Thanksgiving Dinner on Mars

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I’ve been reading Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man again lately and it occurred to me “The Other Foot” is a pretty good Thanksgiving story. The tale of a black community on Mars that has to wrestle with their own consciences when facing the prospect of white refugees from a war ravaged Earth, it’s in essence about stopping the cycle of revenge. Like many stories in the book, it’s about a psychological or cultural reboot after terrible destruction and death. The opportunity for spiritual growth that arises in the wake of catastrophe.

Of course, the story reflects its origins in the early 50s. The number of cultural shifts that must occur between the 50s and the future in which the story is set, where Martian colonies are long established, would seem likely to have brought society to a permutation of race relations less similar to the 1950s but most inhabitants of the town portrayed in the story are old enough to remember segregation in the U.S. As the white man from the rocket describes the destruction, the Martian community finds their thoughts shifted from memories of Jim Crow and lynchings to something else.

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After twenty years it was rushing back. The towns and the places, the trees and the brick buildings, the signs and the churches and the familiar stores, all of it was coming to the surface among the gathered people. Each name touched memory, and there was no one present without a thought of another day. They were all old enough for that, save the children.

Life is more complicated than revenge allows for. Before the arrival of the rocket, it’s easier for most of the town’s inhabitants to make “No Whites” signs and start instituting back of the bus rules for the newcomers. The crimes of racism in the U.S. are real and descriptions of lynchings are particularly potent. Who wouldn’t want to exact some retribution?

It is a story curiously locked in an American perspective for being about a global war. One wonders about black communities in other parts of the world—did the populations of Africa and the Dominican Republic move to Mars, too? But certainly the heart of the story is in the right place.

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