Pancake Syrup & Justification

If We Examined the Origins of Everything, We’d Find that Everything is Problematic … Eventually.

I could hardly believe it when my wife informed me that the Aunt Jemima brand was being retired amid the recent protests and concern over the perpetuation of racist caricatures in pop culture. The murder of black men and women by the police is an unspeakable tragedy to be sure, an unspeakably horrific injustice representative of the immense history of racially motivated violence and disenfranchisement in America.

But we are talking about … pancake syrup. Are you kidding me? Do you know how many Christmases are permanently ingrained in the consciousness of my childhood recollection with images of me in my bathrobe playing with my latest toy … while Mom whipped up her famous pancakes enveloped with the sweet saturated goodness of Aunt Jemima syrup?

As companies move to re-brand cosmetics, as monuments to questionable historical figures come down, as classic films are censored for containing culturally insensitive depictions, my biggest fear is that people are going to think these endeavors alone will bring about the real, concrete, consequential systemic change we need right now. These all seem like window dressing to me. Modifying the names of brands is small potatoes compared to lasting change we really need. It’s easy to assume that all we have to do is remove everything offensive and our society will miraculously change.

The reality is that no one can know or keep track of all the stuff that’s problematic in origin. I remember my best friend in high school telling me about an experience he had playing tag as a child. All the kids made a circle to chant eenie, meenie, miney, moe … except one little boy who was from England. His eyes widened as the awkward moment ensued in which he informed everyone, “We don’t say ‘tiger where I’m from …” In college, I knew a guy who refused to watch fireworks because that’s like shooting missiles at God. Every time he would call, I would answer the phone with the standard greeting, “Hello?” to which he would characteristically reply, “Hell is low, brotha…” The other day, my Facebook messenger relayed a video about the racist origins of the ice cream truck song … who knew? The list goes on and includes the white supremacist implications of Francis Scott Key’s National Anthem, the urban myth that the etymology of the word “picnic” refers to lynching. And recently I found out that using the terms “rioters” and “looting” panders to racial stereotypes.

If we examined the origins of everything, we’d find that everything is problematic … eventually. And if by that assessment we removed everything offensive, we’d have nothing left. We’d ultimately have to get rid of ourselves. As much as we might want them to, superficial gestures change little, and they certainly can’t atone for our sins and bring about the vertical righteousness we all seek to attain—whether we profess a religious stance or not.

Thankfully, what we cannot attain is given to us freely through the blood of Jesus Christ. So, as we strive toward the admirable goal of a more equitable society and as we graciously disagree over the best way to go about doing so, may God supply us with preachers who will faithfully preach this message and no other: “Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” Who knows what the precious fruit of hearing that could look like? Maybe we will actually take time to sit down with one another over a cup of coffee. Or better yet, a stack of syrup-drenched pancakes.

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2 responses to “Pancake Syrup & Justification”

  1. Sam says:

    Thanks Jason. I so appreciate your voice of reason anchored in the good news of the gospel of Christ.

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