The Space Traders

The space traders

The Space Traders is a science fiction short story by Derrick Bell (1930 – 2011), the first tenured African-American Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and one of the originators of critical race theory (which argues that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society). Published in 1992, its subject is the arrival of apparently benevolent and powerful extraterrestrials that offer the United States a wide range of benefits such as gold, clean nuclear power and other technological advances, in exchange for one thing: handing over all black people in the U.S. to the aliens. The story posits that the people and political establishment of the U.S. are willing to make this deal, passing a constitutional amendment to enable it.

‘The Space Traders’ was adapted for television in 1994 by director Reginald Hudlin and writer Trey Ellis. It aired on HBO as the leading segment of a three-part television anthology entitled ‘Cosmic Slop,’ which focused on minority-centric science fiction. In the run-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the story became the subject of political controversy. A review of the TV adaptation on the conservative news site argued that it ‘captures the stupidity, paranoia, and shameless race-hustling of the people that Obama embraces.’ In ‘The Atlantic,’ Conor Friedersdorf replied by arguing that the story’s critics ‘would do well to acknowledge that for many decades of American history, including years during Professor Bell’s life, a majority of Americans would have voted in favor of trading blacks for fantastic wealth, unlimited energy, and an end to pollutants.’

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