The Brett Kimberlin Saga:

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Read “The Space Traders” by Derrick Bell So You Don’t Have To!

This isn’t a full on fisking (though it is close), but Derrick Bell’s famous story The Space Traders is in the news again because of Obama’s association with him.  I had actually seen that HBO short based on the story and found it to be racist crap at the time, and continue to hold that opinion.  But I admit I never got around to reading the original.  But you can and I did, here.

The basic set up is that aliens come here in the far-flung year of…  2000!

And admittedly some of the fun here is looking at what Bell thought the year 2000 would look like as he offered the set up:

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.

So let’s pull that apart.  The atmosphere’s choked with smog, and we are just about out of fossil fuel.  I mean don’t let this bargain part distract you from the gloom and doom scenario we have missed by some 12 years at least.  You will get more of that in a moment:

Otherwise, the Space Traders' leader shrugged and glanced around-at the oil slick in the water, at the dead gulls on t he beach, at the thick shadow of smog that obscured the sky on all but the windiest days.

But back to the really controversial part: “Mars Wants Your Black People!”  Seriously it sounds like a bad move from the 1950’s…

But supposedly the aliens say this was to be a matter of free choice, no coercion.  But on the other hand, they wouldn’t tell people what they wanted the black people for, although there are hints scattered throughout the story.

And notice of course this requires us to trust the aliens a lot.  Maybe they start by asking, but end by directly coercing.  And on the other hand, you would think that if they had anything good planned for the black people, they might have mentioned that.  All the parties involved might not believe that, but there you go.

And of course I glossed over another part of this whole thing:

The leader only reiterated to his still-dumbfounded audience that, in exchange for the treasure they had brought, they wanted to take away every American categorized as black on birth certificate or other official identification.

Holy shit!  The aliens are birthers!  They want to see Obama’s Birth Certificate (presumably the long form).

Joking aside, this is designed to get around a very uncomfortable question: how black does a person have to be to be black?  For instance, Obama has a white mother and a black father, so he is arguably black or white.  Or would this be a one drop theory.  Perhaps the aliens were going to consult the old “black codes” in the south that used to exist which explained exactly how black a person had to be to justify a lifetime of discrimination.

So Bell used that line to fudge a very difficult question, but in doing so made the whole exercise ridiculous.  So if a man is as dark as black people get, but he consistently claimed he was white on government forms, or refused to identify his color, he was not going to be taken?  And what if all the black people in America applied to have their documents changed?  What then?  Or what if they all just left the US for Mexico?  Then we could hand them literally no one, and say we fulfilled our part of the bargain, right?

Then I find this line interesting:

Their departure galvanized everyone-the delegation, the watchers on the beach, the President glued to his television screen in the White House, citizens black and white throughout the country.

What’s interesting here is that apparently Native Americans, Hispanics, Asian American, and so on don’t exist in his mind.  The only two sets of citizens are white people and black people.

The President, who had been advised to stay in the White House out of concern for his security, called Congress into special session and scheduled a cabinet meeting for the next morning. Governors reconvened any state legislatures not already in session

And there is the first unrealistic moment.  Who is this president who would even consider such a thing, who wouldn’t just say, “nuts” in response?  Heck, isn’t that assuming that the president in that year isn’t a himself black.  I mean eight years later we elected a black* president, so don’t tell me that this is not realistic.

Seriously, who was President on January 1, 2000 who supposedly was of such low moral character that he would sell out every black person in the U.S. to whatever horrors the aliens would have planned for them?  Who is Bell claiming to be such a vile person?  Let me see...

Okay, nevermind.  He kind of has a point.

(Note: I am joking.  I think even Clinton would have more character than that.)

There was a definite split in the nature of the calls - a split that reflected distinctly different perceptions of the Space Traders. Most white people were, like the welcoming delegates that morning, relieved and pleased to find the visitors from outer space unthreatening. They were not human, obviously, but resembled the superhuman, good-guy characters in comic books; indeed, they seemed to be practical, no non-sense folks like regular Americans

Um, no actually the alien’s proposal is nonsensical and I think most regular Americans would get that.

On the other hand, many American blacks-whether watching from the shore or on their television screens-had seen the visitors as distinctly unpleasant, even menacing in appearance. While their perceptions of the visitors differed, black people all agreed that the Space Traders looked like bad news-and their trade offer certainly was-and all burned up the phone lines urging black leaders to take action against it.

And then it gets really infuriating:

But whites, long conditioned to discounting any statements of blacks unconfirmed by other whites, chose now, of course, to follow their own perceptions. "Will the blacks never be free of their silly superstitions?" whites asked one another with condescending smiles. "Here, in this truly historic moment, when America has been selected as the site for this planet's first contact with people from another world, the blacks just revert to their primitive fear and foolishness." Thus, the blacks' outrage was discounted in this crisis; they had, as usual, no credibility.

