First Amendment issue or lacking common sense?
November 30, 2005 6:33 AM   Subscribe

Does the First Amendment matter on campus? A column in the Winthrop University (SC) student newspaper comparing today's racial climate for whites to the oppression blacks faced before the Civil Rights movement has caused quite a stir south of the Mason -Dixon line. The column by Christine Byington, who is biracial, criticized blacks who complain about the University. She eventually had to withdraw from school due to overwhelming pressure. Should she have known better than to write about a very touchy situation?
posted by Macboy (48 comments total)
 
What does this have to do with the First Amendment?
posted by caddis at 6:48 AM on November 30, 2005


Actually, she withdrew because of an already overwhelming class and activity schedule, and the column reaction was just the tipping point.

Should she have known better than to write about a very touchy situation?

Yes, obviously she should have written about blowjobs or bad cafeteria food like every other opinion columnist.

Just kidding, of course, but if you're going to write about race relations, it's best to do it in a way that doesn't scream "whiny college op-ed."
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:49 AM on November 30, 2005


Should she have known better than to write about a very touchy situation?

I think the "touchy situation[s]" are the most important ones to be writing about. And it happens every day; just look at all the political op-ed stuff we see in the "regular" media every day, plenty of which hits on touchy subjects.
If no one is going to address such things, leaving them to be discussed in back rooms and in whispers, or not discussed at all, then nothing is going to change. People on one side are going to stay on that side, and people on another are going to stay there. Misinformation about views is going to creep in as rumors get repeated as fact.

I don't know what the situation is like at Winthrop, so I can't say whether the author is making a valid point about the university or not. I think she went over the top in comparing a white person's life today with a black person's life in the '50s. In general, though, I wouldn't consider it rascist.

The larger point is something I've felt for a while, and while the article doesn't articulate it much better than I could, equality should mean equality, not preferential treatment for some, whether white, black, polka-dotted, or whatever.

On preview: what caddis said about the first amendment. The school is taking a hands-off approach, and it's purely a social issue.

Also, where did you get the info that she "had to withdraw from school"? The WCNC story just says that she was out of town when they tried to contact her, though it was a few weeks ago.
posted by Godbert at 6:50 AM on November 30, 2005


caddas First Amendment - Freedom of Speech???
posted by Macboy at 6:51 AM on November 30, 2005


It's not about not 'knowing better than to write about a touchy situation', it's about 'knowing better than to write like a crass douche-bag'.
I have enjoyed many-a-comment in class about the plight of black people. Now, I understand taking pride in your heritage. However, it is just that—heritage. We no longer hose people in the streets. I’d say if you have the freedom to sit in a classroom and state those opinions, you’ve got it pretty well.
I mean, come on.
posted by RokkitNite at 6:52 AM on November 30, 2005


More on the subject...
posted by Macboy at 6:53 AM on November 30, 2005


caddas First Amendment - Freedom of Speech???

Macboy, nobody's freedom of speech was impeded. The paper printed the column and the students debated the issue. If you read my link above you'll know that the college actually didn't want her to leave. Moreover, this is a private instituation. This has nothing to do with anyone's 1st Amendment rights.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:55 AM on November 30, 2005


Saucy - I live ten miles from the Winthrop campus. Trust me when I tell you the school was not shedding any tears about her leaving.
posted by Macboy at 6:57 AM on November 30, 2005


Withdraw? Is that what kids today are calling "dropping out"?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:59 AM on November 30, 2005


caddis, nothing. Disagreeing with someone and making a case for bad editorial control is not the same as censorship. I've written to papers asking 'why on earth did you publish that' about any number of articles, I don't think I'm hurting free speech.

People should realize that the value of free speech is that it causes dissent - that's good so long as it doesn't get violent. I would agree that the author made some points that were rather specific (addressing two particular organized groups) using phrases that tend also to be used for wider racial stereotyping (in other media, not her article).

There is a good argument to made that the article needed better editing to be clear that she wanted to address the concerns of people who came to the school only to complain about things they should have been able to discern ahead of time (lack of football team, etc.) and the concerns of groups that were complaining about lack of representation without making specific requests as to what should be fixed.

Obviously we don't have the whole story, perhaps these groups have been misrepresented by the article, in which case it may be cause for concern, it certainly wasn't written very well given the fact the author knew it would be controversial.

