What does Rudyard Kipling mean by the 'white man's burden'?

White Man's Burden

White man's burden was a concept very popular during the 1800's and into the 1900's that it was the responsibility of european empires to bring civilization to their colonies instead of just plundering them for the resources.

The main reason for Kiplings poem was the US takeover of the Philipines, where they largely just took what they could with no efforts to rebuild, civilise or develop the country what so ever. They basically avoided the burden that comes with conquest to make the conquered land a better place for everyone and bring it up as close to the european standards as possible. Kipling demands in the poem, that the nations send their best and brightest to the colonies where they should work to benefit the locals since they are, like children, the responsibility and have to be taken care of in the best way. During the era of imperialism, the white man's burden was often misused as a justification for expansion and annexation. This was made with a few provisos:

  • The european model of civilisation is superior to indigenous ones.
  • Western civilisation and technology is a gift to the indigenous people and a responsibility for the power that gave it to them.

In summary: Europeans were responsible for their claimed lands and had the duty to educate, "civilise" and uplift the people of the colonies to the level of the people of the motherland. The accusing poem of Kipling is one of the most misread poems, since it is fairly easy to take offense at the title and not bother reading it or putting it into context.