Students at Manchester University have painted over a mural of Kipling’s poem “If”. They say that they where not consulted regarding the murel, that Kipling was a “racist” and an “imperialist” and that it was not appropriate for the mural to have been painted.
I agree that the students should have been consulted (as the mural was in their student union building). However I am in agreement with the editor of the Kipling Society’s Journal when she says:
““Of course he was a racist. Of course he was an imperialist, but that’s not all he was and it seems to me a pity to say so,” she said. Montefiore argued that Kipling was “a magical story-teller” and that his perspective was part of history. “You don’t want to pretend that it all didn’t happen,” she said.
“Dickens said dreadful things about black people in the Jamaica rebellion. Does that mean you don’t read Dickens?” (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jul/19/manchester-university-students-paint-over-rudyard-kipling-mural).
I am not, as it happens, a fan of “If”. I feel that Kipling produced far better verse, including his “Danny Deever”, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46782/danny-deever, in which he describes the hanging of a soldier for killing a comrade “while sleeping”. However the tendency to project our own values onto the past is worrying and (if we are not careful) can end up with censorship.
In my poem “Rhodes” I deal with a not dissimilar issue, namely the demand by “The Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oriel College Oxford, https://newauthoronline.com/2016/11/23/rhodes/. In the case of the Rhodes statue those campaigning for its removal have (thus far) been unsuccessful.
Hear, hear Kevin! I agree that the students should have been consulted and, like you, I share the view that we are in danger of censoring vast swathes of our own history if we force our modern thinking onto those long dead who can no longer explain themselves. Freedom of speech, it seems, is only valid if those speaking say the ‘right’ things.
Thanks Lucy. When I was at university, in the late 1980’s/the early 1990’s, I don’t remember there existing this mania for removing things with which sections of the student community disagreed. We had the Conservative Students, the Labour Club and even the crazy Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP), but all these groups managed to co-exist, more or less harmoniously and (to the best of my recollection) no one shouted down anyone else in debates because they happened to disagree with what they where saying. Perhaps my memory is at fault, but I don’t believe so.
All the best – Kevin
Such a shame to remove history’s stories… It’s happening everywhere today. Will we ever learn that even the darkest past, helps us make better today and tomorrow.
Many thanks for your comment. I believe that someone once said words to the following effect: “the only thing that we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history”. Sometimes it appears that way (that cruelty, stupidity etc repeat themselves). We must, however stand up for objective historical enquiry, including refusing to allow people to impose their “correct” view of the past as some are trying to do as regards Kipling, Rhodes and others. Best – Kevin