The White Man's Burden

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John Bull (Great Britain) and Uncle Sam (U.S.) bear "The White Man's Burden (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)", by delivering the coloured peoples of the world to civilization. (Victor Gillam, Judge magazine, 1 April 1899)

The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands (1899), by Rudyard Kipling, is a poem about the Philippine–American War (1899–1902), which exhorts the United States to assume colonial control of the Filipino people and their country.[1]

Kipling originally wrote the poem to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (22 June 1897), but it was replaced with the sombre poem "Recessional" (1897), also a Kipling work about empire. He rewrote "The White Man's Burden" to encourage American colonisation and annexation of the Philippine Islands, a Pacific Ocean archipelago conquered in the three-month Spanish–American War (1898).[1] As a poet of imperialism, Kipling urges the American reader and listener to take up the enterprise of empire, yet warns about the personal costs faced, endured, and paid in building an empire;[1] nonetheless, American imperialists understood the phrase The white man's burden to justify imperial conquest as a mission-of-civilisation that is ideologically related to the continental-expansion philosophy of Manifest Destiny of the early 19th century.[2][3][4][5]

The title, the subject, and the themes of "The White Man's Burden" provoke accusations of advocacy of the Eurocentric racism inherent to the idea that, by way of industrialisation, the Western world delivers civilisation to the non-white peoples of the world.[6][7][8]


The White Man's Burden: civilising the unwilling savage.  (Detroit Journal, 1898)

Rudyard Kipling was an English writer who was born in India and lived in the US from 1892 to 1896, before returning to the United Kingdom.

His poem "The White Man's Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands" was first published in The Times (London) on 4 February 1899, and in The New York Sun on 5 February.[9] On 7 February 1899, during senatorial debate to decide if the US should retain control of the Philippine Islands and the ten million Filipinos conquered from the Spanish Empire, Senator Benjamin Tillman read aloud the first, the fourth, and the fifth stanzas of Kipling's eight-stanza poem as arguments against ratification of the Treaty of Peace between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain (Treaty of Paris, 10 December 1898); and that the US should formally renounce claim of authority over the Philippine Islands. To that effect, Senator Tillman addressed the matter to President William McKinley:[10]

As though coming at the most opportune time possible, you might say just before the treaty reached the Senate, or about the time it was sent to us, there appeared in one of our magazines a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the greatest poet of England at this time. This poem, unique, and in some places too deep for me, is a prophecy. I do not imagine that in the history of human events any poet has ever felt inspired so clearly to portray our danger and our duty. It is called "The White Man’s Burden." With the permission of Senators I will read a stanza, and I beg Senators to listen to it, for it is well worth their attention. This man has lived in the Indies. In fact, he is a citizen of the world, and has been all over it, and knows whereof he speaks.[11]

He quotes, inter alia, stanzas 1, 4, and 5 of "The White Man's Burden", noting:

Those [Filipino] peoples are not suited to our institutions. They are not ready for liberty as we understand it. They do not want it. Why are we bent on forcing upon them a civilization not suited to them and which only means in their view degradation and a loss of self-respect, which is worse than the loss of life itself?[11]

Senator Tillman's eloquence was unpersuasive, and the US Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on 11 February 1899, which ended the Spanish–American War. After paying a post-war indemnification of twenty million dollars to the Kingdom of Spain, on 11 April 1899, the US established geopolitical hegemony upon islands and peoples in two oceans and in two hemispheres: the Philippine Islands and Guam in the Pacific Ocean,[12][9] Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Atlantic Ocean.[13]


The British poet Rudyard Kipling in Calcutta, India. (1892)
Life magazine cover depicting the water torture of a Filipino PoW, by U.S. Army soldiers in the Philippine Islands. (1902)
"The White (?) Man's Burden" shows the colonial exploitation of labour of the poor nations by the rich nations of the world. (William Henry Walker, Life magazine, 16 March 1899)

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.

Take up the White Man's burden—
    In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
    And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
    An hundred times made plain.
To seek another's profit,
    And work another's gain.

Take up the White Man's burden—
    The savage wars of peace—
Fill full the mouth of Famine
    And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
    The end for others sought,
Watch Sloth and heathen Folly
    Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden—
    No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper—
    The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
    The roads ye shall not tread,
Go make them with your living,
    And mark them with your dead!

