A 1992 Speculative, Critical Race Tale Brings Up Relevant Questions in Current Times

“The Space Traders,” a short science fiction story by late law professor and civil rights activist Derrick Bell, imagines a day in the year 2000 when thousands of ships carrying an advanced alien race arrive in America. The aliens offer clean nuclear energy, technology, bail-outs for all the banks, and other benefits, in exchange for only one thing – to take all African-Americans back to the aliens’ home star. “Space Traders” first appeared in Bell’s 1992 best-selling collection, “Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism,” a book of essays and short stories exploring the persistence of racism in America. The short story was adapted for television in 1994 by Trey Ellis and Reginald Hudlin for an episode of Cosmic Slop, a three-part HBO anthology series highlighting POC-centered science fiction. Described by Ellis as “a sort of Afro-Twilight Zone,” the episode was even introduced by P-Funk front man George Clinton.

Interestingly, the story received renewed interest during the 2012 presidential election, when the TV adaptation of the story and a video of young Barack Obama hugging Professor Bell fell into the hands of conservative, right-wing news sites. Bell, a former mentor of President Obama, was accused by conservatives of using the story to race bait and incite paranoia, while also suggesting that Obama is racist by association.

Watch the Space Traders episode below and read the original story by Professor Bell

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of Metropolarity.net. She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”