I have previously discussed what appears to be an ever-expanding scope of “cultural appropriation” charges at colleges and universities. The latest controversy has arisen at Western Michigan University School of Music after a concert featured a “mostly white” choir performing African-American spirituals. “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore” was led by Salisbury University Associate Professor John Wesley Wright, who is African American. However, the racial makeup of the choir led to protests over cultural appropriation over what one advocate denounced as a “a mockery of my culture.”
WMU music major Shaylee Faught led the fight against the concert and denounced Wright’s claim that the choir was singing for all groups and all cultures. She posted an attack on Wright that said that he “sounded uneducated and ignorant” and that allowing so many whites on the choir made “a mockery of my culture.”
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.142K4:40 PM – Feb 20, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy34.2K people are talking about this
The campus Black Student Union also denounced the “appalling” concert with so many whites on a choir and called for the “immediate need for racial re-education on sensitivity training and cultural competence.”
Professor Wright stood by his choir and their music. He insisted that it is the music not the race of the singers that is the important element. He insisted that the choir used their gifts to educate and celebrate African-American songs and traditions.” He added two additional points: one on defense and one on offense. He declared “I do not feel the need to have to defend what I’m doing and I’ve done this for 30 years and to great response.”
Wright also went on the attack and questioned Faught’s “motives and well being,” asking “So has anyone investigated this person?”
That comment rightfully concerned many over a personal attack on a student. However, Faught then responded in kind by saying “He tried to dismiss everything I said. That’s cool. My mental health is FINE by the way but I’m not going to argue with a grown ass man about MY OPINION.”
Putting aside the personal attacks, there remains the original issue of whether whites singing spirituals is an offense and cultural appropriation. I strongly oppose that view. These artists are celebrating different cultures and musical traditions. When I see a non-Italian singing La Traviata or Sicilian folk songs, I am not offended as a Sicilian. I am delighted that my culture is being explored by others. Listening to Marian Anderson was a thrill because she was a great artist and talent, not because she was an African American. When she sang Italian operas, it was not cultural appropriation, it was a cultural celebration.
This effort to bar whites from singing certain songs is an attack on artistic expression and free speech.