Widgets Magazine


The White Civ’s burden

“Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
  Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild —
  Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.”

So begins Rudyard Kipling’s famed 1899 poem “The White Man’s Burden,” a bold and plain-spoken call to white people everywhere to uphold their duty to tame the rest of the world. It is with that same profoundly myopic zeal for the West that the Stanford Review has launched its campaign for a reincarnated Western Civilizations two-quarter series to replace the existing Thinking Matters curriculum.

Perhaps most striking about the piece accompanying its petition is its assessment of the impact and essence of Western civilization:

“The development of industry, political rights and globalization gave billions the economic and social power that serves as the basis for all other freedoms. Western civilization is, at heart, defined by a willingness to ask questions and enhance individual liberty.

If you ask most people on the planet, they would be able to tell you from lived experience that the “developments” which came along with the invasion by Western civilizations did not equate to a basis for other freedoms; it in fact led to their relegation to the bottom of a system that tried to strip them of their culture, their land and their dignity. They would tell you that, before the West colonized and occupied their land, they had different conceptions of life and liberty, which had serviced them well for the hundreds, if not thousands, of years prior to Western occupation.  

As for the claim to inquisitiveness and greater freedoms, such noble aspirations are inherently hampered by their position within a racist, sexist and classist system which sought — and still seeks — to explicitly uphold white supremacy and the subjugation of all others.

There is, however, one fact on which the Review and I can agree. Stanford does prepare us poorly for the challenges that we will face as scholars, individuals and communities. But while the Review interprets the problem as an insufficient dose of Western indoctrination, I view the problem as a lethal overdose.

Stanford is already a four-year academic exercise in Western Civilizations. In a lecture on environmental history, our professor somehow brought up Junipero Serra without mentioning his genocidal aspirations. In an introductory food systems class discussion on genetically modified organisms during Week 9 of the quarter, a student asked what “colonialism” actually meant, and the professor shrugged and looked at me for a response.

In her first lecture of the macroeconomics section of Econ 1, the professor rhetorically asked why Africa — yes, Africa — was so poor, and answered by saying because it has a low GDP. While true in the most technical of senses, the failure to mention colonialism, occupation and capitalism as driving forces in the creation of poverty, as well as the diverse nature of economies in Africa, reveals that her intention was not to drive us to think critically, but to spoon-feed us platitudes from the Western colonial canon.

The way to encourage meaningful engagement with the problems of our time is not through a series which lauds the systems that created these problems in the first place. Rather, we need courses that will force all students to face the realities of these histories and their contemporary impacts; courses that will make students question whether they should be the ones to go forward and make changes in the world, or if they should instead leverage the power and privileges they have been born with to uplift the voices of peoples with lived and learned knowledge on these topics, but who are constantly maligned by our Western systems of subjugation.

Before we have such courses, though, we must hire — as the Who’s Teaching Us? campaign so rightfully points out — more queer and trans faculty, indigenous faculty and faculty of color, and faculty who have dedicated experience in addressing tough questions about white supremacy, colonialism and capitalism within their fields.

If the Review has its way, Stanford will move even further towards the times of Kipling. A Western Civilizations series would explicitly entrench the idea that the purpose of education is neither to critically question oppression, nor even to critically deal with the problems of our time. Rather, a Western Civ requirement would necessitate that our education be centered on upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations; that our education be framed as a tool to carrying out our burden to reform the rest of the world in our own, imperfect, acutely deplorable image.


Contact Erika Lynn Abigail Persephone Joanna Kreeger at ekreeger ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • 3+ years and tired of this

    Thank you thank you thank you!

  • Ny


  • Prg234

    Sadly, you seem to imply that universal human maladies are somehow related only to Western cultures and traditions. Please look around the world and examine the way in which racial, religious, gender, sexual orientation, and other minorities are treated in non-Western cultures and traditions. In fact, your impassioned critique/dissent itself fits neatly into the best traditions of Western culture and philosophy. The same critique would likely lead to ostracism, persecution, imprisonment, or worse in many other world cultures.

  • Ruairi AK

    Sign this alternative petition here: http://chn.ge/1LiUGlZ to support a greater emphasis on the humanities at Stanford (without endorsing the Stanford Review’s specific proposal).

