We and They

Let me preface this post by saying that I have never been much of a poetry girl myself. I tend to be a strictly black-and-white kind of gal, which doesn’t lend itself to a full appreciation of the gray matter inherent in poetry. I vividly remember being that student in Junior and Senior English asking my teacher why I needed to read Emily Dickinson and what benefit it would have on me in real life. Well, I still hate Dickinson (sorry, Mrs. Lambert), but I have since learned to appreciate other poetry.

Today, during my 12th form class, we read a poem by Rudyard Kipling entitled “We and They”.

**Now, before we get into a heated discussion about how Kipling was an avid supporter of British imperialism (and all of the ills that were associated with that) and how he produced his works of fiction to spout pro-imperialism propaganda…just hear me out. I know that we, as a modern civilization, are often quick to hate on Kipling because of his views and how he depicts foreign cultures in his writings, but he was a man of his time. He was doing what writers do…he was observing the world around him and putting it into words as he understood it. I took a comprehensive British History class and had to do a lengthy project on Kipling’s works and their connection with imperialism so I could go on all day, but I won’t. You’re welcome.**

Anyway, we read this poem. I had come across this poem back in August while I was reading through the textbooks to prepare for the school year and, even then, it caught my attention. Maybe it was the timing or maybe it was that it depicted a sort of narrative of the life I am living right now. Regardless of why it caught my attention, it did and I want to share it here.

We and They 

FATHER, Mother, and Me
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But – would you believe it? – They look upon We
As only a sort of They !

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
And They who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous?) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They !

And now, after reading it, maybe the reason this poem strikes me is because the division between We and They is what is tearing my country apart by the seams. The fact that the US has malicious politicians spouting hate-filled rhetoric about anyone who isn’t a White American is only furthering the divide and increasing the tension between the United States and the rest of the world. The fact that our citizenry is convinced that anyone who is black must be a violent gang member peddling drugs or that anyone who is brown is either a drug-smuggling, rapist Mexican or a terrorist coming from the Middle East to blow everyone up truly breaks my heart. Our politicians and media have created such a sensationalized view of “They” that anyone who is a teensy departure from the “We” that has been socially reinforced must be someone who is out to destroy our culture and way of life because, after all, if “They” aren’t a “We”, how much can they really be worth anyway?

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