That said, this is hardly very interesting or the best of the web. I'd say stuff like this happens to no effect once a year at every school newspaper. Yawn.
posted by tiamat at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2005


A poorly written column complaining about the complaints of others. She will find things intolerable where ever she goes.
posted by Red58 at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2005


It's not about not 'knowing better than to write about a touchy situation', it's about 'knowing better than to write like a crass douche-bag'.

Eh, she's a college student and a bi-racial republican (whatever that means). She is writing from a very minority perspective, which is hard in any case, but she's also young and probably just getting her legs writing.

The last paragraph about whites being racially disadvantaged like blacks were in the 1950s was patent nonsense, but that should have been caught by someone else at the paper and reviewed for accuracy. It definitely made me cringe.

But yeah, it's too bad that this was the tipping point that got her to quit school-- but someone should have seen it coming. Her language was a bit too out there and it stepped on a few too many hot button ideas (if you're going to talk about how bad white people have it, it's best not to harp on how great it is to be black nowadays--especially when the same article mentions hurricane katrina).
posted by illovich at 7:02 AM on November 30, 2005


Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from condemnation for what you say.
posted by caddis at 7:02 AM on November 30, 2005


" Obviously, the federal government has a vendetta against the blacks and chose not to respond to them quickly, right?

I guess we're assuming that the many people of various ethnic backgrounds in the Bush administration don't care about black people, either."


I was under the impression that they don't care about poor people and it just so happens that more black people are/were poor in New Orleans.
posted by Meccabilly at 7:05 AM on November 30, 2005


Some people confuse the right to free speech with an alleged right to be free of the consequences of that speech. Needless to say, there is no right to freedom from consequences.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:11 AM on November 30, 2005


"That said, this is hardly very interesting or the best of the web. I'd say stuff like this happens to no effect once a year at every school newspaper. Yawn."

Really? Care to site examples? This is one of the first times I've heard a story like this. Maybe I'm too old and out of touch.
posted by Macboy at 7:20 AM on November 30, 2005


As noted scholar Ice-T once noted, Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say.
posted by fet at 7:22 AM on November 30, 2005


Boy, that takes me back to the ol' alma mater (mine, not Winthrop). A poorly-written op-ed by an undergrad who wouldn't know a well-constructed argument from a hole in the ground. It reminded me of projects written by the first-year students I TA'd, most of whom had somehow made it all the way through high school without learning the traditional introduction/body/conclusion essay structure. Which is to say, give her a few years and she could be working for the New York Times! *rimshot*

The column was idiotic, but she was free to write it, and anyone who finds it objectionable should be free to criticise it. However, the editor was also free to reject the article - because it was poorly-reasoned, not because of the content - and s/he should have. It does not stand to reason that because someone has a Constitutional right to state their opinion that they should be guaranteed a written soapbox for anything that pops into their heads.

Moreover:

> Everyone has to work hard in college.

Ha! Ha!
posted by you just lost the game at 7:30 AM on November 30, 2005


From the column: I am a Republican and I definitely believe in the Republican-esque approach to achievement: Anyone can succeed in life if they try hard enough.

So it would seem that graduating from Winthrop college is not an indication of success or she didn't "try hard enough" to stay in school. I'm not sure if I wish her good fortune in the future or wisdom through bitter experience.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:31 AM on November 30, 2005


To begin, I think it’s important to state a fact obvious to those who know me well. I don’t mean to implicate all blacks in this. I just have a problem with the belligerent ones who think we aren’t doing enough for them.

If she's biracial she sure did take mesures to distance herself from "blacks", see she's in the "we" group.

She says at the end she's bi-racial, she's not doing much to claim that she's hardly setting her self up as the bill-cosby type "I'm just trying to help us out" angle.

Ultimately this is good, though, because it helps cement the republican = racist = idiot meme.
posted by delmoi at 7:38 AM on November 30, 2005


Huh, read the comments on the page, almost all agree with her and are the 'back-slapping' type.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 AM on November 30, 2005


hell if she just ratchets up the hyperbole she could be the next Ann Coulter and make $ off of silly tripe like this. And as people have said there isn't really a 1st amendment right being violated here. Just more annoying college writing.

silly bint
posted by edgeways at 7:45 AM on November 30, 2005


Sad sad sad.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:50 AM on November 30, 2005


Apart from the fact that this is not a First Amendment issue (though I might make a specious argument that it's a Ninth Amendment issue), she had a couple of valuable points and several which were not.

