Sunday, February 19, 2012

"The White Mans Burden" (1899)

"Before and After"
Photo Credit: State Historical Society, Wisconsin

Over one hundred years ago, British poet Rudyard Kipling composed a piece of poetry that has resonated for over a century.  The poem, “The White Man's Burden” was a poem about the imperial responsibilities the United States would now have to assume over the Philippines after the Philippine-American war. It was a battle between the United States and Filipino revolutionaries. The war started due to the struggle of the First Philippine Republics inability to gain independence following annexation by the United States. 

Quote Taken from Rudyard Kiplings "The White Mans Burden" 

"Take up the White Man's burden--

Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind 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."

(One of the justifications made by Europeans for colonizing was they had an obligation to the people of the lands they had taken over. It wasn't (mainly) about the financial gain of conquering, but more of a gesture of kindness to the people.)

The poem expressed how the United States will take it upon them to cleanse the world of uncivilized life. The United States would assume the burden of teaching the other under civilized nations “the right way”.

According to "Give Me Liberty!" "American proponents of empire agreed that the domination of non-white peoples by whites formed part of the progress of civilization." (Foner, p714).

The metaphor “The White Man’s Burden” could translate to the white people will have the obligation to rule over and “teach” the poorer nations how to act the right way until these countries could assume their place among the stronger countries.  Then when they could thrive financially and culturally, they would be ready to be on their own. Though, not really since everything they are, is due to the United States stepping in and taking over.  Others believe the White Man’s burden should be interpreted in a more charitable light.  The wealthy countries (such as the United States and England) have a moral obligation to help the poor establish themselves whether the poor want the help or not.  This is a huge referendum to cultural imperialism.  The White Man’s Burden was not solely directed at the United States for the Philippines, but it’s directed at the wealthy and established European Countries to share their resources, be it financially or medically.

Imperialism could be for the best, if carried out justly.  If the culture and customs of the people being supported would be preserved and protected, it could be successful and good for everyone; yet that is highly unlikely of ever happening.  The White Man’s Burden has certainly been viewed as racist and morally inappropriate by many. Though some commentators consider Kipling’s works to be satirical writing, and suggest that "The White Man's Burden" is in fact meant to satirically undermine imperialism.

Uncle Sam as the proverbial
 father of needy and uncontrollable children:
 Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.
Photo Credit: The Detroit Journal

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