathers.

Some might disagree, but if it had a picture of a mammy or a stereotypical chinaman we would be up in arms. So then, doesn't this fall into the same category?

The research on this particular topic is limited. Calumet specifically is the name for a Native American smoking pipe. As for the history of the baking powder company itself, wikipedia seems to sum it up pretty well and on this particular topic I find little reason to question the entry.

Anyways, I open it up to debate. Is the baking powder container racist?

18 comments:

  1. As with your other posts on this topic, I'd have to say that my consistent opinion is that the question is one of intent.

    Was the logo of this product intended to belittle or mock Native Americans? I kinda doubt it.

    I think that we are far too sensitive when we start retroactively accusing people or organizations of racisim. In fact, I see that as a form of racism in and of itself.

    Why should we demand that innocent actions of a day gone by be condemned (or changed) because they offend some modern day over-amped sentivity?

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  2. I sort of equate this to a semi-racist old man. Yes, if judged objectively some comments/images are probably racist by today's standards. But a lot of it is just what you grew up with, when you grew up, what standards were acceptable during your formative years, etc., and it is not always fair to judge everyone by the same absolute standards. I'm OK with the image...I suppose it is kind of offensive, but it also is sort of classic...anthropology of baking if you will.

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  3. Sounds like you are grasping at straws for something to write about here.

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  4. Good job, Island Pearl. You saved me the trouble of putting my thoughts into words, and did it in a much more civilized way than I probably could have at this early hour. I happen to have some "Native American" blood in my own veins, and can see no way in which having my own image used to represent a well-known and too-little-used symbol of peace and brotherhood could be offensive to me. Let's all light up the old calumet and get back to Baking for Brotherhood (or must it now be Siblinghood?).

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  5. I agree with IslandPearl. I don't think it was their intent to be racist against Native Americans. I think that in order to be racist, there has to be intent. Now being ignorant of another person(s) feelings is an entirely different matter. But I think that we live in a world now where everyone is bitter about their circumstances and they want to place blame on people for whatever. It's not just that people are too sensitive, they are too resentful of others success, so they make a point to bring them down.

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  6. Precisely, IslandPearl. An object, an image cannot be racist. The intent of the one who chose and adopted it might have been. I never would intentionally insult or hurt anyone, but political correctness has become absurd in this country, and the truly sad fact of the matter is that many who harp on political correctness, at the bottom of it, harbor racism in their hearts. Are they correct and innocents who use Calumet Baking Powder incorrect? I think not.

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  7. Do we view the Gerber Baby as racist? Betty Crocker? Both are more or less fictionalized representations of white people still used as corporate logos.

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  8. I wouldn't consider it one. But I've kind of labeled the old-style "red man with feathers" as a fantasy character anyways. Yes, some tribes have the formal headdress and war bonnets or whathaveyou, but it wasn't the cartoon-y character you see in the old Peter Pan or on a Red Skins thing, that's a fictional character created off of an idea. Kind of like the aliens based on bugs in cheap sci-fi movies.

    Could someone take offense? Sure. People can take offense over anything and that's their right and one of their freedoms. Does that make them right? Probably not.

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  9. I'll throw my hat in on my own post and say Island Pearl has it down I think. Personally, I think it's in the eye of the beholder for this one. Still, I know of some Native American people back in college who would take real insult to this. So... yeah.

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  10. To me, considering the history of this nation and the native people of this land, it's insensitive to use their image in this way. It kind of belittles the offenses they have suffered over the years, and helps make Native Americans into story book characters and not real people who have been wronged.

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  11. Apparently that logo has been used for about 120 years. Can't put a whole lot of faith into Wikipedia, but...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/index.html?curid=12643529

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  12. It's only racist to those who make it so.

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  13. Here's my 2 cents:

    As (hopefully) many of you know, our country as a very rich history in terms of race. Although many may not find this image to be racist, the mere fact the skin color of the image is red has offensive, racial undertones in relation to the depiction of Native Americans. This product was produced during a time when it was socially acceptable to use what we would refer to in modern times as "racist images". I think whether or not this image is intentionally racist is moot, if we don't first understand the history behind the use of the image and the reasoning for it being selected in the first place. ;)

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  14. I think this is being overly sensitive and @lacandice...it could be a coincidence that the container is red...i mean brown/tan wouldnt stand out on the shelf as well. either way i agree with everyone that an image cannot be racist.

    all this overly politically correctness makes my head hurt. soon everything will be soo bland and watered down in an attempt to not offend ANYONE.

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  15. An image doesn't have to be overt (read: intended) to be racist. The argument of "well, he didn't mean it" doesn't hold, whether it's a picture on a can or a comment made in conversation.

    Creating sweeping generalized images based on a stereotype of an entire group of people can be perceived as racist — because we live in an era when the people whose racial identities are affected by this now feel empowered enough to say, "This is not okay." Just because you don't see it as racist, doesn't mean that it isn't.

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  16. It is oppressive at the very least. The Olympia Food Co-op would not carry a product with a package like this, as they have packaging guidelines. For example, they do not carry Seventh Generation products because it is a white company who capitalizes on a sacred native principle,or Blue Sky Soda that uses native imagery on the cans.
    Please check out their website for more information olympiafood.coop

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  17. a "white" company???? omg.

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  18. Of course an image can be racist. Images don't exist in a vacuum--they are produced by a culture for a particular purpose and carry connotations and meanings related to their place and time.

    Is this one racist? Yes, in a mild way. As has often happened in American history, a piece of Native American culture has been borrowed (or hijacked) to sell something without discernable benefit to Native Americans. I see this case as mild racism because there is no apparent intent to mock or belittle. On the contrary, the implied meaning of the image is that this is an old and noble product, one that can be relied upon. Good, solid American stuff, you know.

    Comparing this image to the Gerber baby is silly because in the case of the mashed peas the product and advertising image have a reasonable relationship. The iconographic baby serves as a visual indicator that the product is for babies. The iconographic Indian has nothing to do with baking powder.

    Would I refuse to buy it, no. There are too many mean-spirited forms of racism in the world to worry about the quirky little ones.

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