Why Did This Woman’s Doctor Think It Was Funny to Call Her ‘Aunt Jemima’?

Lexi Carter of Memphis, Tenn., is still trying to understand why her doctor called her “Aunt Jemima” — twice — after he claimed it was a “blunder.” (Photo: WMC News)

A Memphis woman is planning to file a complaint with the state medical board after her doctor called her “Aunt Jemima.”

Lexi Carter said she could barely believe it when it happened the first time — but then he did it again, she told local news station WMC.

Carter said her dermatologist, Dr. James Turner, greeted her by calling her the racially charged name — which also happens to be a brand name of breakfast food products. “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 name Aunt Jemima has a long history in American culture. Its roots are firmly in the minstrel show period — when white performers wore blackface — and is a remnant of plantation and slave culture. The name, character, and history all have racial undertones, to say the very least. How a modern-era doctor could believe calling a patient this name would be a so-called “blunder” isn’t clear, but that’s precisely what the doctor said. When he was contacted by local news, Turner admitted to calling the woman “Aunt Jemima” and released a public apology to Carter:

“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. 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.”

For her part, Carter remains perplexed. “It’s just the most horrible feeling, really,” Carter said after the incident. “And I try to understand it, and I don’t understand it.”

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