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East is East and West is West

Posted by Lewis on March 28, 2005

In Reply to: East is East and West is West posted by Henry on March 28, 2005

: : : : : : : : A few days back I asked "Question for students of literature: when Kipling used the word 'nigger' referencing a dark person in India was he using a derogatory term? I mean was it derogatory then and there?"

: : : : : : : : This was followed by a referral to the archives. When I search for +Kipling +nigger I get my question and a link that gives an error message. May I ask my question again?

: : : : : : : : Question for students of literature: when Kipling used the word 'nigger' referencing a dark person in India was he using a derogatory term? I mean was it derogatory then and there?

: : : : : : : You can probably find the page that's giving you the erroe message by clicking on "cached" at the end of the Google result.

: : : : : : : But in general it would have been derogatory because Kipling was a racist. The thing was, most people in Kipling's era were. Racism was the way that members of the upper class understood the world and to be a racist was not, at the time, considered unusual or particularly bad. Many "respectable" people were. In America, Teddy Roosevelt springs to mind. It really took the experience of Nazi Germany to finally discredit racial thinking beyond any doubt.

: : : : : : ...and never the twain shall meet.

: : : : : : there are different shades of thought that are today lumped in to 'racism' - now, even positive stereotypes are considered racist (which they are by the usual definition). there is a natural 'racism' with people which is very different from 'discrimination' or 'victimisation' - I have met lots of people who would generalise about races, yet would not treat any individual in a less favourable way than somebody of their own ethnic or cultural group - or for that matter think any worse of them either. it is unfortunate that the social wrong of the behaviour of victimisation against people is lumped together with cultural/national issues.

: : : : : : pretending that there are no differences due to cultural background is harmful to eliminating victimisation or worse treatment on grounds of race.

: : : : : : 'discrimination' is a word for 'taste' or 'refinement of judgment' - is it a good word to use for mistreatment based on race?

: : : : : : just a thought...

: : : : : : Kipling may have been a 'racist', but that doesn't say whether that made him think better or worse of people. his famous saying or "East is East" is more about culture than the worth of people, IMO.

: : : : : : L
: : : : : I particularly like the admission in the end.
: : : : : "By the livin' Gawd that made you,
: : : : : You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!" SR

: : : : Kipling wasn't setting out his own views in the Barrack Room Ballads. He was reflecting the attitudes of the soldier at the bottom of the pecking order, and in the words that they used. [N-word] and Fuzzy-Wuzzy are clearly pejorative terms for Africans.

: : : : Kipling described the troops' lives in both Africa and India. You should read the whole of The Ballad of East and West before you jump to conclusions. The first and last stanza in fact reads;

: : : : Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
: : : : Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement Seat:
: : : : But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
: : : : When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

: : : : Like the finishing lines of Gunga Din, these are hardly the views of a racist, or of someone who believes that your position in life should be dictated by the position of your parents. Even today, it seems a very modern and enlightened view. Kipling gave his support to the under privileged classes.

: : : Yes, he did. And when he writes "When two strong men stand face to face" he reiterates a theme easily traced in his writing. His admiration for people of courage, spirit and tenacity is expressed again and again in his poems and novels, and is certainly not limited to white men. When he writes of the Fuzzy-Wuzzies, warriors of a Sudanese tribe who bravely fought back in the face of the superior fire-power of the British Army, Kipling's admiration is unstinting (Barrack-room Ballads 10, 1892). In context the name Fuzzie-wuzzies does not sound like derogation or ridicule on the part of Kipling, but simply the name used by the British Army.
: : : As previous phrase-finders have noted, Kipling strove to reproduce in a naturalistic way the speech of members of the British Army. Read those Barrack-room Ballads and Departmental Ditties that imitate the speech of "Tommy Atkins." This was part of his way of reproducing " real life", and doubtless was partly responsible for his great popularity. If British soldiers referred to Indian fighters as [n-word]s, I expect Kipling would, too.
: : : Another famous writer of the time, Mark Twain, also gained acclaim for his naturalistic reproduction of the popular vernacular. His masterpiece was "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," of which the title character was a poorly educated but adventurous lad whose companion was [N-word] Jim. Jim's nickname certainly violates today's taboos, and the book has been banned from many American school libraries. But today's taboos may not be the same as those of yesteryear, and I'm not sure that one could call Mark Twain a racist--or racialist, a term that was used before being largely supplanted by racist. SS

: : This is a really thoughful exchange but there are two points I'd like to add as grist to the mill. Though Mark Twain wrote in the popular venacular - a fact which probably means the current generation of young people won't have read Huckeberry Fin, Samuel Clemens was one of most vocal critics of slavery. He served briefly for the confederate army then switched to the Union side and came down firmly on the side of enlightment principles - equality, fraternity, etc. Kipling is not so straight forward. He definitly shows compassion and humanity in his work but was a staunch supporter of colonialism and the Empire. Though Twain seems to share some of the assumptions of his time (unless I'm totally misreading Puddin Head Wilson) he fought against slavery and injustice.

: : At the end of the day a really good piece of art transcends the politics of it's author. In my opinion Kipling does believe in racial superiority and is pretty explicit in his writing about it. But that doesn't mean his work has no value, Quite the contrary. He was a good writer AND a man of his time.

: Well, the examples given here don't support your view. Many people have a critical opinion of Kipling because they are only familiar with his phrases out of context. If you think Kipling was a supporter of colonialism, then why do you think so many of his poems are devoted to the suffering of the soldiers who maintained it? Further, you will struggle to find an explanation for The White Man's Burden, which is sub-titled The United States and the Philippine Islands. Until 1898, America was a leading anti-Imperialist country.

Mmm - even with your greater knowledge of Kipling, I sense opinion divided. I guess that historical context is often needed to understand the likely options. Also, some of the above pre-suppose that Imperialism is inconsistent with beliefs about the inherent worth of people - an Imperialist wants conquest under their native culture, but most successful empires absorbed many worthwhile or superior facets of the cultures of the people they conquered. I can't see Imperialism as being de-valuing of other nations, simply that one wants to subjugate them to enrich ones own. It may transgress democratic notions, but that is different.

Not respecting an opponent is usually fatal, so respect may well often live alongside the desire to win.

There is no sweeter victory for English football fans than to beat the likes of Germany, Holland or Brazil - BECAUSE they a re honoured as worthy opponents. San Marino or the Faroes just doesn't compare (unless you are Scottish).

I thus suggest that being an Imperialist is not probative.