Perspectives on the White Man's Burden

Imperialism was not only economic and political, but also cultural. European countries sought to colonize and plunder the wealth from regions with large populations such as Africa and Asia.

Europeans often held racist ideas of their own superiority to those in foreign lands. Because those in Asia, Africa, and parts of the Americas lived different lives, Europeans felt that it was their duty to “civilize” them into western culture and society. This belief was strengthened with literary works such as “The White Man’s Burden” written in 1899 by British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling was a white supremascist and wrote “The White Man’s Burden” urging the United States to take up the “burden” of civilizing “savage peoples” alongside other European powers. It was written in support of America’s attempt to annex the Philippines. The phrase “White Man’s Burden” caught on with many imperialists to justify the policy as noble. Many politicians used the phrase and its views as the basis for their imperialist and racist policies.

Supporters of imperialism in Europe and the United States believed that imperialism helped their colonies because it brought new technology and growth. Mother countries would often build schools, railroads, and improved communication, along with new medicines and treatments. However, these came at a huge price for the people of these regions. In order to fully get along in society, indigenous populations had to assimilate to the colonists’ culture and many times abandon their own.

Anti-imperialists condemned this view and felt that it was racist and condescending toward people from other countries. The famous American writer Mark Twain, for example, wrote a response, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" that was critical of imperialism and mocked those who thought they were more “enlightened” than the indigenous people of these areas.

Native people in the countries that were being colonized did not agree with imperialist policies. In many cases they resisted through uprisings and rebellions and felt that they should be free to govern themselves.


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