Nation & World

Black female patient called ‘Aunt Jemima’ sick over insult; doctor apologizes

Memphis dermatologist James Turner has apologized after calling one of his patients — a black woman — Aunt Jemima.
Memphis dermatologist James Turner has apologized after calling one of his patients — a black woman — Aunt Jemima.

A dermatologist in Memphis, Tenn. has apologized for calling one of his patients — a black woman — Aunt Jemima.

Lexie Reed Carter said her doctor, James Turner, used the word when he greeted her during an office visit on July 11. She told her Facebook friends about it after it happened, writing that Turner used the term twice and his physician assistant “gave him side eyes.”

“I haven’t slept. I haven’t … I haven’t really been able to deal with this,” Carter told WMC-TV in Memphis. “It’s just the most horrible feeling really, and I try to understand it and I don’t understand it.”

She said she was “just sitting there waiting to be seen and he walked in. He had a young girl, physician’s assistant trainee, a student with him and he looked at me and he goes ‘Hi Aunt Jemima.’ 

The Aunt Jemima logo used by the Quaker Oats Co. on pancake mixes and other related products has a controversial history. The original Aunt Jemima image, based on a minstrel show character, was of a stereotypical Southern “mammy” — a smiling black woman wearing a bandana in her hair.

The woman’s image has been changed over the years but racist undertones still cling and some people would prefer the company stop using the logo altogether.

“It was an insult, racial ethnic insult, a joke. It’s putting me on a level of someone who is subservient with a smile … kind of step and fetch it,” Carter told WMC.

“It was very derogatory, very demeaning. Especially for someone who prides myself in being none of that.”

She said Turner did not apologize to her at the time. But Turner told the TV station he apologized immediately and he issued a statement to the station.

“Ms. Carter is one of our very dear patients and has been for years. She is one of many African-American patients and I count it a privilege to be their doctor,” he said in the statement.

“Anything I said that tarnishes that image and my respect for her was a misspoken blunder on my part and was not intended to show disrespect for Ms. Carter. I am very sorry for that misunderstanding.”

Carter told WMC she plans to file a complaint with the state medical board.

She’s apparently gotten pushback on Facebook as her interview with the local TV station has made national headlines.

“Those of you who claim that addressing a female patient in a professional atmosphere as ‘Aunt Jemima’ is a ‘term of endearment’ are wrong,” she wrote on Facebook on Friday.

“It is a demeaning racial slur that is intended to degrade and insult black women. What I won’t do is allow anyone to tell me that I deserve to be addressed in that manner by someone who I am paying for professional services or by anyone under any circumstances for that matter.

“Neither will I be silenced in my rebuke of Dr. Turner and any person who believes that this inexcusable incident should be normalized and ignored. Common respect and courtesy for others does not require specialized training but it does require self respect … Words matter! I matter!”