Camilla Turner, Telegraph, July 18, 2018
He is regarded as one of England’s greatest writers, whose poems were praised as the nation’s favourites and whose books were lauded as classics of children’s literature.
But it appears that Rudyard Kipling has fallen out of favour with today’s generation of students, after it emerged that his “If” poem has been scrubbed off a building by university students who claim he was a “racist”.
Student leaders at Manchester University declared that Kipling “stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights”.
The poem, which had been painted on the wall of the students’ union building by an artist, was removed by students on Tuesday, in a bid to “reclaim” history on behalf of those who have been “oppressed” by “the likes of Kipling”.
In lieu of Kipling’s If, students used a black marker pen to write out the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou on the same stretch of wall.
today, as a team, we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with words of the maya angelou – god knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union pic.twitter.com/VT5N3zlfyN
— Fatima Abid (@fatimabidSU) July 16, 2018
Sara Khan, the liberation and access officer at Manchester’s students’ union (SU), blamed a “failure to consult students” during the renovation of the SU building for the Kipling poem being painted on the wall in the first place.
“We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights – the things that we, as an SU, stand for,” Miss Khan said.
“Well-known as author of the racist poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU, which is named after prominent South African anti-Apartheid activist, Steve Biko.
“As a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.”
Fatima Abid, the general secretary of Machester’s SU, said that after seeing the Kipling poem on the wall last Friday, student leaders decided within an hour that it must be taken down.
“God knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union,” said Miss Abid, 24.
Manchester University declined to comment, saying it was a matter for the students’ union.
A spokesman for Manchester’s SU said: “We understand that we made a mistake in our approach to a recent piece of artwork by failing to garner student opinion at the start of a new project. We accept that the result was inappropriate and for that we apologise”
Kipling, who was one of the most popular writers in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
A pioneer of the short story, his books — including Just So Stories and The Jungle Book — are regarded as classics of children’s literature.
But his popularity was dented during the twentieth century, when he was seen as an apologist for colonialism, with George Orwell accusing Kipling of being “morally insensitive” and a “prophet of British imperialism”.
Kipling, who was born in Bombay, has been attacked for writing from a British colonialist perspective, with some of his most famous works have been accused of having racist overtones.
His poem The White Man’s Burden has been criticised for suggesting that it was incumbent on the Americans to go and civilise the savages in the Philippines.
However, Kipling’s biographer Andrew Lycett has told how the poet is now enjoying something of a revival among a new generation of researchers who have moved beyond the “knee jerk” reaction to him and have a “wider perspective of the world”.
Speaking at a history festival last summer, Lycett said: “There’s a younger generation of researchers, PhD students, who are going back to Kipling.
“He is taught at universities more, there is much more of a sort of willingness to look at him afresh, and to look again at his works and to see what was good about him.
“People now have a wider perspective on the world and they see that Kipling was a sort of global writer really, he wrote about the world”.