The Space Traders

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"The Space Traders" is a science fiction short story by Derrick Bell.

Published in 1992, its subject is the arrival of 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 referendum to enable it.

Plot summary[edit]

The story takes place over seventeen days and follows a prominent black, conservative, economics professor, Gleason Golightly, who is asked by the President to join his cabinet's discussion of the trade. He is adamantly against the trade, 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. Golightly attempts to convince the gathered members that if they pose the trade as a win for black people, then the white people will not want them to leave. A preacher finds this ridiculous, and convinces those at the meeting that it will not work. At the end, Golightly thinks that he will be able to escape the country with his family before the trade, but a member of the cabinet stops his car before he can leave. Golightly reflects on the fact that no matter his economic or political standing, he is still black.

Television adaptation[edit]

"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 Cosmic Slop, a three-part television anthology focusing on Black science fiction.[1] In 2000, it was reprinted in the first volume of Dark Matter.

Political controversy[edit]

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."[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cosmic Slop (1994) entry on
  2. ^ Friedersdorf, Conor (8 March 2012). "The Sci-Fi Story That Offends Oversensitive White Conservatives". The Atlantic. Retrieved 17 March 2012.

External links[edit]