“If We Must Die” doesn’t have a clear setting. The only thing we know from the text is that the speaker and their compatriots live in a place and time where they are experiencing oppression. Considering that oppression of some kind exists everywhere in the world, the poem could theoretically take place anywhere there is subjugation, abuse, or maltreatment. Just as the speaker doesn’t indicate a specific geographic location, none of their references are specific to a particular time. That said, some words and phrases do come across as slightly antiquated. For example, it’s unusual to see words like “kinsmen” (line 9) and “O” (lines 5 and 9) in a twentieth-century poem. It’s similarly old-fashioned in a modern poem to have syntactic inversions such as “let us nobly die” (line 5). These words and phrases could come from anytime after the sixteenth century. Despite the open-ended nature of the setting, it’s worth considering McKay’s background as a Black man born in Jamaica, and hence a subject of the British Empire. If we read the poem in relation to the poet’s biography, the speaker’s references to oppression belong more firmly in twentieth-century resistance to colonialism and anti-Black racism.