The White Man's Burden

by Rudyard Kipling

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Kipling's portrayal and assumptions about non-whites in "The White Man's Burden."

Summary:

In "The White Man's Burden," Kipling portrays non-whites as uncivilized and in need of guidance from white colonizers. His assumptions reflect a paternalistic and imperialistic worldview, suggesting that non-whites are incapable of self-governance and require the intervention of whites to achieve progress and civilization.

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What does Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" reveal about his view on Africans and Asians?

Kipling primarily looks upon colonial subjects as backward and primitive, as considerably less developed than the white man. The picture he paints of colonial subject peoples ("half devil and half child") is deeply offensive in its suggestion that there's something strangely exotic and dangerous about them. As such, he asserts that their savage, lawless impulses must be kept in check by the firm, controlling hand of the white man, whom Kipling regards as their racial superior.

At the same time, Kipling is keen to stress just how onerous the burden of the imperial project really is. He wants to give his American audience the benefit of British experience in managing an empire—to show just how difficult the imperialist project can be and why it's so important to adopt the right attitude. Establishing an empire will be a long, hard process, but it will be worth it in the end, he argues, not least because Kipling regards it as vital that the benefits of Western civilization are conferred upon the so-called lesser races.

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What does Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" reveal about his view on Africans and Asians?

The attitudes toward African and particularly Asian (Kipling wrote "The White Man's Burden" about American deliberations over invading the Philippines) peoples expressed in this poem are complex. Kipling clearly sees colonial peoples as inferior to whites. He describes them, after all, as "half-devil and half-child." He does not think they can possibly be sophisticated enough to appreciate the benefits of civilization, and those who try to bring it to them will earn "the blame of those ye better." Kipling is also completely convinced that imperialism, because it brings the alleged benefits of Western civilization to "inferior" peoples around the world, is a noble pursuit. These racist attitudes are as typical of Kipling's time as they are repugnant today. But Kipling's condescension aside, he is urging the wealthy, privileged, comfortable classes in the Western world to put aside self interest and serve others. The fact that the people who were the alleged beneficiaries of this "service" might not see it as such does not occur to Kipling, however. He sees colonial peoples as helpless and primitive.

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In "The White Man's Burden," what assumptions does Kipling make about non-whites?

In "The White Man's Burden," Kipling writes under the unquestioned assumption that whites are superior to darker-skinned native people, a group he characterizes as a mixture of "devil" and "child." Because of their superiority, Kipling implies, whites carry the "burden" of educating and civilizing these supposedly lesser human beings. Kipling also notes that although the natives are being given what is, in his opinion, the great gift of the white's man's sacrifice in bringing them a higher level of civilization, they are surly and ungrateful. This lack of appreciation for what the whites are doing for the natives is yet another burden the long-suffering imperialists must bear.

As can be seen, Kipling shows no appreciation for the fact that the native peoples might resent their lands being taken over by invaders and also might not be interested in the assumed benefits of white culture. He also fails to acknowledge or recognize that whites might have much to learn from native societies. For him, it is all a one-way street: good-hearted and munificent whites do darker-skinned peoples the favor of imposing their culture on them.

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In "The White Man's Burden," what assumptions does Kipling make about non-whites?

"The White Man's Burden" is an 1899 imperialist poem by Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling was a staunch and unashamed imperialist, and went through phases where his sympathies for native peoples increased and decreased. "Burden" is an example of his stronger imperialist phase, where he requested that the still-fledgling United Stated take up imperialism from England and Europe. His implicit assumption about non-whites is stated clearly in the first stanza:

Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
(Kipling, "The White Man's Burden, historymatters.gmu)

This was standard public opinion at the time, that natives and non-whites were inferior to whites. Kipling showed that despite works like "Gunga Din," which showed native people in a superior moral light, he still regarded them as "half devil" -- or with an inherent nature of immorality -- and "half child -- or without the facilities to become fully educated and understanding adults. These views became less pronounced later in Kipling's life, and this poem was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt.

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