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College accused of ‘cultural appropriation’ after ‘mostly white’ choir sings black spirituals

The Western Michigan University School of Music stands accused of “cultural appropriation” after a concert featured a “mostly white” choir performing African-American spirituals.

Last week’s performance, “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore,” featured Salisbury University’s John Wesley Wright, who’s black. According to the university, Wright is “known for his artistic and soulful interpretations of music from Baroque to Broadway,” WKZO reports.

The WMU student paper Western Herald notes Wright said the songs were performed “for everyone,” and “have no ethnicity.”

This upset WMU music major Shaylee Faught, who took her complaints to social media. Faught posted that Wright “sounded uneducated and ignorant” and that his show made “a mockery of my culture.”

“If I wasn’t there I guarantee no one would’ve said anything,” Faught told the Herald. “Being a music major, there’s not a lot of black people… Since I was a freshman it’s always made me feel weird.”

Faught’s tweet about the show has been viewed over one million times.

The university said in a statement that it “takes the [Faught’s] concerns very seriously.” Professor Wright said the show “was to educate and celebrate African-American songs and traditions,” and noted “spirituals like the ones performed Wednesday are everywhere.”

He added: “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.”

The campus Black Student Union chimed in on the issue, calling on WMU to apologize for Wright’s “appalling” concert:

“This shows the immediate need for racial re-education on sensitivity training and cultural competence […] We demand this concert be ceased from being performed further, and that an explanation be given as to why the [music] department thought this act would be acceptable.”

The BSU also demanded that “whatever culture, race, or ethnicity” is being represented in a performance be consulted in advance.

In addition to refusing to apologize, the Herald notes Wright questioned Faught’s “motives and well being.” He asked “So has anyone investigated this person?”

The Western Michigan Student Association later joined the BSU in its support of Faught, and blasted Wright’s criticisms of her:

“We stand with Shaylee Faught, and the students who experience the insidious nature of cultural appropriation. Their experience is characteristic of a lack of accountability to student concerns. When the director is more concerned with investigating the mental health of a student rather than empathetically responding to concerns of students, it further illustrates that student’s voices do not matter. We do not and will not tolerate these inappropriate responses”

Faught responded to Wright on Twitter, 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.”

MORE: How cultural appropriation tantrums are really just a cry for help

MORE: Prof says ‘cultural appropriation’ is like theft of intellectual property

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