The White Man’s Burden

By February 19, 2017 One Comment

The White Man’s Burden, a poem penned by Rudyard Kipling in 1899, honours the noble cause of the development and improvement of non-white people, notably those of the Indian subcontinent through conquest and colonization by the British Empire.

General Sir Charles James Napier, a capable military commander and administrator served as the Governor of Scinde (present day Pakistan) from 1843-1847. He was sure of himself, in undertaking the white man’s burden, in ruling in India on behalf of the British government, noting “so perverse is mankind that every nationality prefers to be misgoverned by its own people than to be well ruled by another.”

It is hard to fathom in the present such a condescending attitude toward people of other races. However, a quote attributed to Napier, concerning the prohibition of the Hindu custom of Sati–the burning of widows alive on their deceased husband’s funeral pyre–imposed by the colonial government resonates to this day. Napier is said to have made the following statement:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

The British Empire is now a Commonwealth of  independent nations and multiculturalism is now the order of the day across the Western world, but in the present, just as in Napier’s time, there are conflicts over national customs. Honour killing is a custom that persists in elements of Indian and Pakistani society and has found its way to the West. Honour killings have been carried out in Canada (Aqsa Parvez and the Shafia family murders) and the perpetrators prosecuted, convicted of murder and imprisoned for life.

The memory of the white man’s burden lingers and dogs the most intrepid proponents of multiculturalism in that they find it difficult, if not impossible, to condemn honour killing for what it is. They insist it is merely as domestic violence and not particular to any culture. They do so for fear of somehow being seen as racist. In reality, there is nothing racist in serving notice that the custom of honour killing will not be tolerated in the Western world and condemning those who perpetrate it in no uncertain terms.

Geoffrey Wale

Geoffrey Wale

I am a blogger and librarian living in Ottawa, Ontario. I have a B.A. in sociology from Queen's University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from Western University.

One Comment

  • theRussians says:

    sadly, this wisdom would be accepted as racist on a western university campus…I’m sure it’s already banned somewhere. bloody tragic times.

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