Got that?  According to Bell, white people don’t believe what black people say unless a white person confirms it.  One wonders if Bell has ever actually met a white person.

And it is worth taking a moment to say something here.  As you may or may not know, I am a self-published author of a fictional novel called Archangel.  And in it the main character meets many famous people.  So I confronted the question of whether I was writing propaganda:

You might also ask how much my moderately conservative world view affects it.  In some sense it is unavoidable.  If a liberal writes a story in which a character meets George W. Bush, you can expect things to go one way.  Even if the liberal had no intention of “bashing” Bush, they hold certain beliefs about the man that they consider to be realistic that reflects their liberal world view and you would expect those beliefs to bleed into the story.  And at the same time a moderately conservative guy like me would depict the same man very differently.  I will also add that sometimes I made choices in my depictions in a deliberate attempt to make things more interesting.  What I did not set out to do is to write some kind of propaganda.

So the truth is that a passage like that—indicating how most white people would react to the valid concerns of these black people—is not a reflection on reality, but rather a reflection on how Bell views reality.  And apparently in his mind, most white people don’t take any black people seriously and still won’t in the year 2000.  Sigh.

And we get even more of the silly predictions:

the country was in dire straits. Decades of conservative, laissez-faire capitalism had emptied the coffers of all but a few of the very rich. The nation that had, in the quarter-century after the Second World War, funded the reconstruction of the free world had, in the next quarter-century, given itself over to greed and willful exploitation of its natural resources. Now it was struggling to survive like any third-world nation. Massive debt had curtailed all but the most necessary services. The environment was in shambles, as reflected by the fact that the sick and elderly had to wear special masks whenever they ventured out-of-doors. In addition, supplies of crude oil and coal were almost exhausted.

Now I suppose it is tempting to just dismiss this as gloom and doom silliness, but I guess if you take the central question of the story seriously—at what price, if any, would you sell out another ”race” you have to play pretend and imagine that things are exactly as bad as he imagined.  Or for that matter, that America was ever as laissez-faire as he imagined.  Seriously, reading this story is like looking through a funhouse mirror, where nothing is quite as it should be.

But I also find it interesting how it is continually sucking up to a very particular world view.  A conservative would be guffawing at the sheer ridiculousness of the scenario, but in the mind of many liberals at the time, it would have come off as “frighteningly plausible.”  And in doing so he loses credibility with pretty much 50% of the country.

Though few gave voice to their thoughts, many were thinking that the trade offer was, indeed, the ultimate solution to the nation's troubles.

You have to figure in the first draft he used the phrase “final solution” instead of ultimate solution, and then decided that this was a bit too unsubtle even for him.

Then the President swings into action:

There were no blacks in his cabinet. Four years before, during his first election campaign, the President had made some vague promises of diversity when speaking to minority gatherings. But after the election, he thought, what the hell! Most blacks and Hispanics had not supported him or his party.

Wow, so we get a rare mention of the existence of Hispanics, but it is truly a cursory mention.  

And bear in mind this appeared in a book in 1993, so...  I guess he was predicting that Clinton would lose in 1996?  And even then, guess what?  Clinton’s successor (Bush) actually had a very diverse cabinet.

In the few hours since the Space Traders' offer, the white House and the Congress had been inundated with phone calls and telegrams

Telegrams?  Really?  I have literally never sent, or received one in my life.  I had never even seen one except maybe in a book or a movie.

And then we get this prediction of how race relations would be in the future:

The race problem had worsened greatly in the 1990s. A relatively small number of blacks had survived the retrogression of civil rights protection, perhaps 20 percent having managed to make good in the increasingly technologically oriented society. But, without anyone acknowledging it and with hardly a peep from the press, more than one half of the group had become outcasts. They were confined to former inner-city areas that had been divorced from their political boundaries. High walls surrounded these areas, and armed guards controlled entrance and exit around the clock. Still, despite all precautions, young blacks escaped from time to time to terrorize whites. Long dead was the dream that this black underclass would ever ”overcome.”

Riiight.  This reminds me of the article running down the sci-fi predictions concerning the year 1997.

(Including Kurt Russell pretending to be a bad ass and razors designed to achieve a perfect level of stubble, constantly.)

But joking aside, what we are seeing is an insight into Bell’s mind and not much else.

