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N.L. liquor corp. reviewing Old Sam Rum in light of racist branding concerns


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. says it is reviewing a locally bottled brand of rum that appears to depict a laughing Black man as its logo.

A carefully worded statement from the Crown corporation Friday said the Old Sam Rum brand was flagged by staff as problematic under the company's objective to foster a respectful, safe environment that values diversity and inclusion.

It said the corporation "identified a potential issue with the Old Sam branding" following these concerns and the broader public discussion about depictions of Black people in brands.

PepsiCo-owned Quaker Oats announced this week it would retire the 131-year-old Aunt Jemima pancake and syrup brand, acknowledging the character was based on a racist stereotype. Other companies have quickly followed suit.

Old Sam Rum is being reviewed through a process that will look at "the history of the product," the NLC says, before the corporation decides whether to make a change.

It said the company is taking "time and care to come to an appropriate course of action" during the review, which it says will also consider if there are similar concerns with its other products.

In the meantime, though, at least one retailer said Old Sam Rum would no longer have a place on its shelves in its current form.

A statement from the New Brunswick Liquor Corp. said as of Friday, the corporation "has delisted this product and is pulling it from our shelves," along with a "thorough review" of other products in its catalogue.

The Crown corporations join a number of high-profile companies reckoning with the racist origins of images presented by their products, as the global Black Lives Matter movement prompts renewed, widespread criticism of systemic racism against Black people.

Mars Inc. has committed to reviewing the Uncle Ben's rice brand, and Colgate-Palmolive Co. has announced it is working on changes to the Darlie brand toothpaste, along with its Chinese partner Hawley & Hazel Chemical Co.

The toothpaste, which is popular in Asia, was originally called Darkie, though its labels and name have since changed. Its packaging, introduced in the 1930s, depicted a minstrel singer in blackface and a Chinese name that translated to "Black man toothpaste.''

B&G Foods Inc. said Wednesday it is reviewing the packaging of Cream of Wheat cereal, which depicts a smiling Black chef on its packaging and advertisements.

And Conagra Brands has said it is reviewing the Mrs. Butterworth's brand. The syrup bottles are shaped like a matronly woman and have been criticized, like Aunt Jemima, for the design's roots in the "mammy" stereotype of a Black woman serving as a domestic servant for white children.

There are two Old Sam Rum products in the collection of spirits produced by Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp.'s manufacturing division.

The rum is imported from Guyana and blended and bottled in St. John's, according to the company's website. It has been sold in other Canadian provinces including Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

The Old Sam figure appears in black and white illustrations on product labels. The corporation's website says the recipe originates from 1797, when Edward Young & Co. first imported barrels marked "Old Sam" from Guyana to London, England.

A vague description of the character's backstory appears on the Old Sam Rum website, saying he was based on the Demerara River in Guyana in the 1700s. It says the rum "has a personality as unique as its namesake."

"Sam was a man who demanded much of himself, his workers and his rums, but brimmed with generosity for guests and friends," the web page reads.

"Merchants, naval officers and New World adventurers alike found their way to his post on the Demerara River to share a story, a laugh and a taste of the latest blend."

The Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. and The Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission, which also carry Old Sam Rum, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

- With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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