“The Other Foot,” which draws its dramatic tension from the impending arrival of a white man to an entirely-black community on Mars, was published in 1951, thirteen years before racial segregation laws were abolished throughout the United States. Bradbury repeatedly evokes the realities of racism on Earth throughout the story, referencing both the historical scars of slavery and contemporary lawful discrimination against black people. By setting his story on another planet, Bradbury is also able to create a sense of defamiliarization—to make racism appear at once foreign, strange, and deeply illogical. Above all, “The Other Foot” presents racism is a learned, rather than innate, human behavior.
Despite the anxiety the white man’s arrival kicks up for adult Martians who remember their time on Earth, Hattie and Willie’s children are excited and curious about the man’s arrival. Having never seen a white person before, they have no preconceptions of what he will be like and try to make sense of white skin by comparing it to milk, flowers, and chalk. There is no sense that the children think the white man is inferior or superior to them—he is simply different and interesting. Willie, meanwhile, nearly shatters this innocent understanding of race by declaring to his sons, “You ain’t seeing no white man, you ain’t talking about them, you ain’t doing nothing.” In this moment, Willie attempts to pass on his hatred onto his children, reflecting the notion that prejudice is a learned behavior.
Willie then goes so far as to attempt to recreate the racism he experienced on Earth by inverting Jim Crow laws to target white, rather than black, people. Willie’s blinding, dangerous fury underscores the inherent cruelty of such racist policies and their ability to erode any communal sense of peace. Hattie’s horror at Willie’s actions and declamation that he doesn’t “sound human” further casts such prejudicial legislation as utterly inhumane. Given that Jim Crow practices were still legal at the time of Bradbury’s writing, Hattie’s horror can be read as a direct condemnation of contemporary societal racism in the United States.
Of course, if racism is a learned behavior, it follows that it can be unlearned. The Earth people, the story suggests, have done just that; their suffering throughout World War III has forced them to reconsider previous prejudices, apologize for their foolishness, and beg for help from those they once treated as inferior. Hattie, too, recognizes the manmade nature of racism and hatred, and, as such, their ability to be dismantled piece by piece like any other structure. In the silence following the white man’s plea, she thinks about the fact that, though her husband riled the crowd with talk of about prejudice and payback, these attitudes can be undone: “She wanted to get at the hate of them all,” Bradbury writes, “to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and, once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with.” Hattie likens the crowd’s anger to an unstable wall that will tumble into a heap of rubble when its load-bearing element is removed, creating a domino effect of empathy, mercy, and forgiveness.
The key to this, Hattie soon realizes, is her husband, who, after meeting the white man and listening to his stories, also comes around to the idea that racism can be unlearned. “I knew then that now the white man’s as lonely as we’ve always been,” he tells Hattie. “Now everything’s even. We can start all over again, on the same level.” Willie’s words again reflect the notion of racism as an unnatural behavior, one that is not innate to the Earth people now seeking refuge on Mars. By starting with a clean slate—that is, one without the chosen, learned racism that tore apart life on Earth—the Martians and Earth people can finally build a peaceful, harmonious world.
The Inhumanity of Racism ThemeTracker
The Inhumanity of Racism Quotes in The Other Foot
Well, the white people live on Earth, which is where we all come from, twenty years ago. We just up and walked away and came to Mars and set down and built towns and here we are. Now we’re Martians instead of Earth people. And no white men’ve come up here in all that time. That’s the story.
“You ain’t going to lynch him?”
“Lynch him?” Everyone laughed. Mr. Brown slapped his knee. “Why, bless you, child, no! We’re going to shake his hand. Ain’t we, everyone?”
I’m not feeling Christian […] I’m just feeling mean. 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?
“Well […] the shoe’s on the other foot now. We’ll see who gets laws passed against him, who gets lynched, who rides the back of streetcars, who gets segregated in shows. We’ll just wait and see.”
Willie plunged out of the house. “You children come inside, I’m locking you up. You ain’t seeing no white man, you ain’t talking about them, you ain’t doing nothing.”
All along the road people were looking up in the sky, or climbing in their cars, or riding in cars, and guns were sticking up out of some cars like telescopes sighting all the evils of a world coming to an end.
The people were so close together it looked like one dark body with a thousand arms reaching out to take the weapons.
She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with. It was teetering now. But which was the keystone, and how to get at it? How to touch them and get a thing started in all of them to make a ruin of their hate?
“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. […] 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.”