Jump to content

The White Man's Burden

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The editorial cartoon "'The White Man's Burden' (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)" shows John Bull (Britain) and Uncle Sam (U.S.) delivering the world's people of colour to civilization (Victor Gillam, Judge magazine, 1 April 1899). The people in the basket carried by Uncle Sam are labelled Cuba, Hawaii, Samoa, 'Porto Rico', and the Philippines, while the people in the basket carried by John Bull are labelled Zulu, China, India, 'Soudan', and Egypt.

"The White Man's Burden" (1899), by Rudyard Kipling, is a poem about the Philippine–American War (1899–1902) that exhorts the United States to assume colonial control of the Filipino people and their country.[1] Originally written to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (22 June 1897), the jingoistic poem was replaced with the sombre "Recessional" (1897), also a Kipling poem about empire.

In "The White Man's Burden", Kipling encouraged the American annexation and colonisation of the Philippine Islands, a Pacific Ocean archipelago conquered in the three-month Spanish–American War (1898).[1] As an imperialist poet, Kipling exhorts 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 civilising mission that is ideologically related to the continental expansion philosophy of manifest destiny of the early 19th century.[2][3][4][5]


"The White Man's Burden" illustration (Detroit Journal, 1898)
"The White Man's Burden" published in McClure's Magazine, February 1899

"The White Man's Burden" was first published in The New York Sun on February 1, 1899 and in The Times (London) on February 4, 1899.[6] 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 seven-stanza poem as arguments against ratification of the Treaty of Paris, 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:[7]

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.[8]

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?[8]

Senator Tillman was unpersuasive, and the US Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris on 11 February 1899, formally ending 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,[9][6] and Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Atlantic Oceans.[10]


Rudyard Kipling in Calcutta, India. (1892)
"The White (?) Man's Burden" shows the colonial exploitation of labour by various Western nations. (William Henry Walker, Life magazine, 16 March 1899)
"The White Man's Burden" in The Call newspaper (San Francisco, 5 February 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 proffered 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![11]


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 colonialism:[12]

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).[13]

Kipling positively represents 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 represent the Filipinos as "new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child."[14] 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 Western businessmen and Christian missionaries.[15]

Kipling politically proffered the poem to New York governor Theodore Roosevelt (r. 1899–1900) to help him persuade anti-imperialist Americans to accept the territorial annexation of the Philippine Islands to the United States.[16][17][18][19] 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.[20]

As Victorian imperial poetry, "The White Man's Burden" thematically corresponded to Kipling's belief that the British Empire was the Englishman's "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth";[21][22] and celebrates British colonialism as a mission of civilisation that eventually would benefit the colonised natives.[23][24] Roosevelt sent the poem to U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge for his opinion and they agreed that it made "good sense from the expansion standpoint" for the American empire.[25] Since the late nineteenth century, "The White Man's Burden" has served the arguments and counter-arguments of supporters and the opponents of imperialism and white supremacy.[25]


To the white man's burden, the civilising mission of colonialism includes teaching colonized people about soap, water, and personal hygiene. (1890s advert)

In the early 20th century, in addition to "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (1901), Mark Twain's factual satire of the civilising mission that is proposed, justified, and defended in "The White Man's Burden" (1899), contemporary opposition to Kipling's jingoism provoked poetic parodies that expressed anti-imperialist moral outrage, by critically addressing the particulars of white supremacist racism in colonial empires.[26] Said responses include "The Brown Man's Burden" (February 1899), by the British politician Henry Labouchère;[27] "The Black Man's Burden: A Response to Kipling" (April 1899), by the clergyman H. T. Johnson;[28] and the poem "Take Up the Black Man's Burden", by the educator J. Dallas Bowser.[29]

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 for the legal mistreatment of black Americans in their U.S. homeland.[28] The popular response against Kipling's jingoism for an American Empire to annex the Philippine Islands as a colony impelled the establishment (15 June 1899) of the American Anti-Imperialist League in their political opposition to making colonial subjects of the Filipinos.[citation needed]

In The Poor Man’s Burden (1899), Dr. Howard S. Taylor addressed the negative psycho-social effects of the imperialist ethos upon the working-class people in an empire.[30][31] 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;[32] and in "The Black Man's Burden" (1903), the British journalist E. D. Morel reported the Belgian imperial atrocities in the Congo Free State (1885–1908), which was an African personal property of King Leopold II of Belgium.[33]

