Saturday, July 21, 2018
About Rudyard and Maya
A mural bearing the text of Kipling’s poem If has been removed from the union building at Manchester University and replaced by Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise. The reason, apparently, was that Kipling was a racist; or, more specifically, that his poem The White Man’s Burden expressed racist views. Nobody, as far as I’m aware has expressed any reservations about If as a poem, or explained why Still I Rise is better. Instead, the new poem has been put up in an attempt to reverse the exclusion of “black and brown voices”.
So ultimately this is nothing to do with poetry; it’s all about the poets. Kipling is a dead white male who probably held some reactionary views; Angelou is an also-dead black female who probably didn’t – although the Manchester students could face an ethical dilemma if it turns out that she did or said something a bit dodgy at any stage in her long life. (Think of the fate of the movie director James Gunn, who Tweeted something off-colour a decade ago and has been told that this is “inconsistent with the values” of Walt Disney, although whether it would have been inconsistent 10 years ago, or under the aegis of the arch-reactionary Walt Disney himself is another question.)
For what it’s worth, and despite the fact that nobody asked me, I prefer the Angelou to Kipling’s tired doggerel; I also suspect I would have had more fun hanging out with Maya than with Rudyard. Above all, I hold to the values of Shakespeare’s mob when confronted by the innocent Cinna the Poet; don’t worry about what the poet is or does, just “tear him for his bad verses.”