Flat White

Why didn’t we leave the cheese alone – and tackle violence and sexual abuse in Indigenous communities instead?

24 July 2020

1:06 PM

24 July 2020

1:06 PM

I’ve managed to go through my whole not so short life without ever associating the name of Coon Cheese with anything but cheese. Until now.

Thanks to Darwin race activist Stephen Hagan, I now understand that Coon Cheese is racist because the word “coon” has sometimes been used as a derogatory name for Aborigines.

“First Nations people and people of colour shouldn’t have to tolerate the visual ugliness of Coon cheese products positioned prominently in the dairy aisles in supermarkets,” he told the Australian today.

Mr Hagan appears to have been successful with his demands that the famous cheese name be “consigned to the past of outdated racist brands’’.

Some people look at Coon and see cheese while others, like Mr Hagan, read Coon and see a racist statement.  Who’s thinking needs adjusting?

If Mr Hagan is adamant that Coon Cheese is a racist brand because of its name, then I imagine the next item on his list of things to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians will be lobbying local governments to change town names Coonawarra, Coonabarabran and Coonalypn.

No doubt issues like high levels of domestic violence and sexual abuse of children in Indigenous communities will also be tackled now the important issue of cheese is dealt with, but it’s odd they weren’t first priorities. 

The difficulty is that Coonawarra is an Aboriginal word meaning “honeysuckle”. Coonabarabran is an Aboriginal word meaning “inquisitive person” and Coonalypn is an Aboriginal word meaning “barren woman”.

Will Mr Hagan damn these Aboriginal words as offensive because of their name?

Coon Cheese was named, not as a personal affront to Mr Hagan, but in honour of Edward William Coon, of Philadelphia, who patented a method for fast maturation of cheese.

But Mr Hagan is not so sure. He wants an investigation as to whether Edward Coon was actually a cheesemaker in the 1920s or a factory hand used “as a cover” for a racist brand.

This is a bit lazy. It would take Mr Hagan less than a minute to download a copy of the patent application made by Edward William Coon.

And it beggars belief (that’s a turn of phrase, not a slight against people short of cash) that a manufacturer looking for profit would allow a patent to be made and secured by a factory hand. It’s a silly argument. But the whole thing is silly isn’t it?

After today’s victory, is every Australian with the surname Coon (there are dozens) now to change their name or be cancelled?

Should the AFL be taken to task for awarding the 2008 Brownlow Medal to Adam Cooney?

Should Julia Gillard be apologising for employing a speechwriter with the same name?

Should caterpillars be evicted from their cocoons?

Must coloured pencils now be called “pencils of colour”?

Of course, I’m mocking the whole thing now. And that’s the point. When you label as racist something you know full well not to be racist, you trivialize racism and turn the whole thing into farce.

I would love Mr Hagan to explain to me, the parent of black children, how turning racism into a joke helps to protect them from racism.

Too many race activists are making too much noise for the wrong reasons and soon, like the boy who cried wolf, they will find no-one is listening anymore. Some of us have already stopped.

And when proposals for Constitutional Recognition and for an Indigenous voice to Parliament are rejected by the Australian people, it will not be because of racism but because of weariness with rubbish like this.

Oh, and one more thing.

My teenagers didn’t even know “coon” was a racist term until activists like Mr Hagan started going on about it. So well done Mr Hagan on giving racist terms to a new generation. Talk about an own goal.

Illustration: Saputo Dairy Australia.

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