After years and years of digging in its heels, in June 2020 Canadian-owned dairy company Saputo finally caved to mounting pressure and announced that the Australian C**n Cheese brand name will be retired. Just this week the brand announced its new name: Cheer.
The decision has been met with outrage by many who see no issue with the name because it originates from its American creator, Edward William C**n, who invented a patented cheesemaking process. But long before "c**n" became this cheese's name, it was used as a racist slur against people with brown skin.
It derives from the word "raccoon" and has been used to liken someone to this animal and thus dehumanise them. In the 1830s, songs such as "Zip C**n" were popular at minstrel shows, in which white performers in blackface would perform skits and "c**n songs" imitating enslaved African Americans in US' South. These songs and shows would characterise black people as lazy, ignorant, thieving cowards.
The word was also a slur for black people during the racial apartheid Jim Crow era, which began in the 1890s and lasted for several decades in the American South. As early as 1899 the slur had found its way to Australia where it joined other words such as "b**ng" and "ab*" as the most abhorrent and racist words used to refer to Aboriginal people.
Growing up in regional Australia, I quickly became familiar with this word and how it is used against my people. Sometimes in the school playground. Sometimes by adults casually exchanging their best "ab* jokes". Sometimes by people with total malicious intent.
My older sister recalls repeatedly being called a "dirty c**n" in school for the simple fact that she was Aboriginal. Go back 25 years and this same label was placed on my mother for the same reason. She was Aboriginal and had darker skin than the others.
Up until about the age of 11, I did not know that the word "c**n" had anything to do with cheese. For me and my family, it was simply a racist slur used to put us down.
Learning of this other version of the word came as a bit of a surprise, especially as this brand name seemed to shout at me when I uncomfortably walked past the dairy section of the supermarkets.
"For me and my family, it was simply a racist slur used to put us down."
No other racial slur or swear word would be accepted as a high-profile brand name, even if there was no intention to offend. So why is "C**n Cheese" ok?
Years went on. After relocating and being surrounded by entirely different people, it became easy to forget that those old attitudes towards people of colour still continue. It has been years since I have heard that word used against anyone.
A swift reminder came when an old high-school friend updated their Facebook cover photo to a comment somebody had made in reference to boxer Anthony Mundine.
Just recently, 12-year-old players of a junior Indigenous basketball team were labelled 'c**ns' by the opposing team during a game in Canberra.
For many Australians, the cheese version of the word "c**n" is all they know.
However, the truth is that this word has existed far longer as an insult to dehumanise and ridicule black people than it has existed as a brand of cheese. And this hasn't changed.
If you have had the slur used against you, your family, or any of your dark-skinned friends, you'll understand how having this word even planted across something as innocent as a tasty block of cheese is offensive.
I understand that it's a shocker to see a brand name go after so long. But just as people moved on after FAGS sweets were renamed to FADS in the 90s, people will move on now that C**n has become Cheer.
After all, it's only cheese, right?
Lead image via Flickr user flooded.