"1000 ships from a star far out in space would land on 1 January 2000"
December 31, 2015 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Those mammoth vessels carried within their holds treasure of which the United States was in most desperate need: gold, to bail out the almost bankrupt federal, state, and local governments; special chemicals capable of unpolluting the environment, which was becoming daily more toxic, and restoring it to the pristine state it had been before Western explorers set foot on it; and a totally safe nuclear engine and fuel, to relieve the nation's all-but-depleted supply of fossil fuel. In return, the visitors wanted only one thing—and that was to take back to their home star all the African Americans who lived in the United States.
"The Space Traders" is a science fiction story and social parable published in 1992 by pioneering law professor and civil rights advocate Derrick Bell. In 1994, "The Space Traders" was adapted for television as one-third of HBO's Cosmic Slop, a TV-movie anthology of scifi starring people of color. Written by Trey Ellis and directed by Reginald Hudlin, the half-hour "The Space Traders" episode can be watched in its entirety here. posted by nicebookrack (20 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
"To Serve Man", indeed...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:56 PM on December 31, 2015

What The Actual Fuck?
posted by daq at 6:02 PM on December 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

I recently put "The Space Traders" on my "to re-watch" list. I started thinking about it again when a presidential candidate was bloviating about rounding up all the illegal immigrants (presumably most of whom would be of a certain ethnicity or religion) and sending them back to where they came from. WTAF, indeed. At first I thought it might be interesting if someone did a remake using some current U.S. immigration issues but then I realized that it would probably give certain people even worse ideas.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:22 PM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

What The Actual Fuck?

I lost it at the Ronnie Raygun avatar, myself... We hadn't yet begun to recover at the time this was produced.
posted by mikelieman at 6:23 PM on December 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Derrick Bell's rules of racial standing strongly affected the way I read reports about minorities' experiences. For instance, I'm now a lot more sceptical about media-appointed spokespeople (e.g., Bill Cosby with his "pound cake" address) that reinforce common prejudices. As for the stories, though, they'd be better SF if they were more fictional.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:56 PM on December 31, 2015 [7 favorites]

Oh man, I saw this in high school social studies and I remember so vividly the "news report" where the white reporter is explaining that the referendum will apply to people whose skin is dark than "this paper bag" and his black co-anchor gives him the most memorable "BITCH PLEASE" look in the history of television.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:06 PM on December 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

I taught the COSMIC SLOP version in a science fiction course this summer. I think it disturbed some of the white students more than anything else we read or watched.
posted by gerryblog at 7:09 PM on December 31, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow, that was... powerful. Bell's assessment of the rationalizations (legal, moral, etc.) used by proponents of the trade, and the real reasons behind some of the opponents, are spot on. I'm reminded of my initial reaction to James Tiptree Jr.'s "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" when I read it as a young teen: outrage not just at the specifics of the world that is presented in it, but what it suggested about ours. And yet, compared to the world in this story, Tiptree's is sort of the optimistic case.

I find myself wanting to write an epilogue to the story, one in which the "traders" give everyone nice warm space clothes and apologize for their ordeal, revealing that not just the United States but the entire world was just given a test--which they failed--and that the African-Americans were better off leaving Earth, but that would be betraying the spirit and the purpose of the thing, I think.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:29 PM on December 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

"The Space Traders" short story is included in the anthology "Dark Matter -- A Century of Speculative Fiction From the African Diaspora". It's a rich collection with 25 stories, three novel excerpts, and five essays.
posted by valannc at 10:04 PM on December 31, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'd like to see the results of the same premise except the traders want the now minority of white people.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:49 AM on January 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yikes. "The Space Traders": if such an offer came down today, that is absolutely how events would unfold.
posted by maxwelton at 3:05 AM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Very odd synchronicities...I was reading Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" last night. For those that don't know, it's a 1950's novel which has some remarkably prescient passages on technological and social development following an alien quasi-invasion of Earth (not to mention having a key character with a name almost identical to mine). When I finished the book, I decided to take a break and watch a little T.V.

When I turned it on, the movie "The 27th Day" was on, also from the 50's. It was not a great flick, but I watched it through, as it also featured an alien encounter with Earth in which a particular technological gift led to sociopolitical upheaval and angst for humanity.