Her writing style could use some work. I rewrote the article, but it's too long to post here.
posted by Captaintripps at 7:54 AM on November 30, 2005


Shorter Christine Byington:

"I'm tired of blackey holding me down!"
posted by nofundy at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2005


Watermelon.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:14 AM on November 30, 2005


First off, I would disagree that this situation, "has caused quite a stir south of the Mason-Dixon line", as I live in Columbia, South Carolina, and this is the first that I have heard of it.

Secondly, it seems like every couple of months there is some story about a college student writing an editorial that offends people at their school, and then allegedly being 'oppressed' for it. I think this is just more of the right-wing republican party's constant need to feel like they are under attack.

Personally, I think that college students are too dumb to be allowed to have opinions about anything, from race relations to their favorite flavor of ice cream, much less express them. There, I just said something that might piss people off. If someone tells me to go to hell, it isn't a 1st amendment issue, it is life.
posted by ND¢ at 8:14 AM on November 30, 2005


Where are these other campus newspaper stories???? I ask again please post some examples.
posted by Macboy at 8:36 AM on November 30, 2005


This is the most recent one that have come across. I will keep looking.
posted by ND¢ at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2005


Here is one about an editorial cartoon. Insert an 'I' somewhere in my last comment.
posted by ND¢ at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2005


This is the last one that I have time to find. Again, it is an editorial cartoon. Discussed on Metafilter here, and reported about here. Be careful with that second link, it is apparently the world's most dangerous site.
posted by ND¢ at 8:57 AM on November 30, 2005


It's frustrating when you agree with someone's general sentiment but you're stuck watching them argue it so poorly that they do more harm than good. Hmm...now I know how the Democrats feel...


Double standards are a proud human tradition. Everybody has them. What's OK for me isn't OK for you, not in my backyard, etc. People tend to take personal benefit over defense of principle any day.

Regardless, it bothers me that certain things are "off-limits" in the context of social discussion because they're considered "beyond the pale" unless you lived through them. Genocides, segregation, wars, assassinations, and things like that are all treated so daintily, as if making analogies somehow changes history.

I'm not saying Godwin's law doesn't hold true, but Hitler wasn't history's first horribly evil megalomaniac, and he won't be the last. He was just the best at what he did. As generations pass, everything gets put in perspective. The War of the Triple Alliance killed half of Paraguay's population in a span about six years, but would you guys get offended if I used it in an analogy? unlikely.
posted by TunnelArmr at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2005


I'm fully in favor of anyone's right to make an ass of themselves in public. If she says something you think is wrong, then the proper response is to write a letter in response utterly demolishing her position. This is at a college, after all; these people are literate adults and able to use reason (or at least are learning to become such). If you can't effectively argue against her, then perhaps she's not as wrong as you think.

On the other hand, I'm not blind to the fact that claiming to have been forced to withdraw from school for writing this strengthens her argument. Which could mean either (a) that she's right or (b) that she's aware her argument is incredibly weak and is trying to shore it up with some PR spin.
posted by hattifattener at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2005


This column is basically someone whining about how much she hates people whining? Huh? When writing about racism one has to choose one's vocabulary and rhetoric very carefully which is exactly what she didn't do.
posted by ob at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2005


A few years ago the right wing windbag David Horowitz's moronic advertisement about slavery reparations caused an even more moronic uproar at my alma mater.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:46 AM on November 30, 2005


The editor of "The Johnsonian" has an unbelievably high standard for allowing freedom of speech.

Check this one out: Columnist emphasizes need for respect in controversy . In what appears to be a satirical comment on the Christine Byington controversy, he writes,"The past few weeks have been filled with many hurtful ideas and sentiments. In light of these recent times, I’m reminded of friends who also feel the blunt edge of hate.This week’s column will be in discussing the treatment a friend has received to keep him from expressing his true feelings as well as from joining an organization of like-minded peers—the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA)."
posted by notmtwain at 9:57 AM on November 30, 2005


I'm with ob and everyone else who said a lot of the problem came from the articulation (and not the kind Miss Byington is referring to in her rant). She talking about an important, touchy subject...out her ass.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2005


She's one of the incredibly large group of young people that grew up in a world without racism. That means she grew up in a neighborhood that didn't have hate within its borders. She learned that racism is bad, hate is bad, and there really isn't a reason to hate anyone for any reason except for when they take your parketing spot. As she grew up she was reminded over and over about the racism that occured toward blacks earlier in US history. She also learned that it's not entirely gone, but it's not rampant like it is. This teaches her that she needs to be extremely careful to not hate black people in any form for fear of continuing hatefulness.

