The White Man's Burden  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The White Man's Burden" is a poem by the English poet Rudyard Kipling. It was originally published in the popular magazine McClure's in 1899, with the subtitle The United States and the Philippine Islands.


The imperialist interpretation of "The White Man's Burden" (1899) proposes that the white man has a moral obligation to rule the non-white peoples of the Earth, whilst encouraging their economic, cultural, and social progress through colonialism.

In the later 20th century, in the context of decolonisation and the Developing World, the phrase "the white man's burden" was emblematic of the "well-intentioned" aspects of Western colonialism and "Eurocentrism". The poem's imperialist interpretation also includes the milder, philanthropic colonialism of the missionaries:

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).

The poem positively represents colonialism as the moral burden of the white race, which is divinely destined to civilise the brutish and barbarous parts of the world; to wit, the Filipino people are "new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child". Although imperialist beliefs were common currency in the culture of that time, there were opponents to Kipling's poetic representation of imperial conquest and colonisation, notably Mark Twain (To the Person Sitting in Darkness, 1901) and William James; for them, "The White Man's Burden" was plain of manner, meaning, and intent.

Kipling offered the poem to Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York state (1899–1900), to help him politically persuade anti-imperialist Americans to accept the annexation of the Philippine Islands to the United States.

In the event, the Norton Anthology of English Literature thematically aligns the poem "The White Man's Burden" (1899) with Kipling's beliefs that the British Empire (1583–1945) was the Englishman's "Divine Burden to reign God's Empire on Earth."

See also

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