What does the "white man's burden" Pears' Soap advertisment mean?
In his poem “The White Man’s Burden,” author Rudyard Kipling writes,
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need...
Thus, Kipling believes that the well-educated ("the best ye breed") Europeans have a moral obligation to conquer and colonize peoples of other, less economically developed countries in order to bring them European cultures, ideas, and customs. He refers to the conquered people, who generally were darker skinned than the European conquerors, as “Half devil and half child.” It is up to “the White Man” to patiently endure “the threat of terror” and “the hate of those [they] guard“ to expand their European values.
Kipling believes that it is incumbent on Great Britain, the United States, and other more developed countries to bring their culture to less developed nations to help “civilize” them. In the late 1800s, Pears' Soap used the same concept in its advertising campaigns, presenting the soap and its cleaning power as a tool for the "white man's burden" to spread civilization to conquered lands. The ad also implies that, unlike the more civilized Europeans (or Americans), the colonial lands were populated by peoples who were unclean and uncivilized and therefore needed to be cleaned by Pears' Soap and, in turn, civilized.
The Pears’ Soap ad is not at all subtle in conveying this message. It says:
The first step towards lightening The White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pears’ Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilization advances while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place—it is the ideal toilet soap.
The need to brighten the dark corners of the earth has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it means civilize the less developed countries, as noted. In addition, it also refers to the racial differences between the two peoples, presenting the European, light-skinned conquerors as clean and the dark-skinned people of the “dark corners” in the conquered lands as unclean. The use of the words "lightening" and "brightening" also have extremely racial connotations in this ad.