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The White Man's Burden: My Take

Updated on July 23, 2009

To get the full understanding of “The White Man’s Burden,” you first must understand the author.  Rudyard Kipling was born in British India in 1865.  He became educated in England before return to India where his father worked s a museum director as well as an authority on Indian arts and crafts.  This allowed Rudyard to become even further educated in his culture.  He had written over 80 stories by 1890, virtually all of them were unknown outside of India.  After suffering great financial misfortune, he moved to Vermont with his wife.  Here in Vermont is where he wrote his infamous “Jungle Books.”  Once he returned to England he published “The White Man’s Burden” in 1899.  This was a response to the United States forcing their selves and ideals upon the Philippines shortly after the Spanish-American War.  This poem expressed how the United States decided to take it upon them to cure the world of uncivilizations.  Shortly after that poem was published came along a rebuttal from the other side of the spectrum.  “The Black Man’s Burden.”  Written by H. T. Johnson in 1899 as well, this piece of work displayed the mistreatment of the people whilst in the process of “civilization.”

            “Rather poor poetry, but a good sense from the expansion point of view,” (T. Roosevelt).  This was a response to Kipling’s piece.  “The White Man’s Burden” was not only directed towards America in response to the Philippines, but it is also directed to the European countries to share their wealth and their medicines to reduce illnesses and famines that are polluting Africa.  This is more commonly known as imperialism that is just to generalize it.  Imperialism is derived from this because of the expansion of a country’s particular ideals into new worlds/country’s.  The sound of imperialism now days seems very striking at first but it can have many different definitions in the way it can be executed.  One way for example is the idea that “The White Man’s Burden” is conveying.  Basically it is saying share the wealth with the rest of the world. 

            Johnson’s response with “The Black Man’s Burden” seems to come off as ignorant.  It addresses race and only race.  It seems to be a response to only the title of “The White Man’s Burden.”  It comes off as if Johnson never read past the title and got his feathers ruffled and wrote a response.  What Johnson wrote was the mistreatment of Indians and Blacks.  “In vain ye seek to end it, With bullets, blood death.”  (H. T. Johnson).  With this excerpt it comes off as the white man killing what they do not like.  Conquer with little recourse.  These two pieces of literature are not even close to being on the same level. 

            On the other hand, this imperialism the “The White Man’s Burden” is pointing out could be for the best, that is if it were to be executed correctly.  Correctly being a way that could preserve the cultures of the people that the white man would be helping.  Not like the time Europe took over Africa and just start depleting natives like it “ain’t no thang.”  Kipling was on the right track, his point of view came from outside of the situation and maybe that is why it was so highly revered.   Johnson’s work just seemed to be another black man that was offended and holds very little value compared to Kipling’s work.  Like was once mentioned before, if there was a way to preserve cultures while sharing our wealths (medicines, healthy practices) yeah, go ahead Imperialism.  It seemed to be a problem with doing that.  Civilization was defined by the wealthy, and the white man is stubborn.  Stubborn people are always hard to convince of methods that are not their own.  In the end, imperialism at this point in time in history is a terrible idea for the world’s civilizations and cultures.


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      Denis 2 years ago


      what do u mean by : Here in Vermont is where he wrote his infamous “Jungle Books.”?

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      Rohit 4 years ago

      We, the Brown, Black & Yellow peoples of the World, have paid with Blood, Tears & Gold for the White man's generosity. We are ashamed that we, the dark underbelly of Humanity, have feasted on the table of his civilization & given nothing in written save our lands, history, pride & progress. We would like to apologize for our sins- the ones we committed against you & the ones we will commit when we rise up again, tear down your great White Towers in the West & paint the West Red.

      You, the White men of the World, have appealed to the Gods of Sword, Slaughter & Science. You will be judged by the same. Recite your poems in Hell.

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      Cut 4 years ago

      actually, colonialism was VERY much alive at this moment--all of Africa was under European control (see Mark Twain's work on the Belgian Congo and King Leopold, or google "cut off hands" + Leopold). Most of Asia was still colonial possessions, and the United States was busy sailing around the world to take possession of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, and the Philippines as "victors" of the Spanish-American War. This is the United States' ENTRY into the world of colonial/imperial adventures overseas, best exemplified by the Philippines--where the US military was herding hundreds of thousands of Filipino women and children into concentration camps to induce Filipino independence fighters to surrender, and killing over a quarter million Filipinos to solidify US control over the islands in the interests of US big business. The "White Man's Burden" was Manifest Destiny writ large, the belief that the Black and Brown people's of the world would remain forever mired in savagery, barbarism, and heathen devilishness unless the Great White Fathers brought them "civilization" and Christian faith. Call it "Imperialism" if you prefer that to "colonialism," but the turn of the 19th/20th century was a global high point for colonialism and imperial power.

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      rockerhuffy 6 years ago

      Through the analysis of Kiplings work, I apologize if my evaluation of what he was writing conveyed the idea of the Indians needed the white mans help. I may have coneyed that idea that is what I believe but this could not be any further from the truth. I was attempting to point out when I said Indian, not to contain to only Native American, that was referencing to Islanders as well. During the time of that writing they were considered as Indians. Colonialism has very little to do with this work, especially when it was written was, it was written in present time, right at the turn of the century, but if we want to predate this work to nearly a 100 years before Kipling was even born we can, but colonialism even plays a factor here.

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      Reza 6 years ago

      Hey, I don't think you should be ignorant to the underlying reasons of colonialism and how it happened. There is no RIGHT way to do this. Why would you suggest that the natives needed the white man's help? I know you're focusing on poetry here but just wanted to point that out.


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      rockerhuffy 8 years ago

      Thanks! Isu kid is where I am at.

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      libby brubaker 8 years ago

      hey that's a cool picture, we did a paper on the white mans burden in school. I go to the best school ever, go uic!

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      Katrionawrites 8 years ago from Scotland

      here here, loves kipling's poetry - my bro always used to quote lines of it at me...Well made point and thanks for the information.