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Friday, 17 October 2014

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr | newmatilda.com

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr | newmatilda.com

Editorial: What We Really Learn From The Racist Rants Of Professor Barry Spurr



By New Matilda





Professor
Spurr’s views are more than a disturbing case of antiquated thinking in
the ivory tower - it's time to tackle the tough questions on elite
racism and public policy.




Yesterday, New Matilda published extracts from a series of emails sent by University of Sydney Professor Barry Spurr.


Spurr’s career may be devoted to the study of language but the words
he reserves for women and people of colour, to put it lightly, are
lacking in poetry.



He refers to Aboriginal people as “rubbish”, and calls them by the
derogatory term “Abos”, elsewhere referring to “chinky-poos”, “mussies”
and “darkies”.



He makes light of a woman who has been seriously sexually assaulted
and suggests she needs more than just ‘penis’ in her mouth, before it’s
sewn shut.



His language and derision of women and people of colour is shocking and difficult to read.


Professor Spurr says his words were intended to mock the extremity of
his language. Readers can make their own judgments about whether it was
intended as humour, and if he achieved his goal.



But there’s one line in his writing, seemingly innocuous, that is
crucially important to understanding why Professor Spurr’s views are
more than a disturbing case of antiquated thinking in the ivory tower.



Spurr writes that Education Minister Christopher Pyne asked him to
examine the Californian high school English curriculum as part of his
contribution to the government’s recently released curriculum review.



“…whereas the local curriculum has the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander’ on virtually every one of its 300 pages, the
Californian curriculum does not ONCE mention native Americans and has
only a very slight representation of African-American literature (which,
unlike Abo literature, actually exists and has some distinguished
productions).”



That’s right – the man charged with reviewing the national English
curriculum doesn’t think Aboriginal literature exists in any meaningful,
valuable way.



That is a claim so far beyond the realms of the absurd it barely
warrants a response. The fact an esteemed poetry lecturer could write
such rubbish is itself an indictment of the failure of Australia’s
education system at all levels to reflect and incorporate the
contributions of First Nations peoples.



Professor Spurr may not know of any significant Aboriginal writers
but New Matilda’s senior journalist Amy McQuire sure as hell does. She
considers their contributions here.



It’s worth comparing Spurr’s statements in private correspondence to
what he wrote as a special consultant to Pyne’s education review.



“The impact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on
literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly
outweighed by the impact of global literature in English, and especially
that from Britain, on our literary culture.”



“Minimal”. But not non-existent.


It’s a tiny tweak, from his private exclamations to his public testimony, but a vital one.


It reveals just how little you have to lie to make your racism
publicly acceptable, and to write it in to a major government review.



Choose your words carefully, hold back ever so slightly, and you’ll get away with it.


Take out your overtly racist language; draft your racist recommendations and implement your racist ideology with subtlety.


When video of a bigot berating bystanders and transit officials goes
viral – as it did earlier this week – Australians pay attention.



We share the images, express our disdain, and pat ourselves on the
back for condemning an act of visible and immediate discrimination.



Yet when a white academic carefully covers his racism in a bid to
strip Black literature from the curriculum, we don’t even notice.



That’s what makes elite racism more dangerous than any one man or woman yelling at a railway cop or someone in the street.


Racists in parliaments, in bureaucracies, in media outlets and
respected cultural institutions are smart enough not to yell down a
blackfella or a woman in a veil on a train.



They don’t need to. They can dog whistle, wink, and draft carefully worded reports.


Looking over Spurr’s letters may leave a very sour taste in mouths of
readers. But it also leaves Christopher Pyne, and for that matter
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence, with some
uncomfortable questions to answer.



The most difficult to honestly confront, however, is this one: how
many other powerful white men are secretly writing letters like those of
Professor Barry Spurr?





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