NATIONAL: Students paint over ‘Britain’s favourite poem’ in protest over 'racist' author

The Kipling poem replaced with the Angelou poem (Facebook / Sara Khan)
The Kipling poem replaced with the Angelou poem (Facebook / Sara Khan)
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Students at the University of Manchester have painted over a mural of one of Britain’s most loved poems in protest over its ‘racist’ and ‘imperialist’ author. 

The design featuring Rudyard Kipling’s 1895 poem If had only been painted on a wall in one of the students' union (SU) building by a hired artist a few weeks ago. 

Students decided to paint over the poem, which has been voted Britain’s favourite in the past, and replace it with one by American civil rights activist Maya Angelou called ‘Still I Rise’. 

Saying the poem better represented the values of the SU than Kipling's work. 

Sara Khan, liberation and access officer at the SU, said students weren’t consulted on Kipling’s If poem being displayed in the mural. 

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She explained that they made to decision to paint over the Jungle Book author’s work because of his ‘colonial’ texts – such as the White Man's Burden poem. 

Ms Khan 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 [students’ union], stand for.
‘Well-known as author of the racist poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, and a plethora of other work that sought to [legitimise] 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.

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‘As 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, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.’

The move to paint over Kipling’s poem comes as students up and down the country call for the 'decolonisation' of the curriculum  – and removal of statues of colonialist figures such as Cecil Rhodes. 

Fatima Abid, general secretary of the students’ union, wrote on Twitter: ‘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.’
A University of Manchester Students’ Union spokesperson told the i: ‘Student leadership is absolutely paramount in the development of The University of Manchester Students’ Union.

‘Without it, we can’t uphold our principles of inclusivity, fairness and empowerment.

‘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. We understand why our Exec Team took the action they deemed appropriate at the time to right a wrong inside their Union.

‘It highlighted the need to adjust our processes and control mechanisms 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.

‘The painting of Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I Rise’ is a brilliant start to that initiative.’