Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden” reflects the attitudes of his time towards the colonization of other nations. A century ago, colonization was justified and even seen as a noble cause. Moreover, it was believed that Americans and Europeans “must” suffer a heavy “burden” in order “To seek another’s profit, / And work another’s gain.” In other words, conquering other countries, robbing and killing their population was masked as an obligation of more developed nations to educate and enlighten the less developed ones until they fully adopt the Western lifestyle, including Western culture and religion.
Kipling portrays American colonizers as those who bring peace, health, and prosperity to suffering developing nations. The author urges “The White Man” to go and rule the land in benefit of other poor suffering nations: “Go bind your sons to exile / To serve your captives’ need.” During Kipling’s times, „The White Man’s Burden” was understood as an obligation to reach people to help poor, whether the poor wanted this help or not. The poor “black” and “brown” men are seen as not smart enough to understand what is right for them. Some people genuinely believed that the introduction of Western ideas would help to eliminate poverty and high mortality rates in less-developed countries, while others have used the noble cause to cover up their greed.
Kipling warns about the possible costs of the colonization. First of all, the empire has to sacrifice its men: “Send forth the best ye breed,” most of whom will not come back home:
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.
And that is not to mention the financial investments. Kipling also promises that the Europeans will get no reward for this sacrifice – the colonized nations will not be thankful to their “saviors.” And he was right about that – there was very little to be thankful for. Maybe colonies would be more thankful if their “white saviors” would treat them with dignity and as equals. As it turned out, only the West has benefited from its own “burden, ” and the colonies remained weak and helpless.
If I were a citizen of a colonized territory, I would ask Kipling to save the lives of the white man and let the colonies choose their development path, not to impose western culture and technology on those who did not want it. Kipling himself was an educated man familiar with all the drawbacks of the colonization. He, like no one else, should have been able to understand the harmful effects of European and American presence in the less-developed countries.
Now, more than a century later, looking back at the events Kipling described, it is clear that Europeans were wrong and many of their efforts have failed. The West was wrong by seeing colonized nations as inferior people with less-developed culture. As it turns out, the Philippines, as well as other colonies, did not need Western values and culture and the West did not help them to create a better society, on the contrary, it did much ill and very little good.
Interestingly enough, it seems as though history did not teach us much. Europeans and Americans still try to force their values and culture on African and Asian nations and again fail miserably. All the efforts Western countries make to eliminate poverty in Africa do not seem to work. In some cases, the life of poor people in Asia and Africa has only worsened due to foreign financial aid. Maybe this happens because “white men” still see themselves as superior to “black” and “brown men.” The racism described by Kipling did not wholly disappear even more than a century later.
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