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.