Claude McKay is a man who spans national boundaries, literary genres,political identities, and even his own time. Born in the country of Jamaica in 1890, McKay was a talented young man. As a Jamaican immigrant to the United States, Claude McKay's writing spanned many complex themes, both from his experiences of life in Jamaica and his life in the United States. His early writings would be focused on his life in Jamaica. They would go on to win several literary awards, allowing McKay to fund a trip to the United States. In 1912, after arriving in America, he attended college there, and eventually became a part of the Harlem Renaissance movement, a group of African American writers who wrote and developed ideas together. These writers focused on the struggles of African Americans in the United States, particularly prejudices that they encountered. In 1919, Washington, DC newspapers ran wild with sensational stories of an alleged sexual assault that was said to be committed by an African American. The stories sparked a series of twenty riots during the summer of 1919, beginning with a white lynch mob that targeted blacks in Washington. There were 28 public lynchings in the first half of the year, and the following summer and fall came to be known as "The Red Summer" of 1919. The Red Summer was the motivation behind McKay's "If We Must Die." However, even without the history behind it, Mckay's poem is still a powerful message, universal enough to relate to any person facing their own destruction.
The poem start with the speaker establishing that he and his allies are under attack. A battle scene is easily pictured, with two groups facing each other. The speaker and his allies are being hunted by "hungry dogs", mocking them. He is urging his allies to not become weak, comparing them to "hogs hunted and penned in an inglorious spot", but to fight against those attacking them, those that are "making their mock at our accursed lot". While attacking back may lead to