Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Well... ummm... actually, yes... it is... I thought everyone understood that...

So, in a comment on a facebook post discussing cultural appropriation (a ridiculous concept, but that's another topic entirely), a commenter said (paraphrasing):

"and now they tell me 'the jungle book' is racist? What?"



I'm pretty sure she wasn't being sarcastic...

I'm also pretty sure she hasn't actually read Kiplings "the jungle book", likely only having seen the Disney cartoon and childrens books.

Not a knock against her personally,  just that most people haven't read the original.

Because... yeah... "The Jungle Book" IS very definitely racist... by some definitions extremely so.

And remember, this is coming from someone who both loves Kipling (I have a framed copy of "IF" on my desk, and a printed copy of it on a card in my wallet. I can recite many entire Kipling poems from memory. I'd like one read at my funeral), and finds the modern tendency of seeing racism in everything to be ridiculous.

Kipling was a thoroughgoing imperialist, and fully indoctrinated into both British, and Indian, notions of race, class, and culture.

It wasn't that he had animus against other races, simply that like almost every Englishman in the 19th century, he was a cultural and racial chauvinist (to a degree that is difficult for modern Americans to understand, and which would be considered beyond extreme today).

This is sometimes called "cultural supremacism", "soft racism", "the racism of lowered expectations" or "the racism of condescension".

On one level, the jungle book is a lovely childrens story. On another, it's a series of moral fables.

However, the jungle book is also a satirical allegory for race, class, and culture; with what to modern sensibilities seemingly little question as to the relative position of superiority of each (though understood in context, he was also tweaking and deflating many of these notions).

It is no less of a satirical allegory than Animal Farm for example (though perhaps subtler in ways).

Really, the only surprising part of this, is how much LESS racist Kipling was than other Englishmen of his time and background

Because yes, he was a cultural chauvinist, who broadly considered other cultures and races to be less civilized and more savage...

...but Kipling never had anything but respect and admiration for those of other cultures who he considered virtuous, honorable, or capable. He always respected that there were things they did well, and that they had skills and abilities that others may not have.

He constantly and consistently warned against common British attitudes of the time, and the dangers of underestimating others, or overestimating ones self, simply by dint of culture or race.

Most Englishmen of Kiplings time quite literally thought the "lesser races" to be subhuman, or at best inherently inferior; Incapable of real thought, or industry, or achievement; and had little or no regard for their personal honor, honesty, fidelity, morality, or cleanliness.

To an Englishman of the time, everyone else (including most other "white" cultures for that matter) were just ignorant savages.

Kipling understood the dangers of this attitude very well.