“If We Must Die” has alot of background history. In the 1880s slavery had just ended so the racism inthe south was prevalent; therefore, the north was a better place to be. The northernManhattan area seemed like a good place for the blacks. Originally Manhattan wasknown for the high class white neighborhoods, but with recklessoverdevelopment, most of the city turned into abandoned buildings.
After WorldWar II, many of the African Americans and war veterans either moved up North orreturned to their homes in Harlem, New York (History.com Staff 2). Racism wasalready a big concern at the time, but on top of that, the city got overpopulated which caused employment problems. Tensions rose, and it led to “…theracial discrimination against Blacks in Harlem in particular and Americansociety in general” (Elaiyarasi et al. 236).Many racist white people who were sick and tired of the overpopulated blackmiddle class in the north, got together and planned to attack those whoparticipated in the African Blood Brotherhood Movement.
Whites took action oncea Black Pride movement was started, and caused a raging fire of violencetowards the blacks known as the Red Summer of 1919. This caused some to die, andothers to flee in fear.McKay’spoem uses a couple clever metaphorical terms and imagery to make it crystalclear who the underdog is in this fight. First, he describes the scenery of theblack people as hogs. McKay states, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs, /hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (McKay pg.
963, lines 1-2). Heportrayed the black people as being trapped and helplessness. Next he labeled thewhite people as “mad and hungry dogs” mocking them (McKay pg. 963, line 2). McKayused the term of a dog to represent the white people to show how vicious andinhumane they were being, as well as their ferocity in hunting the blacks. The speaker advises his allies to stay strong and fightback, “So that our precious blood may not be shed / in vain; then even themonsters we defy / shall be constrained to honor us though dead!” (McKay pg.963, lines 6-8), by refusing to go down like cowards by fighting with so muchvalor that even their enemy will respect them.
The speaker and the allies knowthat they will probably die during this fight, but their death and courage willbe the final message. This is a prime example of moral courage. Muehlbauerstates, “Moral courage involves standing up for your values, ethics, andbeliefs, even at the risk of your reputation, emotional anxiety, socialisolation, or employment” (Muehlbauer 39). The black people realized that ifthey go down with a fight, they will be one step closer to racial equality inthe future. Therefore, these men vouch to go down fighting with great heart anddignity.