White man's burden

Posted by Bob on May 12, 2002

In Reply to: White man's burden posted by ESC on May 12, 2002

: : : : : Where did the phrase "the white man's burden" come from? What lays behind it in terms of history and philosophy? Why did "white men" feel this sense of burden? Was it guilt for something done in the past, or something else? (By the way, I'm a white man and I don't know at all what this feeling is.)

: : : : It's from Rudyard Kipling's 1865 poem The White Man's Burden (see below)

: : : : Basically it's a sort of lament on the part of the Imperialists bemoaning the burden of being racially superior.

: : : Okay. But now that I have read the poem (if this really does give the philosophy in a nutshell), there is also a sense of duty in it. The whole idea od thankless tasks and all that. I mean, colonization and the system was bad in a lot of ways, but these people must have felt there was a noble purpose, some help to be given.

: : Absolutely - they did think they had a noble purpose. That's the irony.

: WHITE MAN'S BURDEN - "was a popular expression during the later years of Queen Victoria's reign, when the British Empire was an institution worldwide in scope and fearsome in power. It referred to the duty of the British to educate and govern the races they conquered. Whether or not Rudyard Kipling created the phrase, he gave it fame in this stanza: 'Take up the White Man's Burden' -- /Send forth the best you breed,' Go bind your sons to exile/ To serve the captives' need.'" From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

For those history buffs fascinated by the complexity of this issue, I recommend a great read: "King Leopold's Ghost." It's page-turner history.