The white man’s burden (1899) means the moral duty of whites to uplift the other races of mankind. The idea allowed whites to view their rule of Africa and Asia as right and good. The phrase has fallen out of fashion – even white people now see how racist it is – but the ideas behind it live on, as shown by the American war in Iraq and Mighty Whitey films.
The phrase comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling: “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” It appeared in February 1899 in McClure’s Magazine. It urged White Americans to take over and rule the Philippines for its own good. It starts out like this:
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.
At least some white people, like Mark Twain, saw through this self-serving lie. A few weeks later “The Brown Man’s Burden” by Henry Labouchere appeared. It starts:
Pile on the brown man’s burden
To gratify your greed;
Go, clear away the “niggers”
Who progress would impede;
Be very stern, for truly
‘Tis useless to be mild
With new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Pile on the brown man’s burden;
And, if ye rouse his hate,
Meet his old-fashioned reasons
With Maxims up to date.
With shells and dumdum bullets
A hundred times made plain
The brown man’s loss must ever
Imply the white man’s gain.
Pile on the brown man’s burden,
Compel him to be free;
Let all your manifestoes
Reek with philanthropy.
And if with heathen folly
He dares your will dispute,
Then, in the name of freedom,
Don’t hesitate to shoot.
This was the truth that the idea of the white man’s burden hid from view. In particular:
- Whites destroyed the civilizations of the Aztecs, Incas and West Africans.
- They robbed Africa of its riches and made its people into slaves.
- They wiped out the people of North America and Australia and took their land.
- By 1900 they ruled most of the world, robbing it of its wealth and freedom.
- They turned on each other in two world wars, killing tens of millions.
- They undermine democracies in other countries and keep bad men in power when it suits them.
- They underpay blacks and Latinos in America – and then see them as a drain on society.
- They spent $2.3 trillion (400 billion crowns) on Africa over the past 50 years and yet over a million die of malaria every year as if it were some strange, incurable disease.
Despite all that they still think they are better than everyone else, that they are a force for good, that they are well-meaning.
Power corrupts. The West is powerful enough that it can believe whatever it wants about its motives – with no one to tell them otherwise who will widely be believed.