A newly minted candy store on Whyte Avenue removed a racist sign on Sunday after a University of Alberta faculty member brought attention to its meaning on social media.
Shama Rangwala, a faculty lecturer of women’s and gender studies, entered Rocket Fizz briefly on Sunday afternoon when she noticed a vintage sign advertising “Picaninny Freeze” hanging in the shop. A “picaninny” is a racist caricature of black children portrayed in pop culture from the mid-19th century throughout the Jim Crow era.
“(The picaninny) isn’t just a U.S. caricature,” added Rangwala. The KKK had a presence in Alberta until 2003 and many racist minstrel shows — where white actors wore blackface — were performed and celebrated in Edmonton, she noted.
Chris Kirkwood, owner of the Whyte Avenue Rocket Fizz franchise, clarified in a Sunday interview with Postmedia that the sign came as a part of a start-up package from suppliers when the shop opened. He said it didn’t raise any red flags because store employees did not know what it meant, and Kirkwood himself says he did not know the sign was in his store.
Rangwala does not blame the store’s employees or owners for following what they were sent, and says that the company should not have had such a sign in its supply orders to begin with.
Rocket Fizz, which is headquartered in California, released a statement saying the company had not specifically ordered the signs and has directed all of its nearly 100 franchises to ensure they are not hanging the sign as well. It has also asked the supplier to no longer send that sign.
“As a company we are STRONGLY OPPOSED to bigotry, racism and prejudice,” reads the statement. “We are sorry this happened and we will do all that we can to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time that a Edmonton candy store has caught backlash for racist marketing. Last summer, Bubble and Gum in West Edmonton Mall removed a statue of an Indigenous man whose feather headdress was filled with lollipops.
Concerns about the mass-marketing of racist nostalgia go deeper than the sign. Racist tropes like these, Rangwala says, cause real harm to racialized minorities in Canada as well.
It’s “selling nostalgia for racism and sexism, and that has real harms in the present,” said Rangwala, noting that the negative impacts of slavery, Jim Crow and residential schools are ongoing.
She noticed other products in the store, such as soda bottles depicting Joseph Stalin and Kim Jong-un. Kirkwood said those products are meant to be “a joke” and he was not concerned about them.
“The past is erased of its harm and marketed as something kitschy,” said Rangwala.