White free speech: the Fraser event and its enlightenment legacies

Goldie Osuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The media doublespeak over the anti-refugee and anti-immigration views of professor Andrew Fraser are analysed. The public statements of Macquarie University and the ongoing media attention given to Fraser prompted a range of responses within the university. A university centre concerned with issues of racism organised a forum to engage with Fraser's comments. Academics and other university authorities published responses to Fraser's comments, speaking from specific institutional locations on varied aspects of them. These responses included a range of articles on the subject of racial vilification, academic freedom and freedom of speech. I cannot here engage with all aspects of the Fraser event. What I do engage with, however, is the dominant framing of the event, especially in the media, as a debate between free speech and/or academic freedom on one hand and, on the other, an anti-free speech position, emerging from concerns about racial vilification, which leads to academic un-freedom. This binary opposition, I propose, is untenable when examined in the light of Enlightenment assumptions regarding free speech and academic freedom. These assumptions, I argue, are racialised. Because of this, it is necessary to deconstruct and politicise notions of academic freedom and free speech rather than considering them absolute, disembodied and neutral. Through such a deconstruction and politicisation, I demonstrate that Fraser's race-based comments and the argument for free speech and academic freedom colluded discursively to reproduce a white hegemony. An examination of the Fraser event through the lens of whiteness theory makes visible the racialised ways in which disembodied discourses of freedom of speech/ academic freedom and white hegemony collude to consolidate institutional white race privilege that excludes and further disempowers those groups that are targeted by racial vilification. This consolidation of whiteness cannot, in a post 9/11 context, be perceived simply as an academic event. Its effects are felt outside the borders of academia: the Fraser event for example, enabled the racial targeting of African communities in Australia. In such a context, the practice of institutional white race privilege raises questions about the need for responsible, ethical and embodied institutional relationships based on an acknowledgement of the practice of whiteness in racialised power relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-183
Number of pages14
JournalCultural Studies Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • race and ethnicity studies
  • free speech


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