A Republican candidate has been caught wearing blackface in a Halloween costume where she dressed up as Aunt Jemima, the character formerly associated with the pancake brand. And her defense is that drag queens are worse.
Mary Ann Mendoza is running for the state house in Arizona this November on a platform centered around her opposition to immigration, saying that her son was killed in a 2014 car accident with an undocumented immigrant who was driving drunk.
But pictures shared on social media show her wearing black face paint with bright red lips and a wig with coiled locks and a red handkerchief on her head. She has hoop earrings and an apron that says “AUNT JEMIMA.”
In another photo, she’s dressed up as Pocahontas. She also used makeup to darken her skin for that costume.
According to ABC 15, some of the pictures were posted to Facebook by her late son. The Aunt Jemima pictures were posted in October 2011 and the Pocahontas pictures in October 2012.
Mendoza has not yet commented on the pictures, which are being shared on social media. But her political allies have been standing up for her.
“Instead of focusing on decade-old Halloween photos posted by liberal opponents right before an election, voters care about a secure border and common sense policies that will keep Arizona strong,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) said in a defense of Mendoza.
Mendoza’s friend Kathleen Winn said that Mendoza’s “heart is pure and she deserves our full support,” adding that “whatever makeup she wore is no worse than drag queen’s.”
Her Democratic opponents – candidates Seth Blattman and Lorena Austin – denounced Mendoza, saying that the pictures should disqualify her from the race.
“There were the antisemitic remarks, you know, a couple of years ago, that got her banned from Twitter and kicked out of the [Republican National] Convention,” Blattman said. “This is racism. This is hate.”
“This is something that spreads a very dangerous ideology,” said Austin, who is gender non-conforming and a lesbian and has been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
“I think when people dress in Halloween costumes, whether it’s Pocahontas or Aunt Jemima, or whoever, and they apply those prosthetics, it does harken back to mocking and denigrating black identity,” said Professor Ayanna Thompson of Arizona State University. She wrote a book entitled Blackface on the history of the practice and its links to other forms of racism.
“It seems like a willful disregard for people that she would be representing,” she said of Mendoza.
— Rex Doctor (@RexDoctor) October 22, 2022
This is State House nominee Mary Ann Mendoza.
And this photo won’t change anyone’s vote. pic.twitter.com/6NnmhMpyRW
— flexghost. (@flexghost1) October 27, 2022
Mendoza was one of Donald Trump’s “Angel Moms,” a 2019 anti-immigrant propaganda campaign that promoted the stories of people who had lost loved ones to immigrants.
In 2020, Mendoza was invited to appear at the Republican National Convention but was later uninvited after she promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. She claimed that she didn’t know what she was retweeting and apologized.
“My apologies for not paying attention to the intent of the whole message,” she said. “That does not reflect my feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever.”
Aunt Jemima is a character built on the “happy slave” narrative. She was created in the 19th century to promote pancakes. Titles like “aunt” and “uncle” were used in the antebellum South to refer to older enslaved peoples so that white people could avoid referring to them with respectful honorifics like “Mr.” or “Mrs.”
It wasn’t until 2020 – during the national George Floyd protests against institutionalized racism – that Quaker Oats retired the character.
“Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” said the vice president and chief marketing officer at Quaker Oats, Kristin Kroepfl. “While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”