And he suggests that the President, who I guess is supposedly Republican, has a token black dude:

His mere presence as a person of color at this crucial session would neutralize any possible critics in the media, thought not in the black civil rights community

And, um, seriously, what is with the typos?  Anyway, this is Professor Gleason Golightly, who as the story develops serves a dual role.  On one hand, he is the archetypical conservative “race traitor” that Bell uses to denounce conservative black people.  On the other hand, weirdly, Golightly serves as the voice of the major theme of this story.

Anyway, the President (who the author silently assumes is white) sees a side benefit to all of this:

“They are offering not only a solution to our nation’s present problems but also one-surely an ultimate one-to what might be called the great American racial experiment. That’s the real issue before us today. Does the promise of restored prosperity justify our sending away fifteen percent of our citizens to Lord knows what fate?”

That’s right, the President thinks it is a good thing to get rid of the black people, because it would get rid of the “experiment” in race.  Never mind that just after the Civil War we considered—and dismissed—as similar idea.  Back then, many people got in in their heads that the best thing for black people was just to get then out of the country and send them back to Africa, but even in this highly racist point in our history, the idea was rejected, in significant part because it would be as monstrous as the initial abduction that placed so many black people in slavery in America.  So even at this time in which America was plainly much more racist than it is today, it was rejected.

And notice that a minute ago he says most white people thought that black people were being superstitious.  Now the President acknowledges at least a little that there is genuine cause for concern.

And of course in their minds the downsides were considered solely in terms of white people.  That is right, in Bell’s mind there is no basic compassion for black people as people, at least in this fictional cabinet:

”There are pluses and minuses to this ‘fate’ issue, Mr. President.” Helen Hipmeyer, Secretary of Health and Human Services, usually remained silent at cabinet meetings. Her speaking up now caused eyebrows to rise around the table. “A large percentage of blacks rely on welfare and other social services. Their departure would ease substantially the burden on our state and national budgets. Why, the cost of caring for black AIDS victims alone has been extraordinary. On the other hand, the consternation and guilt among many whites if the blacks are sent away would take a severe psychological toll, with medical and other costs which might also reach astronomical levels. To gain the benefits we are discussing, without serious side effects, we must have more justification than I’ve heard thus far.”

Then the attorney general proves that he is incompetent, proposing that they use the draft as a model:

“I think we could put together a legislative package modeled on the Selective Service Act of 1918. Courts have uniformly upheld this statute and its predecessors as being well within congressional power to exact enforced military duty at home or abroad by United States citizens. While I don’t see any constitutional problems, there would likely be quite a debate in Congress. But if the mail they are receiving is anything like ours, then the pressure for passage will be irresistible.”

Really.  Well, pretending that there are only black and white citizens (because the author seems to think so), according to the President a moment ago, 15% of the citizens were black.  So that leaves 85% being white.  So just how many of the whites are among the “most” who support this plan.  Well, assuming that something like 100% of black people would be opposed, you would need almost purely white people to reach that 51%.  By my math you would need 60% of that remaining 85%.  And if suddenly we add Hispanics, Asian Americans, and so on…  that number creeps higher.

So the groundswell is unlikely to be “irresistible.”

Then Golightly speaks:

“Even so, I have been willing to be a ‘good soldier’ for the Party even though I am condemned as an Uncle Tom by my people. I sincerely believe that black people needed to stand up on their own feet, free of special protection provided by civil rights laws, the suffocating burden of welfare checks, and the stigmatizing influence of affirmative action programs. In helping you undermine these policies, I realized that your reasons for doing so differed from mine. And yet I went along.”

And notice the author is saying, through this character’s mouth, that the President is opposed to these policies for reasons different than a genuine concern for their fellow Americans who happen to be black.  What, pray tell, would that differing reason be?

And then Golightly gets right to the heart of the matter, accusing the President of being racist, saying:

It is a mark of just how far out of the mainstream black people are that this proposition is given any serious consideration. Were the Space Traders attracted by and asking to trade any other group-white women with red hair and green eyes, for example-a horrified public would order the visitors off the planet without a moment’s hesitation. The revulsion would not be less because the number of persons with those physical characteristics are surely fewer than the twenty million black citizens you are ready to condemn to intergalactic exile.

Then he goes into the history of similar exhile proposals:

”Mr. President,” he continued, “you and your cabinet must place this offer in historical perspective. This is far from the first time this country’s leaders have considered and rejected the removal of all those here of African descent. Benjamin Franklin and other abolitionists actively sought schemes to free the slaves and return them to their homeland. Lincoln examined and supported emigration programs both before and after he freed the slaves. Even those Radical Republicans who drafted the Civil War amendments wondered whether Africans could ever become a part of the national scene, a part of the American people.”

So the fact that these ideas were considered and rejected is not as important as the fact they were briefly considered, according to Bell.

