White Man's Burden

Without looking it up, can you define "White Man's Burden" both for what it means, and what historical era it came from?

Bonus points if you can name a famous author associated with the expression.

The correct answer is that it refers to the duty of the civilized (white) races to bring the benefits of civilization to those (more pigmented) peoples who lived in barbarism. While the attitude can be said to have one of the justifications for colonialism from about 1700 onward, the exact phrase really only came into prominent use following the 1899 publication of Rudyard Kipling's poem of that title, following the claiming of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War.

The poem and a capsule biography can be found here. Perhaps the most quoted line of the poem is from the first stanza, where Kipling describes the newly subjugated peoples to be, "Half-devil and half-child." Even at the time of publication a great many people were offended or disgusted by the poem, especially those people in the US who were opposed to becoming a colonial power, such as Mark Twain. On the other side of the coin, Teddy Roosevelt was greatly impressed by the poem.

The poem itself can be viewed as potentially satirical or a straightforward endorsement of colonialism. Looking at Kipling's life and other works, it is hard to definitely say one way or the other where he stood. What is clear is that Kipling was in favor of Empire, and had some chilling (by modern standards) views on the proper place of lesser peoples in that hierarchy. In the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh, or Armistar, Massacre he set up and funded a defense fund for the officer who lead the detachment. On the other hand, for someone who began writing to Victorian England, and continued through the Edwardian era, he had a particularly favorable view of the common soldier, if not the common man. His poetry made clear, time and time again, that he recognized the human cost of imperialism, and offered up more than one example of praise* for native peoples.

Whatever Kipling's view of native peoples, his support of Empire or colonialism makes him one of the more reviled figures in English literature.

*) People not familiar with Kipling's metaphors may be off-put by some of the terms in Fuzzy-Wuzzy used to describe the Hadendoa fighters. Aside from the use of "black," most of the derogatory terms used are identical to those used in Tommy, or other of Kipling's poetry, to describe troopers. It is my opinion that the use of these terms implies an acceptance and equality between the speaker of the poem rather than a distance and disdain.

Comments

Yep.

Spoiler (mouseover to read):
Rudyard Kipling, author of the poem--you guessed it--"The White Man's Burden".

Yes I think so

Spoiler (mouseover to read):
Rudyard Kipling

I wrote a long-ass essay on this a couple of semesters ago, so yes.

The reason this comes up is that the Sociological Images blog has a recent post about Colonialism, Soap, and the Cleansing Metaphor.

In the body of the text is a very simple, basic, definition of what White Man's Burden means, and when it was used. Which I found hugely jarring, since it seemed to me about as necessary as defining what "wet" might mean. I just wonder how necessary such a definition really is for the target audience for this blog.

Zuul, and AG, you're both right.

That is a bit odd that they'd feel the need to explain it. I don't remember if it came up at all in high school, but it was definitely something we were talking about in my first couple semesters of college. It's present enough in the cultural lexicon I'd assume any reasonably aware and educated adult would at least know what it means, even if they might not know the author it came from.

Edit: Damn right I'm right. You don't get my scores on the English Lit GRE without knowing that.

That's almost exactly what I was thinking, Zuul - except that I did get hit with the concept in HS, both in English class and in history class.

Quote Originally posted by OtakuLoki View post
The reason this comes up is that the Sociological Images blog has a recent post about Colonialism, Soap, and the Cleansing Metaphor.

In the body of the text is a very simple, basic, definition of what White Man's Burden means, and when it was used. Which I found hugely jarring, since it seemed to me about as necessary as defining what "wet" might mean. I just wonder how necessary such a definition really is for the target audience for this blog.
Well how many people would think it was a mediocre film with John Travolta? But seriously I imagine some people, even educated people in an American context might think it refers to something in America's tumultuous racial history.

Yes, I can and I can name the author.

I always thought White Man's Burden had something to do with ear hair.