In The Black Man's Burden: The White Man in Africa, from the Fifteenth Century to World War I (1920), E. D. Morel identifies, describes, and explains that the metropole-colony power relations are established through cultural hegemony, which determines the weight of the black man's burden and the weight of the white man's burden in building a colonial empire.[34][35] "The Black Man's Burden [A Reply to Rudyard Kipling]" (1920), by the social critic Hubert Harrison, described the moral degradation inflicted upon the colonised Black people and the colonist white people.[36]

In the decolonisation of the developing world, the phrase the white man's burden is synonymous with colonial domination, to illustrate the falsity of the good intentions of Western neo-colonialism towards the non-white peoples of the world.[26][37] In 1974, President Idi Amin of Uganda sat atop a throne while forcing four white British businessmen to carry him through the streets of Kampala; as the businessmen groaned under the weight of Amin, he joked that this was "the new white man's burden".[38]

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 (16 December 2005). Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 1898–1935. Archived from the original on 16 September 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. p. D3. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help): characterising the poem as a "call to imperial conquest".
  6. ^ a b ""The White Man's Burden" (1899): Notes by Mary Hamer". 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  7. ^ Herman, Shadowing the White Man's Burden (2010), pp. 41–42.
  8. ^ a b Tillman, Benjamin R. "Address to the U.S. Senate, 7 February 1899" (PDF). National Humanities Center. Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  9. ^ Charles Henry Butler (1902). The Treaty Making Power of the United States. The Banks Law Publishing Company. p. 441. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  10. ^ "Treaty of Peace Between the United States and Spain; December 10, 1898". Yale. 2009. Retrieved 1 May 2009.
  11. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1940). Rudyard Kipling's Verse (Definitive ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 321–323. OCLC 225762741.
  12. ^ The Oxford Companion to English Literature 6th Edition (2006) p. 808.
  13. ^ David Cody, "The growth of the British Empire", VictorianWeb, (Paragraph 4)
  14. ^ Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition (1996) pp. 1,111–1.112
  15. ^ 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).{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  16. ^ 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.' "
  17. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen. Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3.
  18. ^ Wolpert, Stanley (2006)
  19. ^ Brantlinger, Patrick (2007). "Kipling's 'The White Man's Burden' and its Afterlives", English Literature in Transition 1880–1920, 50.2, pp. 172–191.
  20. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1990) The Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Pinney, Editor. London, Macmillan, Vol II, p. 350.
  21. ^ Greenblatt, Stephen, Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York, 2006 ISBN 0-393-92532-3, p. 000.
  22. ^ What Will Happen In Afghanistan?". United Press International. 26 September 2001.
  23. ^ Langer, William (1935). A Critique of Imperialism. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. p. 6.
  24. ^ Demkin, Stephen (1996). Manifest destiny–Lecture notes. USA: Delaware County Community College.
  25. ^ a b Brantlinger, Patrick (30 January 2007). "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. S2CID 162945098.
  26. ^ a b Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition (1996), p. 560.
  27. ^ Labouchère, Henry (1899). "The Brown Man's Burden", parodies Kipling's white-burden.
  28. ^ a b "'The Black Man's Burden': A Response to Kipling". History Matters. American Social History Productions. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  29. ^ Brantlinger, Patrick. Taming Cannibals: Race and the Victorians, Cornell University Press, 2011. p. 215.
  30. ^ Taylor, Howard S. ""The Poor Man's Burden" (Excerpt)". HERB: Resources for Teachers. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ "The Black Man's Burden". Fordham.edu. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  34. ^ "E. D. Morel, The Black Man's Burden (1920)". wadsworth.com. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  35. ^ Morel, Edmund (1903). The Black Man's Burden. Fordham University.
  36. ^ "The Black Man's Burden [A Reply to Rudyard Kipling]". Expo98.msu.edu. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  37. ^ 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 child-like innocents in need of white men's protection — and the assumptions that undergird Victorian anthropology. From the most legitimate scientific endeavour 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."
  38. ^ Mazrui 2004, p. 253.

General references[edit]

  • 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, 1988.
  • 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, pp. 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.
  • Mazrui, Ali AlʼAmin (2004). Power, politics, and the African condition. Trenton: Africa World Press. ISBN 9781592211616.
  • 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 (26 October 2003). "The Philippines; 'Liberator' Was Really a Colonizer; Bush's Revisionist History". San Francisco Chronicle: D3.
  • Sailer, Steve (2001). "What Will Happen in Afghanistan?". United Press International, 26 September 2001.
  • 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