When the movie was over, I decided to surf the net a while and one of the first things I saw was this post. Looks like I'm going to have to watch "The Space Traders" now. The Overmind has spoken!
posted by darkstar at 4:33 AM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

horribly cheesy, but guess it makes its point. maybe there should be a "tradeable" measure? as in: would group X by traded in this scenario?

are american blacks still / currently tradeable? were they when this was made? i really don't know. when i lived in the usa (new haven) it did feel like two segregated worlds, so i guess it's plausible.

but i'm also interested in what other groups might be tradeable (assuming the appropriate bad guys in power). what about drug addicts? or people with a net wealth below some point? i guess part of the problem is the degree to which the group can be seen as an isolated, well-defined unit. i guess that's one of the points of the film.

here in chile, perhaps "immigrants" would be tradeable? i don't know enough about the politics "down south" to know if "indigenous people" would make the cut. i think "the gays" maybe not, but trans people maybe yes. i wonder if non-catholics are tradeable? to what extent is a coup equivalent to trading? does that mean that the political left was tradeable back in 73? i guess people on the right would argue that a coup is less permanent than trading - a "temporary correction".

does the size of the country affect the tradability of groups it contains? i would expect so. large countries are more likely to have tradeable groups because larger groups are harder to unify. and the more people, the more minorities make identifiable targets. does this argue for smaller countries? i've often thought part of the reason for the aggressiveness of the usa, in international politics, is motivated by the need to give a strong internal identity.
posted by andrewcooke at 7:29 AM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hate people.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:57 AM on January 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

andrewcooke, when I look at the pushback against Black Lives Matter, when I see that the police who murdered Tamir Rice were, with the help of the prosecutor, not indicted, when I remember that despite the fact that white people and black people both use and deal illegal drugs at identical rates over 80% of those arrested for drug crimes are black and over 90% of those serving prison time for drug crimes are black, when I remember that many white communities have lower taxes due to aggressive policing to extract money from the nearby black communities, I have no doubt at all that black people are very much still tradable to the overwhelming majority of white America.

The actual short story is fairly bad as fiction. But as an analysis of the real world it's painfully spot on.

Ta-Nehisi Coates observes correctly that the USA is built on broken black bodies, and that extracting wealth from black people to the benefit of white people is an ongoing project that has not stopped or really even slowed down that much.
posted by sotonohito at 12:51 PM on January 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think, on some level, the fevered pitch of the "American Exceptionalism" thing is basically the result of a sort of a psychotic break when an otherwise moral mind tries to rationalize our nation's history of Black slavery, the dispossession of land of the native Americans, the exploitation of Asian and Mexican migrant workers, the internment of Japanese, elective wars in Southeast Asia and the Mideast, epidemic levels of gun violence, rising poverty and income inequality, medical bankruptcy, failing education, government corruption, etc., etc., etc.

At some point, people who are desperate to believe they are moral beings just become incapable of coping with the cognitive dissonance, and create an alternate reality where the USA really is the shining city on a hill that they see in their dreams. Which then makes it impossible for them to actually recognize the problems that need to be fixed.
posted by darkstar at 1:25 PM on January 1, 2016

Oh that was hard to watch, and I had read the original story some time ago.
posted by Mogur at 4:05 PM on January 1, 2016

Derrick Bell's rules of racial standing strongly affected the way I read reports about minorities' experiences.

I read this and remarked upon it to my wife, who in return read me a couple of passages from a book she's studying, both of which resonated with me.

"Facing this truth is exceedingly difficult for those of us who by race, sex, or class are the 'rightful inheritors' of the imperial project - or who at the very least are promised a comfortable existence in exchange for our political conformity"

"The fact remains that those on the peripheries will have 'eyes to see' many things that those of us at the center do not."

(The book in question is "Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark's Story of Jesus" by Ched Myers)

As a relatively well-off, middle-aged, middle-class professional white guy, I have to say that this is just the latest in a number of posts and discussions on class, gender and race issues here on Metafilter over the past couple of years, all of which have given me things to think about. Thanks to all who have posted and contributed.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 2:03 PM on January 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

GOPLifer: Race and the Middle Class
With Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, published in 1992, Bell described an alternative to the prevailing narrative on race. He focused on two interlocking conclusions. First, racism in American culture and politics is not bug, but a feature. It was wired into the American experience at birth and plays a vital role in sustaining our unique approach to democracy. Bell argues that this first premise dictates the second, that racial discrimination in American culture is permanent and immutable.

Communicating this idea requires more than a one or two-sentence quote. Here are some relevant passages from Faces:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2016

I find myself wanting to write an epilogue to the story, one in which the "traders" give everyone nice warm space clothes and apologize for their ordeal, revealing that not just the United States but the entire world was just given a test--which they failed--and that the African-Americans were better off leaving Earth, but that would be betraying the spirit and the purpose of the thing, I think.
Halloween Jack, Bell did write a sequel. It's... well, read it and judge for yourself.
posted by tyro urge at 10:40 PM on January 26, 2016

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