Cheesy nonsense overlooks much bigger battles

YOU can but imagine the scenes of joy and jubilation in remote Indigenous communities throughout Australia last week as the news broke that a certain brand of cheese had been removed from supermarket shelves.

There must have been dancing in the streets as word spread that the cheese, which had sat quietly among the cheddars, goudas and parmesans for decades in refrigerators throughout the land, was now gone.

Good riddance to the offending racist cheese, which I dare not name for fear of offending someone and what a triumph for Indigenous activist Dr Stephen Hagan, who led the battle against You Know What.

It is not the first time that Dr Hagan has hit the headlines as the result of his penchant for discovering evidence of racism that had hitherto gone unnoticed.

Way back in 1999 during a visit to the Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba he spotted a sign that read E. S. "Nigger" Brown Stand, a stand named after Edwin Stanley Brown who was a well-known rugby league player in the 1920s.

He claimed the sign was offensive and demanded it be removed. The High Court and the Federal Court of Australia disagreed, so it was off to the United Nations and the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. It is unlikely that anyone in the UN headquarters in New York had ever head of Edwin Stanley "Nigger" Brown, but possessed of greater wisdom than the learned judges sitting on the bench of the highest court in our nation, the committee demanded that Australia take all necessary measures to secure the removal of the offending term from the sign.

Dr Stephen Hagan has campaigned to have Coon cheese renamed. Picture: Lenn Campbell
Dr Stephen Hagan has campaigned to have Coon cheese renamed. Picture: Lenn Campbell

Before the UN Security Council could authorise a nuclear strike on Toowoomba's racist footy stand, however, the sports ground administrators decided it had passed its use-by date and pulled it down.

Toowoomba was back in Dr Hagan's sights again in 2016 when he accused its good citizens of living in the "most racist city in Australia".

What on Earth had they done to be so vilified? As it turned out, it was all the fault of the ironically named Terry White. Well, not actually T. White himself, but the proprietor of one of his chemist shops who had placed a display of golliwog dolls in a shop window.

It was really the fault of Egyptian children who in the 19th century played with black dolls stuffed with material and called Ghuliwogs. British troops bought them home to England and they became golliwogs, but history was not going to save Toowoomba from Dr Hagan's wrath and another trip to the UN was only averted when the chemist promised never again to stock golliwogs.

But back to the allegedly racist cheese that has been offending Dr Hagan since 2001 when his enjoyment of the Academy Awards broadcast was spoiled by a televised advertisement for the dairy product. Now that after almost 20 years of campaigning against You Know What it is gone, it may be that Dr Hagan will be free to use his considerable energies to do something about some of the other issues that all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, find offensive such as domestic violence, school absenteeism, rape, poor parenting and substance abuse.

If he spends enough time in supermarkets, he and others like him might find another label or brand that offends them. There are thousands of items in Woolies and Coles, so surely somewhere among them, there must be something that can be found to be offensive.

The ES 'Nigger' Brown Stand in Toowoomba was the subject of a campaign by Dr Hagan but has since been demolished.
The ES 'Nigger' Brown Stand in Toowoomba was the subject of a campaign by Dr Hagan but has since been demolished.

Dr Hagan is entitled to his crusades, but I can't help but wonder just how the whole cheese thing improved the lives of Indigenous people in the slightest.

These campaigns grab plenty of headlines and I think it would be fair to say that Dr Hagan is not exactly shy when it comes to dealing with the media, but surely there are bigger issues to confront. It seems to me that rather than advance the cause of racial equality, these campaigns damage it by trivialising the issue.

Dr Hagan and his followers can claim a victory, but I believe that there are many people who will privately shake their heads and mutter: "What a bloody joke."

There will be other campaigns and corporate chiefs will again wilt in the face of accusations of racism and change the names of products to placate the noisy minority that will congratulate itself on another win for the Indigenous cause.

It is nothing of the kind. Will one less Indigenous child be assaulted now that the cheese is gone? I really do doubt it.

 

Originally published as Cheesy nonsense overlooks much bigger battles


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