Then she got to college and met and observed many black people actually taking advantage of this. She finally got tired of it and wrote a story on it.

I blame the media.
posted by cleverusername at 10:21 AM on November 30, 2005


She's one of the incredibly large group of young people that grew up in a world without racism.

HA.

Do you mean "grew up in a world without racism" or "grew up in a neighborhood where she wasn't exposed to it directly, never visited overwhelmingly black ghettos situated just miles away from overwhelming white well-to-do suburbs, never rode in a nice car with a black male friend driving and observed the difference between the way he's treated and a white driver is treated, and never asked themselves about why there were such huge gaps in economic, political, and social power between white and black people"?

It's not that there's not racism. It's just better hidden. Douchebags like this little lady only turn off more lights with their poorly-worded straw man arguments.
posted by schroedinger at 10:50 AM on November 30, 2005


Ok, I thought I'd mention this. Does anyone find it odd that the comments section on the second link, student newspaper website is.. missing something?

The entire thread is full of postings that completely agree with her, with almost no disagreements. This might not be that odd, but the problem is -- these pro-article posters reference others who are bashing her article. I'm pretty sure those posts aren't there anymore.

I think they've been deleting dissenters....
posted by WetherMan at 10:57 AM on November 30, 2005


schroedinger wrote: "Do you mean "grew up in a world without racism" or "grew up in a neighborhood where she wasn't exposed to it directly, never visited overwhelmingly black ghettos situated just miles away from overwhelming white well-to-do suburbs, never rode in a nice car with a black male friend driving and observed the difference between the way he's treated and a white driver is treated, and never asked themselves about why there were such huge gaps in economic, political, and social power between white and black people"?"

Actually, that's pretty close to what I meant, as was inferred in the followup sentence. Didn't want to use the word microcosm because that infers "tiny".

Remember that the people that "have" give what they have to their children and those "without" don't have much to give. Since equal rights was agreed upon, enforced, and now integrated about 50ish years later, how much did you expect the repressed to accumulate? Equal rights hasn't and will never cause immediate balance of economic, political, or social power between the repressors and the repressed.
posted by cleverusername at 12:24 PM on November 30, 2005


I was under the impression that they don't care about poor people and it just so happens that more black people are/were poor in New Orleans.

That's the impression you're under, and the one I'm under. It's not the impression Kanye West is under.

Guess which person is more influential and produced a better soundbyte, and is therefore more widely believed.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:38 PM on November 30, 2005


This column is basically someone whining about how much she hates people whining?

Yes, and the FPP is about how she quitted university because people whined about her whining column about whiners. Frankly, it seems as if everybody involved could need better coping skills.

Maybe the US Constitution's First Amendment needs some rephrasing along the lines of the Second:

"A well regulated whining, being necessary to the self-importance of college brats, the right of the people to keep and bear grudges, shall not be infringed."

(BTW, the Founding Fathers really sucked at punctuation)
posted by Skeptic at 1:29 PM on November 30, 2005


What about wingeing?
posted by ob at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2005


" Obviously, the federal government has a vendetta against the blacks and chose not to respond to them quickly, right?

I guess we're assuming that the many people of various ethnic backgrounds in the Bush administration don't care about black people, either."


I was under the impression that many of the problems stemmed from institutionalized victim blame and just world-oriented thinking, which were facilitated and accelerated by unconscious racism. (As witness-- the tendancy of the media and the government to cast the survivors as criminals, the widespread discussion of looting, the largely unsubstantiated stories of murders and rapes that played hard in the media, and the decision by nearby communities to use deadly force to repel people evacuating on foot.)

Though not nearly as obvious a form of racism as the David Duke/ Prussian Blue variety, unconscious racism is definitely deadly.

Of course, the fact that most of those folks were poor made all of this lots worse.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:19 PM on November 30, 2005


"Douchebags like this little lady ... "

Next on the Maury Povich Show: sexism on blogs.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:22 PM on November 30, 2005


Anybody who really believes that "Anyone can succeed in life if they try hard enough." is clearly blind to reality.
posted by spira at 3:24 PM on November 30, 2005


She's one of the incredibly large group of young people that grew up in a world without racism.

have you ever been to winthrop? it's a podunk college in a state where they fly the confederate flag over the state capitol. hell, it's a hop and a skip away from bob jones university down the road, where they just started to allow "interracial" dating... with a permission slip from the parents, of course.

you are talking about a world where racism is an everyday fact of life.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:55 AM on December 1, 2005


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