Maintaining the Eskimo: Business and the Construction of Race

In this paper, I historicize the corporate construction of race through an everyday symbol from the Danish cultural sphere – the Eskimo ice cream. I specifically address how the Eskimo ice cream played into a larger fabric of symbols and narratives surrounding ‘the Eskimo’ produced by Danes. I am inspired by cultural approaches to business, such as those taken by Ken Lipartito and Per H. Hansen and the work of Cedric Robinson on the relationship between symbols produced by companies and race. Through newspaper articles and advertisements held at the Royal Danish Library, I trace how Danish ice cream companies participated in maintaining the ‘Eskimo’ from the late 1920s until today. A period marked by the inclusion of Greenland as a Danish county in 1953, conferring equal civil rights, and the nations’ increasing self-determination marked by Home Rule in 1979 and Self Government since 2009. As well as, signs of ambivalence with the term in Denmark and importantly, the Greenlandic people’s preference for the terms Inuit or Greenlander. The Eskimo Ice Cream recently came into focus as part of a renewed interest in racial inequality brought forth by the Black Lives Matter movement during the summer of 2020. In response, a small high-end Danish ice cream company, Hansen Is (like Dreyer’s Ice Cream in America), announced they would take term out of use. While other Danish ice cream companies announced they would keep the term or were hesitant to remove it, since the term invoked ‘nostalgia’ to their consumers. In 2021, the two largest ice cream companies announced they would retire the term. The paper seeks to contribute to a growing literature on the symbolic construction of race by organizations. Offering a case from a Nordic country, in which this relationship has largely resisted scrutiny.