Take up the White Man's burden—
    And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
    The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
    (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:—
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden—
    Ye dare not stoop to less—
Nor call too loud on Freedom
    To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
    By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
    Shall weigh your Gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden—
    Have done with childish days—
The lightly profferred laurel,
    The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
    Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
    The judgment of your peers![14]


The American writer Mark Twain replied to the imperialism Kipling espoused in The White man's Burden with the satirical essay "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), about the anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion (1899) in China.

The imperialist interpretation of "The White Man's Burden" (1899) proposes that the "white race" is morally obliged to "civilise" the "non-white" peoples of planet Earth, and to encourage their progress (economic, social, and cultural) through settler colonialism[15]:

The implication, of course, was that the Empire existed not for the benefit—economic or strategic or otherwise—of Britain, itself, but in order that primitive peoples, incapable of self-government, could, with British guidance, eventually become civilized (and Christianized).[16]

Kipling positively represents colonial imperialism as the moral burden of the white race, who are divinely destined to civilise the brutish, non-white Other who inhabits the barbarous parts of the world; to wit, the seventh and eighth lines of the first stanza misrepresent the Filipinos as "new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child."[17] Despite the chauvinistic nationalism that supported Western imperialism in the 19th century, public moral opposition to Kipling's racialist misrepresentation of the colonial exploitation of labour in "The White Man's Burden" produced the satirical essay "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), by Mark Twain, which catalogues the Western military atrocities of revenge committed against the Chinese people for their anti-colonial Boxer Rebellion (1899–1901) against abusive European businessmen and Christian missionaries.[18]

Politically, Kipling proffered the poem to New York governor Theodore Roosevelt (1899–1900) to help him persuade anti-imperialist Americans to accept the territorial annexation of the Philippine Islands to the United States.[19][20][21][22] In September 1898, Kipling's literary reputation in the U.S. allowed his promotion of American empire to governor Roosevelt:

Now, go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on, permanently, to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pick-axe into the foundations of a rotten house, and she is morally bound to build the house over, again, from the foundations, or have it fall about her ears.[23]

As Victorian imperial poetry, "The White Man's Burden" thematically corresponds to Kipling's belief that the British Empire was the Englishman's "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth";[24][25] and celebrates British colonialism as a mission of civilisation that eventually would benefit the colonised natives.[26][27] Roosevelt sent the poem to senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a firm believer in Western imperialism himself, for his review, and they agreed that it made "good sense from the expansion standpoint." [28] Since the late nineteenth century, "The White Man's Burden" has served the arguments and counterarguments of supporters and the opponents of imperialism and white supremacy.[28]


Soap and water are included to the civilizing mission that is the white man's burden. (1890s advert)

In the early 20th century, in addition to "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), Mark Twain's factual satire of the civilizing mission proposed, justified, and defended in "The White Man's Burden'" (1899), it was Kipling's jingoism that provoked contemporary poetic parodies that expressed anti-imperialist moral outrage, by critically addressing the white-supremacy racism that is basic to colonial empire;[29] among the literary responses to Kipling are: "The Brown Man's Burden" (February 1899), by the British politician Henry Labouchère;[30] "The Black Man's Burden: A Response to Kipling" (April 1899), by the clergyman H. T. Johnson;[31] and the poem "Take up the Black Man's Burden", by the American educator J. Dallas Bowser.[32]

In the U.S., a Black Man's Burden Association demonstrated to Americans how the colonial mistreatment of Filipino brown people in their Philippine homeland was a cultural extension of the institutional racism of the Jim Crow laws (1863–1965) for the legal mistreatment of black Americans in their U.S. homeland.[31] The very positive popular response to Kipling's jingoism for an American Empire to annex the Philippines as a colony impelled the growth of the American Anti-Imperialist League in their opposition to making colonial subjects of the Filipinos.

