The Space Traders

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"The Space Traders" is a science fiction short story by Derrick Bell. It was originally published in 1992, and republished in the 2000 edition of Dark Matter.

Plot summary[edit]

Extraterrestrials arrive on Earth and offer the United States gold, safe nuclear power and other technological advances in exchange for all of its black citizens. They require a decision in sixteen days. Gleason Golightly, a prominent black conservative economics professor, is summoned to participate in the cabinet's discussion of the proposed trade. He is adamantly against it, but the completely white cabinet believes the trade will fix the United States' environmental and economic problems. At one point, the leaders of large companies meet with the President to persuade him against taking the trade, because black people make up so much of the workforce. Later, Golightly attends a meeting of black community members. He suggests that if black people pretend that they are getting the best part of the deal, white people will oppose it out of envy. A preacher responds that Golightly's understanding of white psychology has merit, but he cannot go along with such a cynical ploy, and the meeting votes instead for boycotts and protests. White business and religious leaders quickly line up behind the trade, which is approved by a 70% referendum vote.

Television adaptation[edit]

The story was adapted for television in 1994 by director Reginald Hudlin and writer Trey Ellis as part of the HBO anthology TV movie Cosmic Slop, which presented three Twilight Zone style stories from a black perspective. Robert Guillaume starred as Golightly and Ronald Reagan impersonator Jay Koch played the space trader spokesman, whom Bell's story described as speaking in the "comforting tones of a former U.S. president."[1]

Criticism and controversy[edit]

Judge Alex Kozinski has criticized the story as being a sign of how Bell's philosophy precludes discourse, citing the example of how in the story, American Jews would only help black people out of a desire not to be the lowest social group in the US.[2]

In the run-up to the 2012 U.S. presidential election, the story became a vehicle for political controversy. In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf replied, 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."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cosmic Slop (1994) entry on
  2. ^ Kozinski, Alex (November 2, 1997). "Bending the Law". The New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2020.
  3. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (8 March 2012). "The Sci-Fi Story That Offends Oversensitive White Conservatives". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 March 2012.

External links[edit]