Major League Baseball will be back soon. A second spring training will begin next week, with opening day in late July.
Is this an encouraging sign or a desperate plea to return to a normal that just isn’t there? Time will tell. Meanwhile, here in Texas, we’re experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases, and the Republican governor is finally starting to make sensible sounds from his mouth.
As a resident of Austin, I can drive three hours east to see the cheating Astros play. Or three hours to the north to see the Rangers play. I prefer the Astros by a long shot. Always have, both as a baseball fan and as someone who is attracted to brands. The Astros are Space Age. What are the Rangers?
Historically speaking, the Texas Rangers are the exact opposite. It’s a throwback brand built on a whitewashed fantasy of how the west was won.
Steve Chapman, a sports columnist with The Chicago Tribune (and a Texas native) recently called for the MLB team to change its name. For those who do not know the history, the real Texas Rangers were a marauding force of policemen who wantonly murdered Native Americans and others. Thus, the Dallas-area team name is baseball’s Redskins, but worse.
The Rangers name is an affront to Hispanics, African Americans and anyone who favors racial equity. It should be an intolerable embarrassment to the owners and fans. Even Quaker Oats’ Aunt Jemima brand had to go. And Aunt Jemima never murdered anyone.
Chapman suggests a “magisterial new book” by journalist Doug J. Swanson, Cult of Glory: The Bold and Brutal History of the Texas Rangers, which lays bare their long record of savagery, lawlessness, and racism. Swanson writes, “They committed war crimes. Their murders of Mexicans and Mexican Americans made them as feared on the border as the Ku Klux Klan in the South.”
According to The Dallas Morning News, the Rangers responded to Chapman’s call for change with a statement condemning racism and bigotry.
While we may have originally taken our name from the law enforcement agency, since 1971 the Texas Rangers Baseball Club has forged its own, independent identity. The Texas Rangers Baseball Club stands for equality. We condemn racism, bigotry and discrimination in all forms.
The newspaper notes that there are no tributes or monuments to the law enforcement agency at Globe Life Field.
The name change isn’t an easy issue for the team owners or the league. Most organizations that operate in good faith want to do the right thing for customers. What the right thing is, of course, depends on who you ask. Also, management must weigh how much it costs to make the name change. And compare that to lost income from keeping the name.
Remembering Nancy Green, a.k.a. the Real Aunt Jemima
Last week, Quaker Oats announced that it would rework its Aunt Jemima brand. It was the first in a series of rebranding announcements that grew to include Uncle Ben’s, Mrs. Butterworth’s, Cream of Wheat, and Eskimo Pie.
Now, family members of Nancy Green, the Kentucky native and former slave, who was the real-life model for the brand character, are saying not so fast. Historians are also providing context. According to NPR, “Black mothers are not irrelevant,” said Bronzeville Historical Society President Sherry Williams. “I look at Nancy Green as a Black mother figure, and Black women are the lifelines for generations, both Black and white.”
Through extensive research, Williams learned Green was a philanthropist and ministry leader. Williams is now attempting to place a headstone on Green’s unmarked grave, to help preserve the memory of the real woman as the character she portrayed fades away.
Williams said she became fascinated with Green and pored over newspapers to find clues about Green’s life in Chicago. According to a 1923 obituary in the Chicago Defender, Green was born into slavery in Montgomery County, Ky., in 1834 and moved to Chicago to serve as a nurse and caretaker for the prominent Walker family.
Her pancakes were a big hit in the Walker household. So big, word spread to their friends and associates. Eventually, word reached the Aunt Jemima Manufacturing Company, who hired Green to make pancakes and portray Aunt Jemima at the 1893 World’s Fair. After the fair, Green was offered a lifetime contract with the pancake company and traveled the country on a promotional tour.
Brand managers are not historians. Brand managers are concerned with the now. What do people make of Aunt Jemima in today’s context and culture? Historians and other academics would caution students not to judge another culture by today’s standards, or by their own philosophical frameworks. But that’s a social distance that brand managers can’t achieve. People today do judge. People also love to share their judged pronouncements on the Inters, which done en masse can damage brand reputation.
In Related News, There Is No “New Normal”
Baseball and pancakes…why are baseball and pancakes mixed up in the American political batter? Can’t we keep baseball and pancakes out of it? Can’t they remain purely what they are? In a wax museum, sure, that’s possible. In the real world that we all inhabit together, change is the only constant. In other words, there is no return to normal. There is only progress, even when it seems like regress.
UNESCO’s new commercial captures this need for “Next Normal.” UNESCO’s spot honors the fact that people live in the real world and the real world is complex, maddening, scary, and exhausting. Knowing this to be true, the question is how can a brand—any brand—help alleviate these pressures? And how can the company behind the brand make a difference for its staff, its community, and its customers?
Advertising does not exist in a vacuum. Ads are triggers that invite action. For these triggers to work, the communications need to be relevant to the reader or viewer. When anachronistic portrayals (well-meaning or not) fail to hit the mark, it’s time to retire them. It’s hard to see how clinging to tradition is a positive, when the tradition that is referenced is slavery or the “taming of the frontier,” which is political cover language with one intent—to mask the genocide that made way for white settlers and the chaos and inequity that has resulted.