In "The Poor Man's Burden" (1899), Dr. Howard S. Taylor addresses the negative psycho-social effects of the imperialist ethos upon the working-class people of an empire.[33][34] In the social perspective of "The Real White Man's Burden" (1902), the reformer Ernest Crosby addresses the moral degradation (coarsening of affect) consequent to the practice of imperialism;[35] and in "The Black Man's Burden" (1903), the British journalist E. D. Morel reported the Belgian imperial atrocities in the Congo Free State, which was an African personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium.[36]

In the historical survey of The Black Man's Burden: The White Man in Africa, from the Fifteenth Century to World War I (1920), E. D. Morel's critique of imperial-colony power relations identifies an established cultural hegemony that determines the weight of the black man's burden and the weight of the white man's burden in their building a colonial empire.[37][38] The philosophic perspective of "The Black Man's Burden [A Reply to Rudyard Kipling]" (1920), by the social critic Hubert Harrison, describes moral degradation as a consequence of being a colonized coloured man and of being a white colonizer.[39][39] Moreover, since the late 20th-century contexts of post-imperial decolonisation and of the developing world, the phrase "The white man's burden" communicates the false good-intentions of Western neo-colonialism for the non-white world: civilisation by colonial domination.[29][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hitchens, Christopher. Blood, Class, and Empire: The Enduring Anglo–American Relationship (2004) pp. 63–64
  2. ^ Zwick, Jim (December 16, 2005). Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898–1935. Archived from the original on September 16, 2002.
  3. ^ Miller, Stuart Creighton (1982). Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899–1903. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03081-9. p. 5: ". . . imperialist editors came out in favor of retaining the entire archipelago (using) higher-sounding justifications related to the "white man's burden".
  4. ^ Examples of justification for imperialism based on Kipling's poem include the following (originally published 1899–1902):
  5. ^ Pimentel, Benjamin (26 October 2003). The Philippines' "Liberator" was Really a Colonizer: Bush's Revisionist History. The San Francisco Chronicle. p. D3. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011.: characteising the poem as a "call to imperial conquest".
  6. ^ "Eurocentrism", Encyclopedia of the Developing World, Thomas M. Leonard, Taylor & Francis, eds. 2006, ISBN 0-415-97662-6, p. 636.
  7. ^ Chisholm, Michael (1982). Modern World Development: A Geographical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 1982, ISBN 0-389-20320-3, p.12.
  8. ^ Mama, Amina (1995). Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender, and Subjectivity. Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0-415-03544-9, p. 39.
  9. ^ a b ""The White Man's Burden" (1899): Notes by Mary Hamer". 2019. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  10. ^ Herman, Shadowing the White Man's Burden (2010), pp. 41–42.
  11. ^ a b Tillman, Benjamin R. "Address to the U.S. Senate, 7 February 1899" (PDF). National Humanities Center. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  12. ^ Charles Henry Butler (1902). The Treaty Making Power of the United States. The Banks Law Publishing Company. p. 441. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  13. ^ "Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain; December 10, 1898". Yale. 2009. Retrieved May 1, 2009.
  14. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1940). Rudyard Kipling's Verse (Definitive ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 321–323. OCLC 225762741.
  15. ^ The Oxford Companion to English Literature 6th. Edition (2006) p. 808.
  16. ^ David Cody, "The growth of the British Empire", VictorianWeb, (Paragraph 4)
  17. ^ Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition (1996) pp. 1,111–1.112
  18. ^ John V. Denson (1999). The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories. Transaction Publishers. pp. [1]. ISBN 978-0-7658-0487-7(note ff. 28 & 33).
  19. ^ Judd, Denis (June 1997). "Diamonds Are Forever: Kipling's Imperialism; poems of Rudyard Kipling". History Today. 47 (6): 37.: "Theodore Roosevelt . . . thought the verses 'rather poor poetry, but good sense, from the expansionist stand-point'. Henry Cabot Lodge told Roosevelt, in turn: 'I like it. I think it is better poetry than you say.' "
  20. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen. Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3.
  21. ^ Wolpert, Stanley (2006)
  22. ^ Brantlinger, Patrick (2007) "Kipling's 'The White Man's Burden' and its Afterlives", English Literature in Transition 1880–1920, 50.2, pp. 172–191.
  23. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1990) The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Pinney, Editor. London, Macmillan, Vol II, p. 350.
  24. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen, Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3, p. 000.
  25. ^ What Will Happen In Afghanistan?". United Press International. 26 September 2001.
  26. ^ Langer, William (1935). A Critique of Imperialism. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. p. 6.
  27. ^ Demkin, Stephen (1996). Manifest destiny–Lecture notes. USA: Delaware County Community College.
  28. ^ a b Brantlinger, Patrick (2007-01-30). "Kipling's "The White Man's Burden" and Its Afterlives". English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920. 50 (2): 172–191. doi:10.1353/elt.2007.0017. ISSN 1559-2715.
  29. ^ a b Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition (1996) p. 560.
  30. ^ Labouchère, Henry (1899). "The Brown Man's Burden" a parody of Kipling's white-burden.
  31. ^ a b ""The Black Man's Burden": A Response to Kipling". History Matters. American Social History Productions. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  32. ^ Brantlinger, Patrick. Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians, Cornell University Press, 2011. p. 215.
  33. ^ Taylor, Howard S. ""The Poor Man's Burden" (Excerpt)". HERB: Resources for Teachers. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  34. ^ Painter, Nell Irvin (2008). "Chapter 5: The White Man's Burden". Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-33192-9.
  35. ^ Crosby, Ernest (1902). The Real White Man's Burden. Funk and Wagnalls Company. pp. 32–35. Published online by History Matters, American Social History Project, CUNY and George Mason University.
  36. ^ ""The Black Man's Burden"". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  37. ^ "E. D. Morel, The Black Man's Burden (1920)". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  38. ^ Morel, Edmund (1903). The Black Man's Burden. Fordham University.
  39. ^ a b "The Black Man's Burden [A Reply to Rudyard Kipling]". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  40. ^ Plamen Makariev. Eurocentrism, Encyclopedia of the Developing World (2006) Thomas M. Leonard, Ed. ISBN 0-415-97662-6, p. 636: "On one hand, this is the Western 'well-intended' aspiration to dominate 'the developing world.' The formula 'the white man's burden', from Rudyard Kipling's eponymous poem, is emblematic in this respect."; Chisholm, Michael. Modern World Development: A Geographical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 1982, ISBN 0-389-20320-3, p.12: "This Eurocentric view of the world assumed that, but for the 'improvements' wrought by Europeans in Latin America, in Africa and in Asia, the manifest poverty of their peoples would be even worse."; and
    Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction 2008. Wesleyan University Press, Middleton, Conn., p. 30: "The proto-narrative of progress operates equally in the ideology of the 'white man's burden' — the belief that non-whites are childlike innocents in need of white men's protection — and the assumptions that undergird Victorian anthropology. From the most legitimate scientific endeavor to the most debased and transparent prejudices runs the common assumption that the relation of the colonizing societies to the colonized ones is that of the developed, modern present to its own undeveloped, primitive past."


