COON: more holes than Swiss cheese – investigating a slur

coon cheese dr stephen hagan

Earlier this year Saputo Dairy Australia announced they would ‘retire’ the name of COON Cheese. The decision follows a long campaign by Aboriginal academic and social justice advocate Dr Stephen Hagan. Previous owners defended the brand name based on the claim that cheesemaker Fred Walker named the cheese in honour of Edward Coon, the inventor of a process used in its manufacture.

QNews began researching the COON Cheese story some time ago. In light of our findings, we contacted Dr Stephen Hagan for comment. After comparing notes, we decided to cooperate on further research. Today, the result of that investigation, the eBOOK COON: more holes than swiss cheese by Dr Stephen Hagan and Destiny Rogers is released.

Update: Saputo to rebrand cheese

In the 21 years since Dr Stephen Hagan first questioned the use of a slur as a brand name, various owners of COON Cheese offered a stock response. They claimed the name honoured E. W. Coon who patented a unique process for ripening cheese. The brand claimed the process was used to produce the original Red COON Cheese, now known as simply COON cheese.

Curiously though, brand owners never mentioned E. W. Coon’s name for decades before. The first mention the authors found of E. W. Coon was in the late 1980s.

Likewise, his supposedly famous ‘cooning’ process.

That allegedly renowned process receives no mentions in newspapers, industry publications, or anywhere else, until this century.

The COON Cheese brand histories look like they were compiled by someone who thought they were making a cheddar. They grabbed some dates, curdled them, swirled them around in a vat, heated them up, gave them a bit of a stir and then sat the result on a shelf to ripen.

Most remarkable is the story brand owners told of Kraft-Walker Australia obtaining the process from E. W. Coon.

The history claimed until 2017 that the Managing Director of Kraft-Walker heard of Edward Coon’s process in the 1930s. He then sailed to the US and met with Coon to learn the secrets of his process in ‘the late 1930s’.

Just one rather inconvenient problem.

Coon died in 1934 and Walker in 1935.

COON Cheese’s famous ‘Dr’ Coon

Brand owners first mentioned ‘Dr’ E. W. Coon in the late 1980s after other companies retired racist brand names.

Once famous products like Ni__er Boy Steel Wool Soap Pads went the way of the dodo from the 1960s.

But was E. W. Coon a doctor?

“There is no record of Edward Coon being an academic.

“It seems he gained the honorary title of doctor for his legendary skill at curing cheese rather than people!”

COON Cheese History, September 2009 – 2015.

There actually is a record of E. W. Coon as an academic. He attended the University of Pennsylvania as a science student but left after his sophomore year without obtaining a degree.

The University of Pennsylvania lists all honorary degrees it ever awarded going back to the 1700s. E. W. Coon is not on the list.

A real Dr Coon

Dr Hagan and Destiny Rogers did discover a Dr Coon though. He taught at the University of Pennsylvania after Edward W. Coon left. And he enjoyed some renown in Australia. Newspapers here reported on his research and reviewed his books from the 1930s until the 1970s. He even spent some time in Australia studying First Nations peoples.

Did someone at COON Cheese mistake Dr Carleton S. Coon from Philadelphia, and more specifically from the University of Pennsylvania, for E. W. Coon?

If so, that was unfortunate.

Dr Carleton S. Coon was a notoriously racist anthropologist. His life work is now regarded s pseudo-science.

And what of E. W. Coon and racism? Was the man who shared his name with a degrading racial epithet a racist himself? Our research turned up some interesting information on that subject. It’s in the book.

The 1995 Television ad that made ‘Dr’ E. W. Coon famous.

The slur in Australia

Many defenders of the COON Cheese name claim c__n is an Americanism, only directed at African Americans.

However, we found ample use of the word used against all People of Colour in Australia.

It was particularly popular from the 1870s until the beginning of World War II.

Indeed, in 1930, as Kraft Walker prepared to ripen the first batch of Red COON in their deep, cool tunnels, newspapers ran an article headlined Black G** Motor Car Driver. They marvelled that a woman described variously as a g**, l**** and a young full-blooded c*** should somehow find herself behind the wheel of a ‘good make of car’.

White Australians also took particular delight in blackface, darkening their features with burnt cork for ‘c*** nights’. In 1938, a Mackay school fete featured an attraction called ‘Ducking the C***’. A man with his face ‘blackened to resemble a c***’ sat above a tank of water. Competitors aimed missiles at a target above his head and when their aim proved true, he dropped into the water to the squeals of the crowd. The Queensland Premier attracted applause when he managed to ‘drop the c***’ with just a couple of shots.

Use of c__n as a slur died off at about the beginning of WWII.

However, it returned with a vengeance in the 1970s.

COON: more holes than swiss cheese OUT NOW.

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