I know this story was pretty controversial so I wanted to give a breakdown of what it’s about. To start, I’m gonna break down some of the main symbols in the story.
Mark represents a specific sect of white Americans. Namely, the extreme, blatant, white supremacy-level racist white Americans. He’s the person who blames all the ills of the country on immigrants while forgetting that the first “Americans” were immigrants too. He’s the person who want to “make America great again” while ignoring all the skeletons in that great American closet.
Serena, on the other hand, represents another section of white Americans who are the opposite of Mark. They are the good, compassionate, “woke” white Americans. The people who recognize their privilege and use it to stand up for those who don’t have privilege. But she also represents the people who genuinely feel bad about injustice, but honestly don’t know what to do or say so they often don’t do or say anything. Which is why Serena says nothing when Mary’s abuse comes up.
And that brings us to Mary. Mark and Serena are pictures of America the people and Mary, their child, is a picture of America the land. Mark raping her is a picture of the rape of the land, namely what we did to Native Americans. The same way everything in this story happens in the wake of this abuse, our entire conversation on racism is happening in the wake of our abuse against Native Americans. It is, in a very real sense, our elephant in the room(hence all the elephant references in the story).
If the way the characters dealt with Mary’s abuse seemed awkward, jarring, or even offensive, that’s what it was supposed to feel like. Mark comes out and says, “At least I apologized when I raped my daughter.” This is what many Americans sound like when we compare our immigration to the current immigration. “At least when the pilgrims came, there weren’t immigration laws…At least we gave the Native Americans reservations…At least we’re not taking jobs from anyone…At least[insert justification].
And notice that the characters don’t say anything after Mark drops the elephant. It’s never brought up again until six chapters later when Akeem calls Rick out on it. In the same way, America knows what she did to Native Americans, but we never talk about it. And whenever someone brings it up, we get awkward and change the subject. And here’s the core reason why I wrote this…
When Akeem calls Rick out, he says that he doesn’t actually care about Mary because he’s never said anything about her rape. When we ignore what happened to Native Americans, it affects how both black and white people talk about racism.
If black people ignore what has happened to Native Americans, our demand for justice is fundamentally selfish. Because in reality we don’t want justice unless it’s “just us”.
If white people ignore what has happened to Native Americans and continue to defend America, their patriotism is just another form of racism.
So whether you’re black, white, latino or asian, keep this in mind the next time you have a conversation about race in America. If you’re not at the very least willing to include the injustice of Native Americans in said conversation it might be time to check your motives. Because after all, we’re having this conversation in their house.