Gwendolyn Brooks wrote, “We Real Cool” in the middle of the American Civil Rights Movement. It was 1959. Racial segregation was the norm and the African American people had had enough of it. During this time, the Supreme Court was being pressured to desegregate schools. It was a time of extreme racial tension with severe hatred on both sides (whites vs. colored people). Colored people were being physically and verbally assaulted, and their efforts at integration were constantly being frustrated. Many African Americans used these attacks as motivation to incite change. They staged peaceful protests and remained noble despite adversity. However, many African Americans also used these attacks to rationalize thuggish behavior. They abandoned the educational system –which seemed to shun them anyway– and formed gangs as a response to the animosity they faced. It is this struggle Brooks calls attention to in her poem –the struggle of an oppressed and angry group of people who have resorted to resolving ignorance with more ignorance and violence with more violence.
Brooks is not defending the lifestyle chosen by her personas. However, she is not condemning them for it either. Instead, she shares their story –but makes sure to include a warning: these youths may seem cool, but they are digging their own graves by choosing a life of ignorance and violence. She introduces this with the imagery of seven pool players at the Golden Shovel.
It is assumed that the personas in “We Real Cool” are young black men –given the context, rhythm and the use of slang in the poem. They are shown in a pool hall instead of in school, which already implies that they have chosen to discontinue their education –a decision that will cost them their lives. The name of the establishment these boys frequent “The Golden Shovel” foreshadows their untimely demise. “Golden” conjures up images of summertime while “Shovel” introduces the image of death. They die young because they have abandoned the pursuit of a future.
“We real cool. WeLeft school. We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We
Jazz June ”
The personas have chosen a life of no consequences. They have given up on having a future by leaving school and engaging in criminal activities. They “Lurk late” in the night, which is regarded as menacing as darkness can help cover up unlawful acts. They “Strike straight” meaning they are able to pull off these unlawful acts without getting caught. One of which is when they “Thin gin” showing that they cheat their clients by watering down alcohol in order to make more money. And they “Sing sin” showing that -in a way- they are proud of getting away with their misdeeds. “We  Jazz June” also reinforces their disregard for the future. The word “Jazz” brings to mind images of dance parties flavored with injections of improvised sax solos. “June”, like “Golden”, induces images of summertime. The juxtaposition between the two show how these youths are only living for the moment. They are living it up during the summers of their lives with no regard for what will happen after. As a result, they “Die soon”.