I really enjoyed reading McKay’s sonnets in these selections on self-empowerment. The thing that I was most taken-aback by in reading these poems was how little the message that I found matched the communist ideology associated with the author. In much of my readings on McKay, it is clearly established that he was an ardent communist (even travelling to the Soviet Union), yet it seems that his message is one of separatism rather than unity.
In “The Negro’s Tragedy,” McKay rejects the idea that a white person could comprehend the plight of the African American people (which I agree with, although it is important to try to understand). He rejects the idea, quite rightly, that white people know best how African Americans should live, act, and be amalgamated into society. This poem is clearly a rejection of hierarchy, but then goes so far as to almost advocate keeping racial matters separate. Wasn’t the communist platform based on equality? Beyond this, the final couplet reduces the political movement, and all political movements towards equality, by dismissing their abilities to achieve results. This poem seems to me more of a criticism of the communist political movement than advocacy of it.
The other poem in the selection is even more severe in its criticism of the white power structure and seems even less like a call for equality. This poem seems to be a wake-up call to African Americans not to be satisfied with what any white person would hand them (which was wise), but rather to find their own expectations and achieve them. A difficult and angry poem, to be sure, and just as unrepresentative of the communist party, and far more dismissive of white attempts to assist with civil rights.
Sorry to keep rambling on about communism in my review, but I really expected communist and socialist themes to be far more prevalent in these poems.