“The Space Traders” (1992) is a short story written by Derrick Bell, science fiction fan and professor of constitutional law. It is a thought experiment: what if space traders came from another star and offered to buy all the black people in America?
It is set in America in the near future:
- The government is nearly broke.
- The oil and coal are almost gone.
- The air is unfit to breathe by the old and sick – they have to wear masks.
- Civil rights laws have been overturned.
- Most blacks are poor, walled off in ghettos under armed guard.
The Space Traders arrive, offering:
- Enough gold to settle America’s debts and make it a rich country again.
- Machines that can produce cheap, clean power.
- Chemicals to clean the air.
In exchange for:
- All the black people in America.
They will not say why they want them. They give the president 16 days to make a decision – till Martin Luther King Day. They give proof they can make good on the deal.
Most whites see the trade as an amazing piece of luck: not only would the country become rich and liveable again but race would no longer be an issue!
Blacks are solidly against the deal. They do not trust the Space Traders one bit. Whites brush off their concerns.
Blacks start escaping the country, but then the borders are closed on instructions from the Space Traders.
The country is to vote on an amendment to the constitution to allow the Trade.
For the Trade:
- Most white voters – who have long seen blacks as a drain on the country and the main cause of crime. Blacks should prove their patriotism and do what is best for the country!
- The president and Congress – who need the white vote.
- Television preachers – who, knowing how racist their mainly white working-class audience is, milk it for all it is worth.
- The Supreme Court – who compare it to the Japanese American internment and forced military service.
- All blacks – even the Uncle Tom who is the main character
- White liberals
- Jews – who compare it to Hitler’s Final Solution, but deep down know that without blacks they would become America’s next scapegoat.
- Big business – who would lose 12% of their customers while certain industries, like oil, would be destroyed by the Trade. But mainly because without blacks the white masses would wake up and see who their true enemies are.
Big business controls the media, but as a television network head points out:
We simply can’t change this country’s view about the superiority of whites and the inferiority of blacks in a week. I doubt you could do it in a decade.
They try their best – but fail: 70% of Americans vote for the Trade.
And so on the last Martin Luther King Day in America, blacks are marched onto the ships of the Space Traders in chains, half-naked, while white men with guns look on, allowing no chance of escape.
- Derrick Bell: The Space Traders – read the story
- Cosmic Slop: The Space Traders – watch the HBO version from 1994. Not as good as Bell’s short story. One thing they added: the Space Traders use the paper bag test, as a light-skinned Dr Fanon on the news informs us.
- How White America got rich
- Basically Good
- Is America still genocidal?
- whites are still racist
- Other thought experiments about race: