‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’: English rugby union bosses reviewing slave-era song used as chant

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) did not immediately respond to CNN, but in a statement to British media, the organization said it was determined to “accelerate change and raise awareness”, while the movement Black Lives Matter inspires companies and institutions to rethink the way they operate.

“The RFU has said that we must do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and increase awareness,” the governing body said in a statement.

“The song Swing Low, Sweet Chariot has long been part of the rugby culture and is sung by many people who know neither its origins nor its sensibilities.

“We are looking at its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions.”

Fans of the English Rugby Union at the HSBC London Sevens at Twickenham Stadium on June 2, 2018 in London.
Former England rugby player Maggie Alphonsi explained why she no longer sings the song, writing on Twitter: “I will NEVER stop using my voice !!”
Brian Moore, a former English rugby player and commentator said: “The world has evolved and, rightly, things that were normal at the time should not necessarily be now … It should be celebrated in its legitimate context. ”

But former English cricket captain Michael Vaughan posted a story about the problems around the song on Instagram with the caption: “Please tell me if I’m wrong … but it certainly can’t be true !! ??”

READ: ‘A slap in the face of history’ – Should we use a song from the slave era as song?

Is it fair for rugby fans to sing a song from the slave era?

The song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” is one of the most recognized African American spirituals. Revered, emotional and rooted in the horrors of American slavery and the oppression of race.

But for the past three decades, the familiar tune has also been the anthem adopted by the England rugby team, its refrain haunting a common echo in the stadiums where the national team plays.

And therein lies the problem.

Cornell Brooks, President of the National Association for the Advancement of People of Color (NAACP).
In 2017, CNN Sport examined whether it was right that a song from the slave era – which is supposed to be a coded message for slaves in search of the Underground Railroad for Freedom – be used to galvanize a national sports glory team.

Should the words about suffering and despair be sung by thousands of English fans who are often middle class, often white?

“A slap in the face of the history of slavery”, Cornell William Brooks, then president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), described the use of this spiritual in a sports arena. Brooks is now Professor Hauser of the practice of nonprofit organizations and Professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice at Harvard Kennedy School.
Lord Herman Ouseley, president of the anti-racism group Kick it Out in 2017, said that singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” to encourage a rugby team was a matter of “ignorance, lack of sensitivity and arrogance” , when American academics called him. cultural appropriation.

Three years ago, when CNN asked him if the RFU would examine the use of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” a spokesman for the governing body of English rugby said, “Swing Low is associated with rugby and to rugby clubs for decades. sung by fans to support the England rugby team. “

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