Can white people sing “Go Down, Moses,” “Hammer, Ring” and other Negro spirituals? Or rather, should they during a Black History Month concert called “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore?” One Black student at Western Michigan University thinks not.
Shaylee Faught, a fourth-year student at the school, posted several videos to her Twitter page from the Feb. 19 concert she says she attended for a convocation credit. The concert featured performances by WMU voice faculty and student ensembles.
“So apparently Western Michigan University thinks it’s ok for WHITE peoples to sing negro spirituals while the instructor talking bout “these songs don’t belong to one race”. They sure as hell DO,” Faught captioned one 16-second video clip of WMU singing “Wade in de Water.”
So apparently Western Michigan University thinks it’s ok for WHITE peoples to sing negro spirituals while the instructor talking bout “these songs don’t belong to one race”. They sure as hell DO. pic.twitter.com/BDfvdFppgh
— Shayy.marieee (@shayy_marieeeDT) February 20, 2020
The event featured guest artist John Wesley Wright, who is Black and a professor at Salisbury University. Faught said it was Wright who said the Negro spirituals belong to everyone and that the songs were important “for slaves to get them through the day.”
After the concert, Faught drafted a letter to WMU’s dean and the Dean of Fine Arts, the Board of Trustees, the Director of the School of Music and the office for diversity and inclusion about her issues with the event, according to WKZO.
“While I understand the importance of education, I think there is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and the concert last night seemed very inappropriate,” Faught wrote in the letter, reported WKZO. “As a black woman, Negro Spirituals are a part of my history and my culture, and it signifies the struggle and hardships my ancestors went through. The way the program last night was portrayed is that it is all fun and games and is merely entertainment.”
Faught asked the School of Music for a public apology and a guarantee that Black students would be consulted before attempting something like this again.
The university issued a statement that said the concert capped off a week-long series of workshops with students that were led by Wright.
“The concert Wednesday was an educational opportunity for students, faculty and the greater community to experience and learn about a critical part of African-American and U.S. cultural history,” the statement read.
However, the university said it took “the student’s concerns very seriously” and that the school’s vice president for diversity and inclusion and dean of the College of Fine Arts have set up a meeting with Faught.
“This student’s perspective is real and it is important. It is one among many different perspectives,” the statement added, according to WKZO.
The 16-second clip that Faught captured on Twitter has so far received 2.2 million views and almost 2,000 comments. Another video received more than 20,000 views.
Many people agreed with Faught’s position.
“It’s a shame how others want our culture but don’t want our skin color,” one person tweeted.
“Ian hear the voices of our ancestors who went through slavery in those “wades” I’m sorry but that song belongs to us and during Black history month,” another tweeted.