"The Other Foot", a Guest Post
|"Young Himba Girl" |
by the gifted Michael Gibson
After much begging and prodding, I finally got phenomenal artist, gamer, and insightful social observer Michael Gibson to expand on the infamous tale of "The Other Foot." He claims he is no writer, but I've been reading his comments since the days of SWPD and I've been a fan of his since day one.
Don't you just hate it when whites presume to speak our heart?
I remember reading this story almost 40 years ago. The Illustrated Man was a book of 18 short stories by Ray Bradbury, published in 1951 by Doubleday & Company. The third story in the series, 'The Other Foot' is the one I most remember. It’s strange the things we hold onto through the years. I remember being drawn into the narrative back then, but as a child the precepts of race and redemption were way over my head. Ostensibly I found myself drawn by the idea of black people living on another planet. Left to their own devices, Whites had devastated their planet through warmongering and now they need our help. From the ruins they build a rocket, arriving without as much as an invitation. Foisting white shadows upon a culture the way they always do. Guess they figured the black Martians had short memories and wouldn’t mind company. Funny those people have been on Mars for over 20 years and yet the author still describes them as ‘Negro’ rather than Martian, or some other off-world ethnicity, as it seems to me that on Mars the term Negro no longer applies.
This book was written before the The Voting Rights Act of 1965, when white dominance and subjugation was still integral to the southern narrative, moreover, the American way of life in general. Thus, a story like this could only come from a fevered white mind. Willie Johnson (the protagonist) was 16 when he left earth. He had every right to be angry; he has every right to hold the whites of his former Terra in contempt.
Willie remembers: “After all them years of doing what they did to our folks—my mom and dad, and your mom and dad—— You remember? You remember how they hung my father on Knockwood Hill and shot my mother? You remember? Or you got a memory that’s short like the others?””
"I remember...," Hattie responded.
Willie continues: “You remember Dr. Phillips and Mr. Burton and their big houses, and my mother’s washing shack, and Dad working when he was old, and the thanks he got was being hung by Dr. Phillips and Mr. Button.
Well,” said Willie, “the shoe’s on the other foot now."
Hattie (his loving, supportive wife) is like many ex-slaves during Reconstruction. She’s more willing to make peace with her oppressor. To let bygones be bygones. She believes, as white people believe, that if we (blacks/whites) are to truly get along, we POC must discard apparitions of the past that keep us from accepting the present. “You have to let go,” whites demand. “We’re post-racial now.” It’s we who must wipe the slate, while whites come away smelling like roses. In the account, Willie is committed to remembering the past, while whites everywhere seem obliged to ‘rewrite our past’.
So some white people arrive on Mars, penitent and humble. Their rocket lands on a planet settled exclusively by blacks. Sustained and cultivated successfully by blacks; with black ingenuity and black wherewithal (and no help from whitey, thank you very much). Willie states: “We’ve had peace here, the first time we ever drew a solid breath…."
In Bradbury’s eyes Willie’s hatred of whites threatens to engulf his humanity, turning him into the very thing he’s despised. But what Bradbury can’t possibly know is what Jim Crow does to the spirit of a man; therefore, how can he truly fathom Willie’s heart?
No wars, no self-defeatist infighting. It was a virtual utopia until the white man shows up. He comes as friend - and as a servant - but the blacks think it's not for long. They reason once he figures there’s profit to be made from the planet’s resources his greed kicks in. He and others like him will tire of their docile positions. He/she might make suggestions as to how the planet might be managed better. They’ll be murmurs, yes… resentment will run through the ranks like a pandemic, challenging the nature of things. Soon demands will be made for the black majority to observe the rule of law; then they’ll be calls for free elections. Minorities have rights you know; whereupon “Liberty!” will be the cry of this new minority. Because there’s really no reason to think the white man is through conquering. No…a white man takes what he wants.
A white man says, “So we destroyed everything and ruined everything, like the fools that we were and the fools that we are. We killed millions. I don’t think there are more than five hundred thousand people left in the world, all kinds and types."
But just because the articles of oppression and hatred were destroyed in war, it doesn't mean racism was eradicated from the hearts of the people. Just because the landmarks of bigotry were laid to waste doesn't mean its precepts and beliefs weren't written in the hearts of whites for safe keeping. You don’t just forgive that easily - and you don't come to trust so soon. Willie of all people would know that.
“Yes,” said Willie at last. “The Lord’s let us come through, a few here and a few there. And what happens next is up to all of us. The time for being fools is over. We got to be something else except fools. I knew that when he talked. I knew then that now the white man’s as lonely as we’ve always been. He’s got no home now, just like we didn’t have one for so long. Now everything’s even. We can start all over again, on the same level.”
No, everything is not even; not by a long shot. We’re made to feel sorry for the white man; to feel empathy for him in the wake of so great a sin. The white man hasn't had to taste the bitter fruit of oppression so he can never truly know how those people felt. If you call things square, he learns nothing and eventually he’ll rise again. Whites need to know what subjugation feels like. It may be the only way “empathy is truly learned,” by walking in the footsteps of those you suppressed. Slavery and racism wasn't the only problem these black Martians would have to deal with. It is the inbred tendencies of the white man to spoil everything he touches.
These Nubian Martians are not so resigned to their surroundings that they’ve forgotten where they came from.
Willie sought to remind the visitors of their past in a way they wouldn’t soon forget. He reasoned the articles of oppression would be employed once again, but this time the “whites only" insignia would be brandished to keep these earthen whites “in their place.” A reminder of their second-class status. Bold black fonts spelling out, “for colored only” were daily reminders of white supremacy. Willie wanted to invite the visitors to walk a mile in his shoes. To make them feel the same fear and degradation he and his family felt under white rule. To experience first-hand the callousness by which the lives of his loved ones where snuffed out. Vengeance would be sweet. And I can’t think of any black person would feel otherwise. It's why the ending rings so hollow, because holding onto hatred for that long changes a man. Moreover, he won’t be so eager to give it up upon listening to the regrets of a defeated, tired, old racist.
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~ George Santayana
From Moi: Here's what reviewers on Amazon had to say. They're similar to comments I found in forums across the nets.
Reviewer #1: Basicly this book was really good because it showed that revenge isn't always the solution. The black people from mars were going to revenge and enslave the white earthlings, but Willie realized that they had lost so much already they didn't want to make it worse.Ladies and gentleman, I present to you the very definition of "vomitacious."
Reviewer #2: I really enjoyed this story by Ray Bradbury because anyone can interpret it in many different ways. I mean they can get many different lessons from it. Every differet person gets a different lesson from it.
Reviewer #3: There is a publishing company my school has been reading lately. It is the Tale Blazer publishing company. This story is just one of many by them. I love this book. It is an easy read, and it teaches you a lot.