ROCK HILL, S.C.
A column in the Winthrop University student newspaper comparing today’s racial climate for Whites to the oppression Blacks faced before the Civil Rights movement has caused quite a stir.
Copy editor Christine Byington’s column published this week began: “Black people at Winthrop will probably be angry.”
It turns out she was right.
In the column, Byington, who is biracial, criticized Blacks who complain about Winthrop. She also came out against minority scholarships and organizations devoted to Blacks, arguing that equal treatment should be given to other races.
The column also compared the climate for Whites today to that of Blacks in the 1950s.
“We no longer hose people in the streets,” Byington wrote. “I’d say if you have the freedom to sit in a classroom and state those opinions, you’ve got it pretty well.”
She ended her column writing about how Whites are reluctant to talk about racial issues.
“I think it’s sad when some Whites feel they must stifle their opinions because of the color of their skin. That must be what life was like for Blacks in the 1950s,” Byington wrote.
Reaction to the column was so powerful, the university decided to hold a forum this week after a previously scheduled talent show. About 400 students attended.
Editor-in-chief Rebekah Woodson said she knew the column would be controversial, but she thinks Byington should be allowed to express her opinion.
In its next edition, the student newspaper plans an editorial explaining the difference between an opinion piece and a news story and will publish all eight letters it received about the column. An apology is not planned, Woodson said.
The school also plans to hold a forum to discuss the nature of a free press, spokeswoman Rebecca Masters said.
“Anytime people can share perspectives and have discussion, it’s healthy,” Masters said.
The column got plenty of students on campus talking. Willie Lyles III, chairman of the university’s council of student leaders, said the column galvanized Winthrop’s Black students against the ideas in the piece.
Lyles called the column “insulting and kind of laughable,” particularly disagreeing with Byington’s opinion on minority scholarships.
“I think she fails to realize why those minority scholarships are in place,” Lyles said. “People of Caucasian descent weren’t held in bondage until 40 years ago.”
Byington said students who generalize about the column are missing the point.
“I think a lot of people are misinterpreting what I said. People are making generalized statements about it. I said it wasn’t meant to implicate all Blacks,” the 20-year-old psychology major said.
The column also wasn’t intended to divide students by race.
“It was meant to be a call to action,” Byington said. “If you have a problem, you can sit and complain about it or you can do something about it.”
– Associated Press
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