'Racist' Kipling poem painted over by Manchester students

'Racist' Kipling poem painted over by Manchester students

Students at the University of Manchester have painted over a mural featuring Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in objection to his “racist” work.

Kipling’s 1985 poem was painted on a wall in the university’s recently refurbished students’ union. However, students have now painted over the work and replaced it with US poet and cultural activist Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”.

Sara Khan, liberation and access officer at the University of Manchester's Students Union (SU), wrote on Facebook: “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 continued: “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 colour, 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.”

She added that the decision to paint over the poem was "a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day".

However, Jan Montefiore, professor emeritus of 20th century literature at Kent University and author of a 2007 book on Kipling, told the BBC it was "terribly crude and simplistic to dismiss Kipling as a racist".

"Certainly his politics were imperialist but that's only half of the story. He wrote some wonderful stuff and was a magical storyteller but he wasn't always writing uplifting poems."

Kipling was born in India in 1865 and worked as a journalist while he wrote many of his early works, which included The Jungle Book, published in 1894. In 1907, he became the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The University of Manchester said the union was independently operated and it had no comment to add.

A spokesman for the union apologised for not consulting with students before commissioning the mural. “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 apologise,” he said.

The spokesman added the union would introduce "relevant and meaningful" art across the building in the coming months and the painting of Angelou's work was "a brilliant start to that initiative".