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The White Man's Burden

The White Man's Burden

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"The White Man's Burden" is a poem by the English poet Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

. It was originally published in the popular magazine
Magazine
Magazines, periodicals, glossies or serials are publications, generally published on a regular schedule, containing a variety of articles. They are generally financed by advertising, by a purchase price, by pre-paid magazine subscriptions, or all three...

 McClure's
McClure's
McClure's or McClure's Magazine was an American illustrated monthly periodical popular at the turn of the 20th century. The magazine is credited with creating muckraking journalism. Ida Tarbell's series in 1902 exposing the monopoly abuses of John D...

in 1899, with the subtitle The United States and the Philippine Islands
Philippine-American War
The Philippine–American War, also known as the Philippine War of Independence or the Philippine Insurrection , was an armed conflict between a group of Filipino revolutionaries and the United States which arose from the struggle of the First Philippine Republic to gain independence following...

. Although Kipling's poem mixed exhortation to empire with sober warnings of the costs involved, imperialists within the United States understood the phrase "white man's burden" as a characterisation for imperialism
Imperialism
Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is "the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationships, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination." The imperialism of the last 500 years,...

 that justified the policy as a noble enterprise.

The poem was originally written for Queen Victoria
Victoria of the United Kingdom
Victoria was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. From 1 May 1876, she used the additional title of Empress of India....

's Diamond Jubilee
Diamond Jubilee
A Diamond Jubilee is a celebration held to mark a 60th anniversary in the case of a person or a 75th anniversary in the case of an event.- Thailand :...

, but exchanged for "Recessional
Recessional (poem)
"Recessional" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, which he composed on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The poem, on the one hand, expresses pride in the British Empire, but, on the other, expresses an underlying sadness that the Empire might go the way of all previous empires...

"; Kipling changed the text of "Burden" to reflect the subject of American colonisation of the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, recently won from Spain
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 in the Spanish-American War
Spanish-American War
The Spanish–American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence...

. The poem consists of seven stanza
Stanza
In poetry, a stanza is a unit within a larger poem. In modern poetry, the term is often equivalent with strophe; in popular vocal music, a stanza is typically referred to as a "verse"...

s, following a regular rhyme scheme
Rhyme scheme
A rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyme between lines of a poem or song. It is usually referred to by using letters to indicate which lines rhyme. In other words, it is the pattern of end rhymes or lines...

. At face value it appears to be a rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

al command to white men to colonise
Colonialism
Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

 and rule other nations for the benefit of those people (both the people and the duty may be seen as representing the "burden" of the title). Because of its theme and title, it has become emblematic both of Eurocentric
Eurocentrism
Eurocentrism is the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with an implied belief, either consciously or subconsciously, in the preeminence of European culture...

 racism
Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

 and of Western aspirations to dominate the developing world. A century after its publication, the poem still rouses strong emotions, and can be analysed from a variety of perspectives.

Differing interpretations



One view proposes that white people consequently have an obligation to rule over, and encourage the cultural development
Progress (history)
In historiography and the philosophy of history, progress is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc...

 of people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds until they can take their place in the world economically and socially. The term "the white man's burden" has been interpreted as racist
Racism
Racism is the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination. In the modern English language, the term "racism" is used predominantly as a pejorative epithet. It is applied especially to the practice or advocacy of racial discrimination of a pernicious nature...

, or taken as a metaphor for a condescending view of undeveloped national culture and economic traditions, identified as a sense of European ascendancy which has been called "cultural imperialism
Cultural imperialism
Cultural imperialism is the domination of one culture over another. Cultural imperialism can take the form of a general attitude or an active, formal and deliberate policy, including military action. Economic or technological factors may also play a role...

". An alternative interpretation is the philanthropic view, common in Kipling's formative years, that the rich have a moral duty and obligation to help "the poor" "better" themselves whether the poor want the help or not.

The poem makes clear Kipling's view of attitudes that allowed colonialism to proceed. It starts off by describing the colonised Filipinos as "new-caught, sullen peoples,
half devil and half child". Although a belief in the virtues of empire was widespread at the time, there were also many dissenters; the publication of the poem caused a flurry of arguments from both sides, most notably from Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Samuel Langhorne Clemens , better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was an American author and humorist...

 and Henry James
Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....

. While Kipling may have intended the piece as a form of satire, much of Kipling's other writing does suggest that he genuinely believed in the "beneficent role" which the introduction of Western ideas could play in lifting non-Western peoples out of poverty and ignorance. Lines 3–5, and other parts of the poem suggest that it is not just the native people who are held in captivity, but also the "functionaries of empire", who are caught in colonial service and may die while helping other races less fortunate than themselves. An analysis focused on the social status and background of colonial officers active at the time is lacking; as is one of the Christian missionary
Missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

 movement, also quite active at the time in parts of the world under colonial rule (e.g. the Christian and Missionary Alliance
Christian and Missionary Alliance
The Christian and Missionary Alliance is an evangelical Protestant denomination within Christianity.Founded by Rev. Albert Benjamin Simpson in 1887, the Christian & Missionary Alliance did not start off as a denomination, but rather began as two distinct parachurch organizations: The Christian...

) which also emphasised the theme of aiding those less fortunate. Several authors note that Kipling offered the poem to Theodore Roosevelt to help persuade many doubting Americans to seize the Philippines.His work with regards to British colonialism in India had become widely popular in the United States. The poem could be viewed as a way for Kipling to share the virtues of British colonialism with Americans. In September 1898 Kipling wrote to Roosevelt, stating 'Now go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on permanently to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pickaxe into the foundations of a rotten house and she is morally bound to build the house over again from the foundations or have it fall about her ears'. He forwarded the poem to Roosevelt in November of the same year, just after Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York.