  • Akhibrass

    She did no such thing. She simply pointed out that the idea of western civilization only serves the purposes of oppression. She never stated nor implied that so-called western cultures had a lock on oppression.

  • MC

    Capitalism does not “create poverty”. In fact, capitalism has lifted almost 2 billion people out of absolute poverty over the past 40 years. The theory of property rights, free trade, and globalization is the only reason the human population has been able to grow and world hunger has decreased consistently since its inception. The only thing that creates wealth is commerce and entrepreneurial capitalism–if wealth is not created, it cannot be used or shared. Many African leaders have asked for less aid and more investment or business, and countries that have established a strong rule of law and free market have seen huge increases to the standard of living of their people.
    Furthermore, it is the idea of natural rights and human rights that led to the end of slavery and continues to fuel the fights against oppression around the world. These ideas are uniquely Western. Even today, women, religious and ethnic minorities, and the poor are more free and more respected in the West than in any other region in the world. This article willfully ignores reality in a truly concerning way.

  • sfcmac

    If they hate Western civilization, get out. Go to a university of their choice in the Middle East or Asia. The truth is they’re a bunch of silly-assed cry bullies who will be shocked to find out that the real world won’t agree with their sense of unearned entitlement.

  • i johnson

    as a person of color who grew up over seas at a very young age (8) 1958 it is with dismay that i continually hear self-righteous people complain about western civilization when they are really complaining what the people who lived in the culture did, look to your parents and grandparents ,you can not get rid of something that is you ,just by obtaining entrance into stanford you have reached the nadir of west civ maybe you are ashamed of what you are if you want to make it better then each of you should take a good long look in the mirror , for the enemy is us, change how you think about the issues you faddishly say are not fair maybe you will wake up there nothing wrong with west civ or asia civ ….. this is who we are HISTORY UCLA1979

  • Sean Bro

    Unbelieveable, this is what Stanford is putting out these days.

    You can’t have socialism without having Capitalism first.

    These people have no idea , how the real world works.

    History can be your friend.

  • Sean Bro

    White man baaaadddddd, everyone non White goooooooodddddddf. Baaaaaaaa. Baaaaaaaa. This is what I learned, as a Stanford grad. Hopefully your parents have deep pockets.

  • sukietawdry

    Dear Erika Lynn Abigail Persephone Joanna Kreeger, here’s what I suggest we do: Let’s remove every technological and scientific advance, every invention, every piece of art, literature and music western civilization has ever produced and then see how you like your world.

  • Tony

    Interesting that the essay begins by sneering at Kipling. The people of India were profoundly grateful to Kipling for writing the novel Kim — for giving them their homeland of India in a way that they themselves were not in the position to have done. Kipling was far more deeply involved with that culture than the author of this article can imagine; and with other cultures too. He loved India, I daresay, better than he loved England, and the boy-hero of Kim, “Friend of All the World,” works with an Englishman, a Muslim, and an Indian to thwart the ambitions of Russians invading in the Punjab, all while he accompanies a holy elderly Buddhist monk from Tibet, who is on a pilgrimage to a holy river whose location he does not know.

    Interesting also that the author exhibits not the slightest idea that SHE is the colonialist here. SHE is the one who assumes that the categories of a decadent west must now be applied all through the world, whether the rest of the world likes it or not — see the UN’s attempts to use the withholding of financial aid as a threat against African nations who do not want to climb on the bandwagon of the sexual revolution.

    For this author, all is political — yet her actual knowledge of history and of the many cultures that have made up western civilization is at best spotty. Junipero Serra guilty of genocide — unbelievable. The letters of Father Serra, and the biographical account of his establishment of the missions in southern California, are readily available. I suggest that the author read them, rather than engage in pre-judice: pre-judgment of human beings based upon her political partisanship.

    Meanwhile, Stanford students will continue to graduate without any decent knowledge of the suppositions underlying their own (peculiarly modern) prejudices. They will know nothing of Thomas Aquinas — for example; and perhaps will not even know his name. They will be largely ignorant of the great literature of their own language. They will be ignorant of the philosophical opponents of the positions they now take for granted. They will not know what connects Descartes to themselves, and why that is not necessarily a good thing. And let us not get to the works of wonder that they will not be immersed in; because if people will not be immersed in the great works from their own civilization, which are at least somewhat accessible, it is highly unlikely that they will immerse themselves in any other.