how might kipling's poem the white man's burden be misunderstood by some readers and why?

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markchambers1966 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
This poem is seen by some as both Imperialist and racist. This is to misunderstand what is essentially a warning by Kipling who had worked with the British Raj in India and had seen at first hand the human cost of sickness and death through rebellion and violence. The young men who went out to India died in their masses "at the regulation age of 22 or thereabouts." Of course Kipling was an Imperialist and supported the Empire, but he was not alone in doing this. He would have followed the idea of social impwrialism, based on Darwin, that the more civilised nations had a duty to pass down the chain their ideas of nobleness and civilisation, of faith and correctness. He actually is using the term "white man" not to literally refer to a white man, but to refer to a decent man and saw the Imperial mission as a humanitarian one, one that would benefit mankind. In this Kipling was of course blind to the fact that Empire was often exploitive and he was writing to America at the time when America was entering into Imperialism itself through declaring war on Spain to 'free' Cuba (this is certainly not a perspective we would find Cubans agreeing with). We have to read the poem with the spectacles of the past on, and see it as very much a part of its time, reflecting the attitude of a member of the worlds then largest Imperial power.