Some commentators do not believe that this poem's simplistic racist views can be serious and point to Kipling's history of satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 writing, suggesting that "The White Man's Burden" is in fact meant to parody imperialist attitudes. Chris Snodgrass, in A Companion to Victorian Poetry describes Kipling's poetry as "imperial sensibilities with wry irony and scepticism, viewing all human endeavours as ultimately transitory". Kipling also wrote many poems celebrating the working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

es, particularly the common soldier, which these commentators also consider to be satirical
Satire
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

. Six months after "The White Man's Burden" was published, he wrote "The Old Issue", a stinging criticism of the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

, and an attack on the unlimited, despotic power of kings. The Norton Anthology of English Literature
Norton Anthology of English Literature
The Norton Anthology of English Literature is an anthology of English literature published by the W. W. Norton & Company. It has gone through eight editions since its inception in 1962; it is the publisher's best-selling anthology, with some eight million copies in print. The influential critic...

argues it is no satire, but in line with Kipling's strong imperialism and a belief of a "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth", that other, less Christian nations would otherwise take. Still, some find Kipling's work fascinating because his pro-imperialist stance did not blind him to the less glamorous and more perilous aspects of imperialism. According to Steve Sailer
Steve Sailer
Steven Ernest Sailer is an American journalist and movie critic for The American Conservative, a blogger, a VDARE.com columnist, and a former correspondent for UPI. He writes about race relations, gender issues, politics, immigration, IQ, genetics, movies, and sports.-Personal life:Sailer grew up...

, writer John Derbyshire
John Derbyshire
John Derbyshire is a British-American writer. His columns in National Review and cover a broad range of political-cultural topics, including immigration, China, history, mathematics, and race. Derbyshire's 1996 novel, Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, was a New York Times "Notable Book of the...

 has described Kipling as "an imperialist utterly without illusions about what being an imperialist actually means. Which, in some ways, means that he was not really an imperialist at all."

Several parodies and other forms of critical works have used themes or quotes collected from Kipling's poem. Early examples include Henry Labouchère
Henry Labouchere
Henry Du Pré Labouchère was an English politician, writer, publisher and theatre owner in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. He married the actress Henrietta Hodson....

's poem "The Brown Man's Burden" (1899), British journalist Edmund Morel
E. D. Morel
Edmund Dene Morel, originally Georges Eduard Pierre Achille Morel de Ville was a British journalist, author and socialist politician. In collaboration with Roger Casement, the Congo Reform Association and others, Morel, in newspapers such as his West African Mail, led a campaign against slavery...

's 1903 article criticising imperialist practices in the Congo Free State
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

, and Ernest Crosby's poem "The Real White Man’s Burden" (1902).

Literary Response to Poem


The poem did not go without literary response or challenge. Many people in the colonies and other people wrote responses to this work. The notable ones are highlighted below.

Hubert Harrison


West-Indian American writer Hubert Harrison
Hubert Harrison
Hubert Henry Harrison was a West Indian-American writer, orator, educator, critic, and radical socialist political activist based in Harlem, New York. He was described by activist A. Philip Randolph as “the father of Harlem radicalism” and by the historian Joel Augustus Rogers as “the foremost...

's response entitled "The Black Man's Burden" from When Africa Awakes was published in New York in 1920.

H.T Johnson


In April 1899 H. T. Johnson published a popular response entitled "The Black Man's Burden" to Kipling's poem. A “Black Man’s Burden Association” was organised with the goal of demonstrating that mistreatment of brown people in the Philippines was an extension of the mistreatment of black Americans at home. Johnson was an African-American clergy but during that era all oppressed people were referred to as black.

Edmund Morel


E. D. Morel
E. D. Morel
Edmund Dene Morel, originally Georges Eduard Pierre Achille Morel de Ville was a British journalist, author and socialist politician. In collaboration with Roger Casement, the Congo Reform Association and others, Morel, in newspapers such as his West African Mail, led a campaign against slavery...

, a British journalist in the Belgian Congo
Belgian Congo
The Belgian Congo was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo between King Leopold II's formal relinquishment of his personal control over the state to Belgium on 15 November 1908, and Congolese independence on 30 June 1960.-Congo Free State, 1884–1908:Until the latter...

, drew attention to the brutality of imperialism in 1903. His article, "The Black Man's burden" was published in 1903. In another article, also entitled "The Black Man's Burden," he describes both the White and Black Man's burdens.

Henry Labouchère


English writer and politician Henry Labouchère
Henry Labouchere
Henry Du Pré Labouchère was an English politician, writer, publisher and theatre owner in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. He married the actress Henrietta Hodson....

's poem, 'The Brown Man's Burden.' was written in 1899 as an anti-colonial piece.

See also


  • The text of the poem at Fordham University
  • Colonialism
    Colonialism
    Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

  • 1899 in poetry
    1899 in poetry
    — Opening lines of Rudyard Kipling's White Man's Burden, first published this yearNationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature .-Events:...

  • 1899 in literature
    1899 in literature
    The year 1899 in literature involved some significant new books.-Events:*Edgar Rice Burroughs begins working in his father's business.*Rainer Maria Rilke travels to Moscow to meet Leo Tolstoy....

  • List of the works of Rudyard Kipling