Rudyard Kipling: “The White Man's Burden”

(1899)

“The White Man’s Burden” was written by the British author Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) in 1899 and published in McClure's Magazine with the subtitle “The United States and the Philippine Islands.” Kipling wrote the poem in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War as a means to advocate for U.S. expansion into the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.


While the piece was meant to influence U.S. policy, it clearly reflects Kipling's own perspective on British imperialism, particularly in British India, where Kipling spent much of his childhood. He presents a classic rationale for empire as a necessary and noble intervention by the more “civilized” European white nations in other parts of the world. While much analysis has been done on the motivations for empire, Kipling's poem remains a particularly bald expression of the white supremacist ideology behind colonialism. Some have speculated that the poem could have been written as a satire, but the pro-imperial...

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Illustration of Rudyard Kipling by David Schorr (Yale University Art Gallery)

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