Were Rudyard Kipling’s Stories Racist? by T.J. Akers

According to Amanda Bell’s article on Yahoo, Kipling was a racist. His stories, The Jungle Book, were also racist. In that wonderful leap of social progressive logic, Bell accuses Disney’s adaptation, by virtue of its association, as “racist” too. Bell doesn’t bother to prove her accusations of racism, but assumes they are correct. You know what you become, Ms. Bell, when you ASS-ume?

As far as Kipling goes, I never met the man, so I can’t ask him if he was racist or not. If you take the time to study his work to see if he is indeed a fire-breathing racist, you could find that hard to prove (Whether or not Kipling was a racist is debated all the time). Yes, he wrote a poem about “The White Man’s Burden,” but that’s for another discussion.

taken from Amazon

The Jungle Book

 

As for the Jungle Books, one and two, I’ve read them. I didn’t find them racist. Yes, there were places where imperialism existed, but one man’s imperialism is another man’s patriotism. Kipling was a man of his time, that doesn’t necessarily make him evil, unless you are a social elitest and are trying to rewrite truth and world view in your own image. To such elitests, anyone that disagrees with them is an “evil, homophobic, bigot.”

If you take the time to read Kipling’s stories, thoughtfully, you would find instances of elegant and blunt portrayals of Hindu culture. Kipling pulled no punches against the unfair Hindu caste system. To the man’s credit, he showed how unfair being an untouchable was through the power of story.

No one seems to want to talk about Kipling’s indictments of humanity and it’s cruel treatment of animals. One example of this is “The White Seal.” Kipling takes to task the barbaric practice of beating seal pups to death for their pelts. Our hero, Kotick the rare white-furred seal, leads his people to safer shores where no one gets beat to death. Much of Mowgli’s stories are moral stories about law and community, how is that racist?

Jungle Book Two sold on Amazon

Jungle Book Two sold on Amazon

As for Disney’s movie, I would say it employs stereotypes, but that doesn’t make the movie racist. It’s a cartoon, cartoons are supposed to employ stereotypes, some of us also refer to them as caricatures. Technically, most of the British stereotypes weren’t very flattering, but no one seems in an uproar about mistreating white Anglo-Saxons.

In the original story, Kah, the python is actually a very nice character. So maybe the movie was indeed “anti-python.” I think the pythons should picket Disney studios.

If there are things wrong, one would be that Disney didn’t have confidence in Kipling’s portrayal of Balloo as the “wise and patient teacher of jungle law.” So instead, they make the bear a lazy beach bum, but that’s hardly an indictment of racism.

Bagheera, the panther, was also a wise teacher of jungle law. Though the Disney movie puts the panther closer to the Kipling’s original portrayal, it could go farther.

In the end, don’t take my word for it. Don’t take Amanda Bell’s word for it.  In fact, don’t take anyone’s word for it. Read the stories yourself. I guarantee you will enjoy them, I did. Then watch Disney’s version after reading the books and judge for yourself.

Always, and I repeat this, always read for yourself and draw your own conclusions. People are actually a lot smarter than the media gives them credit for, and I have been pleasantly surprised by people’s capacity for common sense and fairness.

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7 thoughts on “Were Rudyard Kipling’s Stories Racist? by T.J. Akers

  1. It’s been years since I read Kipling but I don’t remember anything jumping out at me. Some people are quick to judge by their own shallow standards without thinking. And similar types jumo on the bandwagon. But like you said, many are smart enough to think for themselves. I find the same principle applies to facebook and email forwards. 😉

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    • One of my favorite stories from the second volume was about a Hindu Holy Man and a baboon. It was a memorable story. However, I have seen some of Hollywood’s old live action attempts at Mowgli. Some of those are racist.

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  2. Also, racism itself has changed over the years. What was accepted in an earlier time would be considered racist now. Rikki Tikki Tavi was my favorite Kipling story. 🙂 So I think Kipling was anti-snake. I’m pretty sure there’s biblical basis for that.

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  3. What is racist and what isn’t has changed too. They python in the actual stories is a friend to Mowgli. In book 2 there is one short story and a creation myth of some type. I’ve got the books around my house some place.

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  4. I agree that one has to make their own judgements and not listen to others. On a slightly different tangent, THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Phillip Pullman was apparently supposed to have been very offensive to many religious people, but I read it with an open mind, and felt that one could take offence at it if you really wanted to, or you could just enjoy it as a fantasy adventure. His later works were possibly worse, but this book was not offensive to me. I have my faith firmly in hand anyway, so no one is going to lead me astray with a book.

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  5. I always thought Kipling recognized the blessings and the curse of Colonialism. That’s not racism; it’s commentary.

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  6. I love talking with astute and well-read readers. Exactly true, colonialism is a mixed bag of curses and blessing. Anyone who says different isn’t being honest (though the ration of curse to blessing varies a lot on who you talk to). India benefited a lot from British influence, but India also suffered a lot at the hands of the Brits too. Excellent point.

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