Imperialism and Racism in the 19th Century
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Imperialism and Racism in the 19th Century
New imperialism refers to the colonial expansion of European powers that were later followed by Japan and the United States. New Imperialism was very widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the decade after 1879 new imperialism ascended which marked a new era of overseas expansion by which European nations engaged in a scramble for rich territories in Africa, Asia and the Near and Middle East. The basic motive for such expansion was economic, but together with it was a strong psychological pattern. Exaggerated national self-consciousness entered in acute stage. Poet and historians began to speak about the historic mission of expansion. Nationalism merged into imperialism; both were saturated with the same romanticism and mysticism. There was talk about ‘a place in the sun’, ‘manifest destiny’, ‘the lamp of life’, and particularly ‘the white man’s burden’. Racialism, with nationalism and imperialism formed the third branch of this historically significant trident. Although there was no justification for asserting that one race was intellectually superior to another, imperialists assumed that special aptitudes were inherent in the mental make-up of the white European. This was the teleological view of race differences: Gad had created unequal races. This inequality had a purpose. European whites were more intelligent than African blacks, hence the former had the right and duty to direct the labor of the latter. The imperialist-minded were certain that the blacks, who had strong backs but weak minds and a lazy disposition, would work better under European direction. There was no more justification for this attitude than for the custom in the ancient world of placing all non-Greek peoples in the category of ‘barbarians’. In the imperialist view, Europeans were civilized champions of social progress, while black Africans and yellow Chinese were savages.
The eighteenth century marked the height of colonialism with almost all European nations holding colonies in different parts of the Globe. The colonial structures of empire were maintained as they had been established – by military might (Cashmore 2003). Although, the colonies were under strict and inhumane rules, Christian ideas were somewhat instrumental to the domination of the West to the rest of the world. Take for example Spain and its colonies, particularly the Philippines, which is also the subject of Kipling’s “The Whiteman’s Burden”. Christian ideas that were brought missionaries were instrumental in the domination of the Filipinos. For example the basic concept of salvation encouraged colonized people to accept and withstand their domination and deprivation in the hope of deliverance in the afterlife.
Colonialism worked to the severe cost of the populations colonized. For all the benefits they might have receive in terms of new crops, technologies, medicine, commerce and education, they inevitably suffered (Cashmore 2003). Now we turn to Kipling’s “The Whiteman’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands”. It was a poem that was published in 1899. It was addressed to the United States, which at that time had won the war against Spain and managed to take Philippines and other colonies away from Spain. The poem is basically a warning about the costs of imperialism and a justification of imperialism as a noble act. Kipling believed that the white race has a responsibility to educate and to reform other races such as the Filipinos. Imperialism is considered as a noble task that the white race must perform in order to benefit the people of the world who are sitting in darkness. Imperialism was promoted as the only way to free the Filipinos from their savage nature. The Filipinos were depicted as savage, childlike, backwards and not able to govern themselves and the United States must bear its “White Man’s Burden” in order to reform the savage race. The United States use its military power to force the savage race into submission. Killing, torture, and abuse of the savage race were justified by the white man’s burden.
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