if we must die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
-- Claude McKay Red Summer, 1919

 

I am truly horrified and saddened by the race relations in our country. Perhaps even more terrifying is the indifference I see almost daily on behalf of those "not affected" by racism. We should all be driven to action by this indignation.

 

I remember a time in a restaurant when I screamed at a man who was saying racist shite about someone to his friend. I was kicked out of the restaurant. My friend described my reaction as 'frenzy.' To this day I don't understand why my reaction was considered so unusual. I think it should be standard. Inaction is far more detrimental. My frenzy eventually subsided, but there is no limit to inaction.

Claude McKay's poem was written during the racism-fueled massacre known as the Red Summer, in 1919. Nearly one hundred years ago. Yet when I read it, I feel it could have been written yesterday. I can't say I like that. I want to read something about racism from the 1920s and think, "I can't believe life was like this in the past."

Why did McKay choose this specific style? The poem is a classic, by-the-book Shakespearean Sonnet. Is it because African Americans in the 1920s were very well-versed in Shakespeare? No. It is because white people were. When we discussed this poem, we came to the conclusion that this sonnet was not written to rile up other black people; it was written to rile up "us," the "others."

The line "O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!" is directed towards all of us, all the people in the world, who have a moral obligation to stand up when an injustice occurs. The common foe is racism, hatred, and narrow-mindedness.

It is silly to think racism doesn't affect "you." It is "man's gravest threat to man -- the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason." (A.J. Heschel) It is a death sentence to us all.

How can we mildly sit by and watch the systematic killing of black people by the police? I am repulsed by all the excuses that somehow any of those people deserved it. Anyone who has broken the law still has rights, that is the beauty of this country.

This is the land of freedom, but when that freedom is taken away from certain people on the grounds of race, it is slowly but surely being taken away from every single one of us.

This must stop now.