Despite being famous for many widely read books like the Jungle book and ‘Just So Stories’, Kipling has not been kept well in the good books of most critics. Here are some of the 10 disturbing facts that make his works termed as racists and a bigot.
1. Escaping Rudyard Kipling’s Legacy
While the literary genius of the illustrious British author Rudyard Kipling is undeniable and the literary value of one of his best works ‘The Jungle book’ befittingly immense, there has been intense debate over his stand in matters race.
The announcement by Disney that it that a live action film, a remake of a film based on the book, is in the works has only served to intensify the debate over the India-born author’s perceived pro-imperialist ideas. The new film will feature Lupita Nyongo and Scarlett Johansson among others as cast members as the studio seeks to avoid falling into the stereotyped ‘lack of diversity’ in Hollywood today.
Filmmaker John Favreau has sought to divert some of the bile aimed towards the project by the general public by adding some new twists. The studio is also hoping to avoid more criticism by basing the action remake on the film rather than on Kipling’s book arguing that that will be yet another generation removed from Kipling.
2. Kipling’s Idol: Imperialist Cecil Rhodes
It is reported that Kipling traveled to South Africa every winter since 1898 as a guest of the well-known staunch British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Rhodes and men of his ilk, justified their imperialism as a noble enterprise seeing as the native South Africans were in a state of barbarism and hence in need of civilization. During his regular well-documented travels to South Africa, Kipling is reported to have stayed on a house on Cecil Rhodes’ estate.
Kipling’s views on colonization are well documented with English novelist George Orwell, Author of Animal Farm, referring to him as the “the prophet of British Imperialism in its expansionist phase” in his essay of Rudyard Kipling.
3. Civilizing the Noble Savage
Originally published in a magazine with the title The United States and the Philippine Islands, Kipling wrote the poem the white man’s burdens in 1899. Some critics consider this poem as a declaration of his imperialist mindset.
In the face of it, the poem is understood to be a rhetorical command to white imperialists to occupy other nations for to benefit o the people of these nations. In the poem, Kipling represented people of other races as a burden to the white man to civilize.
Due to the overt nature of its pro-imperialist message, the title poem became emblematic Eurocentric racism. It also justified aspirations by the western world to colonize, occupy and industrialize the developing world.
Although there was widespread consensus that the poem was about cultural imperialism and an overwhelmingly condescending view of what the white people considered to be undeveloped economic views and traditions, some critiques also brought to fore a possibly philanthropic message to it.
They asserted that the poem might have been implying that the empire did not exist just for the benefit of Britain herself but also to bring civilization to primitive lands.
4. The Three White Supremacists
Kipling was widely considered as the voice of the white imperialist or the ‘poet of the Empire’ during the 1890s. His predominantly white supremacist themed works earned him the admiration of some of the symbols of white imperialism of the time including Sir Alfred Milner and Leander Starr Jameson. Their violence and hatred towards native South Africans was only remotely matched by Cecil Rhodes. With their deeply entrenched imperialist beliefs fueling the hate’.
5. The Anglo-Boer War and the Black Concentration Camps
Although the Anglo-Boer war was between the British and the Dutch, the people that suffered the worst were the native Africans in South Africa. More than 15,000 natives were forcefully enlisted to serve the British in different capacities ranging from combat to digging trenches and growing crops.
More than 115,700 natives are reported to have been held in the more than 66 concentration camps spread all over the country with more than 20,000 having died.
Notable white elitists like Cecil Rhodes used the war to build empires and amass land grabbed from the black people. They used their great wealth after the war to kick start their political careers.
6. Backwater Indians
In his widely celebrated book the Jungle book, Kipling portrayed the Indians as superstitious and imbecilic second class humans. Kipling was an Englishman born in India- an Anglo-Indian; being an Englishman during a time when India was colonized he had a taste of both imperialism and colonialism choosing to be on the side of the imperialist-colonist.
His siding with the colonialists was aptly expressed in the symbolism of The Jungle Book with the boy Mowgli symbolizing the British colonialists and the jungle animals symbolizing the native Indians. In the book, Mowgli can effectively control the animals by staring them down. In Kipling’s implicit ranking just as the human was superior to and could manipulate the animals, the white man was superior to and could manipulate the Indians.
7. Baloo the Segregationist
Baloo, the bear in the Jungle book and mentor to the boy Mowgli, was used by Kipling to show his colonialist and white imperialist views. In his advice to Mowgli, Baloo calls the monkey people disorderly and outcasts.
“I have taught thee [Mowgli] all the Law of the Jungle for all the peoples of the jungle–except the Monkey-Folk who live in the trees. They have no law. They are outcasts. They have no speech of their own, but use the stolen words, which they overhear when they listen, and peep, and wait up above in the branches. Their way is not our way. They are without leaders. They have no remembrance. They boast and chatter and pretend that they are a great people about to do great affairs in the jungle, but the falling of a nut turns their minds to laughter and all is forgotten. We of the jungle have no dealings with them. We do not drink where the monkeys drink; we do not go where the monkeys go; we do not hunt where they hunt; we do not die where they die.”
To emphasize the superiority of their ways above those of the monkey people, Baloo insisted to Mowgli that he was not to drink where they drank or hunt where they hunted. Additionally, this implied segregation, the hallmark of white imperialist culture in black territory.
8. King Louie from 1967’s Jungle Book
Though he did not originate from Kipling’s book, King Louie was one of the supporting Characters in Walt Disney’s first adaptation of the book into film in 1967. Unlike the other characters in the film, King Louie was solely a creation of Disney.
Critics to the film however argue that the character was created to reinforce negative stereotypes against the black community. And to fit in the theme of black inferiority which was widely acceptable among the white population during that period.
King Louie had bad language skills, and was self-deprecating in the movie singing ‘I wanna be like you’ to Mowgli in the movie.
Some film critics, however, have over time stated that a child living in the current environment, the target for the latest adaptation, is unlikely to find a racial dimension to the portrayal of King Louie.
9. The Old Switcheroo: Louis Prima as Louis Armstrong
The producers reportedly considered legendary black jazz musician Louis Armstrong for the role of King Louie but chose Italian-American trumpeter and artist Louis Prima to avoid the controversy of having a black person voice an ape.
Despite the switch, however, Louis Prima still had to put on a characteristic black voice for the role. This was a prime example of racial stereotyping in the film, and the ease with which it fit into the original story meant showed the racism in the original book by Kipling.
10. ‘Kim’, Assimilation, and Whiteness
Race is present everywhere in Kim, a novel by Rudyard Kipling giving a detailed portrait of the peoples and culture of India. In Kim Kipling continues to shed more light on his white elitist, imperialist and racist worldview through the protagonist Kim.
Although the Kipling tries very hard to effectively capture every aspect of Indian life under British colonial rule at the turn of the 20th century including the mixes of culture and nationality, racial differences still play a big part in the amount of social and economic mobility afforded to the characters.
In the book, Kim is a poor orphaned Indian child born in the city of Lahore. Kipling clarifies that despite his poverty, Kim still has a good chance to make it in life owing to what he refers to as his white mindset.
To ‘make it’ Kim eventually becomes a British spy and in the line of duty turns on his own kind. Also despite his portrayal of some of the Indian characters in the book as flexible and easily adaptable, he still put a cap on how far they can go in life because of their race.