Michael Che stirred the pot this weekend on Saturday Night Live by roasting Uncle Ben’s rice products for featuring stereotypical labeling.
The “Weekend Update” co-anchor mocked the food brand — which for over 70 years featured a smiling, elderly Black man in a bow tie — on packages of rice.
“Uncle Ben’s rice, which has been criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes has officially changed its name to Ben’s Original,” Che said. “Now, I’m no expert, but I don’t think the problem was that he was an ‘uncle.'”
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Uncle Ben’s parent company Mars Food announced it would be dropping the word “uncle” from its products back in June 2020. Mars was one of several food companies — including Aunt Jemima — to ditch stereotypical logos following the Black Lives Matter protests last summer after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
As critics turned up the heat, Mars said Uncle Ben was a fictional character inspired by a “legendary Texas farmer who was known for his exceptionally high-quality rice.” Per Mars, the man on the package was Frank Brown, head waiter at an “exclusive Chicago restaurant who agreed to pose for the Uncle Ben’s portrait.”
The Uncle Ben’s brand launched in the 1940s. In the plantation-era South, the terms “uncle” and “aunt” were commonly used to refer to elderly Black slaves as opposed to the more respectful “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
Last year Mars said it planned to retire the Uncle Ben’s logo.
“As we listen to the voices of consumers, especially in the Black community, and to the voices of our Associates worldwide, we recognize that now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand, including its visual brand identity, which we will do,” the company announced on June 17, 2020.
Mars released a new statement on May 12, 2021, saying the rebranded Ben’s Original products are now available in stores across the U.S. The food giant also unveiled its “Ben’s Original Seat at the Table Fund” to provide scholarships of up to $25,000 for students in underserved communities interested in food industry careers.
Watch the SNL segment below.