Students at the University of Manchester painted over a poem by British writer Rudyard Kipling installed at the campus, citing his racist views. The students replaced Kipling’s poem, titled If, with black poet and American civil rights activist Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise.
Student union leader Sara Khan said in a statement on Facebook that students were not consulted about the artwork that was to be added to the recently renovated union building.
“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,” she 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 dehumanise people of color, 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.”
Any work associated with Kipling is “not in line with our values,” Riddi Viswanathan, an Indian-origin Student Union Diversity Officer at the university, said, PTI reported.
“It’s important for us to represent the voices of black and brown students, which is why we felt Rudyard Kipling’s poem was completely inappropriate,” she added.
The mural was coated white on July 13, before the union’s executive committee chose Angelou’s Still I Rise, and painted over it on July 16.
A spokesperson for the union admitted that student opinion was not considered before the mural was commissioned. “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 apologize,” he said.
Many, however, disagree with the students’ move to paint over Kipling’s poem. It was “terribly crude and simplistic to dismiss Kipling as a racist,” Jan Montefiore, professor emeritus of 20th Century literature at Kent University and author of a 2007 book on Kipling, said, BBC reported.
The University of Manchester said it had no comment to make as the union is an independent body.
Kipling, who was born in Mumbai in 1865, is known for works such as The Jungle Book and Kim that were set in colonial India. In 1907, he became the first English-language writer to get the Nobel prize in literature, and remains its youngest recipient of the award.
His poem If talks about dealing with challenging situations in life. In The White Man’s Burden, which was written in 1899 during the Philippine-American war, the poet urges the United States to take colonial control of the country.