Are Sprinkles Racist?

Brigham’s Ice Cream has decided recently to go through with the changing of the name of one of its flavors, inserting itself into the debate around the ice cream topping “jimmies.” For those out of the loop, the debate is around a claim that the term”jimmies” contains racist origins.

Brigham’s Ice Cream is a New England-based brand that went into operation in 1914 and until now included an ice cream flavor with the name “Just Jimmies.” Recently the company has tried to quietly change the name of the flavor to “Just Sprinkles.”

The term “jimmies” is a Boston/New England-area term for chocolate sprinkles. The whole debate sprung up when a claim was made that the term “jimmies”  has ties to the Jim Crow-era. This is specifically because the sprinkles are typically brown in color or because the name might be referring to Jim Crow who was the main focus of an 1830’s song that has become synonymous with racist culture.

According to the fact-checking done by Snopes, the claim that the name comes from Jim Crow Themes is “unproven.” In a post from 2009 Snopes stated:

 “No valid reason exists to suppose that ‘jimmies’ carries a racist meaning or had a racially-charged origin. However, it’s difficult to definitively disprove the claim because the term’s entry into the English language is downright murky.”

Brigham’s Ice Cream’s website includes a blurb of fun facts about the company, and in one archived post they explain the history of the candy topping.

The website says that “jimmies” were created by Just Born Candy Company which named them after an employee, James Bartholomew, in 1930. “Bartholomew operated a machine that produced Born’s latest invention, tiny hot-dog shaped chocolate sprinkly things. But what to call them?” The website says, “[founder Samuel] Born briefly pondered that question before deciding to accredit the name to the producer, Jimmy Bartholomew. The new product was named JIMMIES, which is still a trademarked name, but no longer made by Just Born. The dictionary definition for JIMMIES used to be ‘decorative things.’ They have also been called toppettes, shots, fancies, trimettes and sprinkles.”

HP Hood, Brigham’s parent company, explained the reasoning behind the shift. Hood spokesperson Lynne Bohan said in an email:

“While the origins of the word ‘jimmies’ is unclear, Brigham’s made the decision to change the name to ensure the brand reflects our values and meets our consumers’ expectations … Just Sprinkles remains the same flavor/recipe that Brigham’s fans know and love.”

The origin of the term “jimmies” remains unclear, but the move could demonstrate how companies are starting to take preemptive actions to forgo potential conflict or criticism over their product names.

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