Brooks’ experiences with racial prejudice and poverty

Brooks’ experiences with racial prejudice and poverty are reflected in the poem, “We Real Cool.” This poem is spoken from the perspective of a group of poor, African-American (it is never specified that they are African-American, but it is generally believed that they are) urban youths hanging out a pool hall in Chicago in the late 1950s. Brooks said in an interview that, when read aloud, the word “We” is supposed to spoken in a weak and non-affirmative tone. Almost each time the word “we” is used, it is used to begin a sentence at the end of a line, with the rest of that sentence coming in the next line, forcing the reader to hesitate. This repetition of a softly-spoken “we” enforces the idea that the young men have somewhat of a sense of group identity, but reveals that they are not confident with their identity and the situation that they are in. Coming from the perspective of a group of poor African-Americans in the 1950s, this shows a realization of the unfortunate situation that they have been put in simply because of their racial and economic standing. Yet despite these boys’ situation, the poem shows the assertion that their lives are just as meaningful as anyone else’s. Therefore, the speaker in the poem is representative of the large number of young African-Americans in the mid-20th century who felt that their lives had been stifled by poverty and racial prejudice. The repetition of the word “we” in this poem shows the solidarity that these people felt in the face of the great struggles they went through. Brooks herself was one of these people, helping to inspire her to write “We Real Cool.”  At public schools in Chicago, she endured discrimination from many of her classmates, and her family had to rent part of their house to supplement her parents’ income (Hinton and Day EBSCO). Brooks drew on these experiences as she wrote about the struggle of African-Americans in “We Real Cool.” In “We Real Cool,” Brooks portrays how life was seen as hopeless for many African-Americans in the mid-20th century. The poem ends with the phrase “We / Die Soon.” By ending the poem with this dark phrase, it shows the sense of hopelessness that Brooks believed many African-Americans felt due to the racial prejudice and poverty they experienced. To deal with their harsh circumstances, the pool players in the poem place high value on meaningless activities. The poem says, “We / Lurk Late,” meaning that they spend lots of time hanging out in the pool parlor. It also says, “We  / Sing gin. We / Thin gin.” To “sing gin” means to find sinful or immoral activities as pleasurable or good. “Thin gin” refers to drinking hard liquor. By taking pride in these activities (as they say, “We real cool.”), it shows that these young African-Americans have accepted their plight and taken to actions that will only make it worse. They have given up their means of advancing in society, such as education (as they say, “We / Left school.”), and turned to less valuable activities. By ending the poem with, “We / Die soon.” Brooks may be showing that for these people, death may have been seen as a way of escaping the harshness of reality, rather than as a truly tragic event (“We Real Cool: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1960” 243-245). Clearly inspired by the plight of African-Americans that she experienced in the real world, Brooks may have written in this style to inspire pity for those who suffered from nearly inescapable poverty and racial prejudice.