The Rugby Football Union has announced that it will be conducting a review into the singing of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’, due to the song’s links to slavery.
The song is somewhat of an anthem at Twickenham and is routinely seen and heard with lyrics reproduced on walls at the stadium and sung from the stands, but now the song may be banned owing to its links to slave labour.
Its full history goes back much further, though, dating to its credited author Wallace Willis – a freed slave from 19th century Oklahoma. It became a popular spiritual song in the early 20th century and was popularised again among folk musicians during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
An RFU spokesperson told The Guardian: ‘The RFU has stated we need to do more to achieve diversity and we are determined to accelerate change and grow awareness.
‘The Swing Low, Sweet Chariot song has long been part of the culture of rugby and is sung by many who have no awareness of its origins or sensitivities. We are reviewing its historical context and our role in educating fans to make informed decisions.
‘Systemic change must be made at all levels so that we can become truly reflective of our wonderfully diverse society. We can no longer rely on black role models at the elite level speaking out, we must join together to become better and to support every member of the sport and recreation community.’
This comes after England star Maro Itoje told the Daily Mail he felt the lineage of the song – which has come under the microscope before as a potential tool of cultural appropriation – was ‘complicated’.
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