Student activists at Manchester University have defaced a large-scale copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in their Student Union building and replaced it with a poem by Maya Angelou. Kipling, they claim, is ‘racist’.
Not so long ago, this would have been called by its proper name: vandalism. And the student activists would have been appropriately disciplined.
Today, in pretty much every news report I’ve read on the subject, the students just get free, largely uncritical publicity for their toxic identity politics virtue-signalling.
Here’s the Mail version:
On Facebook, Liberation and Access Officer at the University of Manchester Students Union Sara Khan, wrote: “A failure to consult students during the process of adding art to the newly renovated SU building resulted in Rudyard Kipling’s work being painted on the first floor last week.
“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.
“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 de-humanise 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.”
Fatima Abid, the general secretary of Manchester’s SU, added on Twitter: “Today, as a team we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with the words of Maya Angelou- God knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union.”
Let’s be clear: these people are freaks. Even in today’s snowflake university culture of safe spaces and book-burning, they are almost certainly not representative of how the majority of Manchester University students will have felt about the Kipling poem. Probably most of them won’t have noticed it at all, “If” being such a well-known work across the Anglosphere it has become part of our mental and literary furniture.
“If” is one of the most over-repeated, oft-anthologised poems in the English language. It’s right up there with that other, uplifting screed you often find on posters in gift shops (or used to, back in the day) – the Max Ehrmann poem ‘Desiderata’ that begins “Go placidly amid the noise…”
This is a tribute to the power of its message, the winning simplicity of its expression and the solidity of its sentiment. Sure it’s a cliche – but it’s a cliche because many people, in the years since Kipling wrote it in 1895, have found it a valuable source of inspiration.
If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
The virtues it preaches are traditional ones like courage in adversity, determination, honesty, cool-headedness, resilience, patience, modesty, loyalty…
Just the kind of virtues any young person in the world, of whatever background, would do well to cultivate. Which is why, presumably, the university authorities decided to reproduce a large-print version of the poem and hang it in the Manchester University students union building.
You’d think, when this handful of activists defaced the poem and replaced with a considerably less universalist screed by the massively overrated Maya Angelou, that the university authorities could have made this point.
Instead, here is what a spokesman for Manchester University Student Union had to say:
A spokesman said: “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 added that the union would make changes to “guarantee that student voices are heard and considered properly’ so that ‘every outcome is representative of our membership”.
“We’re working closely with the union’s elected officers to learn all we can from this situation and are looking forward to introducing powerful, relevant and meaningful art installations across the students’ union building over the coming months,” he said.
This isn’t just cowardice and political correctness gone insane. It typifies modern academe’s abnegation of responsibility for its students’ well-being, by allowing a tiny minority of angry, aggressive activists and cry-bully professional victims to ride roughshod over the needs of the more sensible, well-balanced majority.
Put simply, across the world, from Australia and South Africa, Canada and the US, to the United Kingdom, universities are capitulating to the Social Justice Warrior mob. They are devaluing the academic experience and curtailing the freedoms and security of the majority who just want to get on with experiencing a normal university life.
If a poem like If can be declared ‘problematic’ because its 19th-century author was a white imperialist, then we really aren’t any better than those Nazis who burned books whose authors were Jewish.