  • A Companion to Victorian Poetry, Alison Chapman; Blackwell, Oxford, 2002.
  • Chisholm, Michael (1982). Modern World Development: A Geographical Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield, 1982, ISBN 0-389-20320-3.
  • Cody, David. The growth of the British Empire. The Victorian Web, University Scholars Program, National University of Singapore, November 2000.
  • Crosby, Ernest (1902). The Real White Man's Burden. Funk and Wagnalls Company, 32–35.
  • Dixon, Thomas (1902). The Leopard's Spots – A Romance of the White Man's Burden 1865–1900.
  • Encyclopedia of India. Ed. Stanley Wolpert. Vol. 3. Detroit: charles Scribner's Sons, 2006, p. 35–36. 4 vols.
  • "Eurocentrism". In Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Ed. Thomas M. Leonard, Taylor & Francis, 2006, ISBN 0-415-97662-6.
  • Greenblatt, Stephen (ed.). Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3
  • Kipling. Fordham University. Full text of the poem.
  • Labouchère, Henry (1899). "The Brown Man's Burden".
  • Mama, Amina (1995). Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender, and Subjectivity. Routledge, 1995, ISBN 0-415-03544-9.
  • Miller, Stuart Creighton (1982). Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899–1903. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-03081-9.
  • Murphy, Gretchen (2010). Shadowing the White Man's Burden: U.S. Imperialism and the Problem of the Color Line. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-9619-1
  • Pimentel, Benjamin (October 26, 2003). "The Philippines; "Liberator" Was Really a Colonizer; Bush's revisionist history". The San Francisco Chronicle: D3.
  • Sailer, Steve (2001). "What Will Happen In Afghanistan?". United Press International, 26 September 2001.
  • "The White Man's Burden." McClure's Magazine 12 (Feb. 1899).
  • The Shining. Jack Nicholson's character Jack, uses the phrase to refer to whiskey.
  • The Text of the poem
  • The White Man's Burden public domain audiobook at LibriVox