And yes, the founding Republicans of the Civil War Amendments were often racists who doubted black people would ever succeed.  But they saw this as no justification for offering anything less than a level playing field.

But Golightly fails to persuade the cabinet and we hear this diagnosis for why Golightly failed to persuade the cabinet that this was a bad idea:

Now, as he sat alone, he feared that this morning’s meeting was that big chance, and he had failed it. The stakes, of course, were larger than he would have ever imagined they might be, and yet he thought he’d had the arguments. In retrospect, though, those arguments were based on morality and assumed a willingness on the part of the President and the cabinet to be fair, or at least to balance the benefits of the Trade against the sacrifice it would require of a selected portion of the American people. Instead of outsmarting them, Golightly had done what he so frequently criticized civil rights spokespersons for doing: he had tried to get whites to do right by black people because it was right that they do so. “Crazy!” he commented when civil rights people did it.  “Crazy!” he mumbled to himself, at himself.

Got that?  Morality never matters to white people.  They never care about black people as people.  They only care about “white interests.”

Which sounds kind of racist to me.  At least it would be if he felt that black people (or any other color) were different.  One suspects that the author believes it to be the case, but one can’t be sure.

Then Golightly is confronted with the Secretary of the Interior and suggests sarcastically how to sell the idea to black people and the public at large:

”Why don’t we simply follow your suggestion, Mr. Secretary, and tell everyone that the Space Traders are going to take the blacks to a land of milk and honey?”

The Secretary’s voice hardened. “I don’t think even black people are that stupid.”

So the Secretary is an open racist who doesn’t mind saying racist things about black people in front of a black person, in the fever dreams of Prof. Bell.

And well, it turns out people do think you can flee the country and Golightly is offered to make a Devil’s bargin:

”We know some blacks will escape. I understand some are leaving the country already. But”-and the Secretary’s voice was smooth as butter-“if you go along with the program, Gleason, and the Trade is approved, the President says he’ll see to it that one hundred black families are smuggled out of the country. You decide who they are. They’ll include you and yours, of course.”

And Bell then lays it on thick.  An “Anti-Trade Coalition” (meaning against the aliens’ proposed “trade”) has a plan of resistance, that oddly doesn’t include taking up arms, and Golightly speaks:

At that moment, Professor Gleason Golightly sought the floor propose an alternative response to the Trade offer. Golighty’s close connection to the conservative administration and active support of its anti-black views made him far from a hero to most blacks.

Ah, so this conservative president is actually “anti-black.”  Good to know.  Golightly continues:

“I am here because, whatever our ideological differences or our socioeconomic positions, we all know that black rights, black interests, black property, even black lives are expendable whenever their sacrifice will further or sustain white needs or preferences.”

And this is the major theme of this story.  That when push comes to shove, white people will always screw black people.  Which can be answered with a picture:

That is a painting of the Battle of Gettysburg, where many white people gave up their needs, preferences and indeed their lives to end slavery.  And don’t tell me that the Civil War was not about slavery.  Yes, it was; none of this would have happened if the abolitionists didn’t constantly and selflessly push for the idea that slavery was wrong and had to end.

Moving on, I admit to smiling a little when Golightly smacked liberal civil rights activists, saying to some white liberals that the “masses of black people—those you claim to represent but to whom you seldom listen...”  Heh.

But back to explaining how white people are irredeemably racist, he says to civil rights leaders that it is useless to try to make a moral case to white people:

“Flying in the face of our history, you are still relying on the assumption that whites really want to grant justice to blacks, really want to alleviate onerous racial conditions.”

And the libel against white people continues, Golightly trying to frame the issue:

The question is how best to counter an offer that about a third of the voters would support even if the Space Traders offered America nothing at all.

Got that?  Thirty-three percent of the voters—not white people, but all voters—would support just getting rid of black people (or at least the ones who list themselves as black on official documents).  And yes, it is a libel.  Just because there is no legal cause of action for it (because there is no cause of action for group defamation) doesn’t mean it isn’t.

He then suggests that black people should adopt reverse psychology, pretend that they want it and then white people won’t want it for them:

“A major, perhaps the principal, motivation for racism in this country is the deeply held belief that black people should not have anything that white people don’t have. Not only do whites insist on better jobs, higher incomes, better schools and neighborhoods, better everything, but they also usurp aspects of our culture. They have ‘taken our blues and gone,’ to quote Langston Hughes songs that sprang from our very subordination. Whites exploit not only our music but our dance, language patterns, dress and hair styles as well. Even the badge of our inferior status, our color, is not sacrosanct, whites spending billions a year to emulate our skin tones, paradoxically, as a sign of their higher status. So whites’ appropriation of what is ours and their general acquisitiveness are facts-facts we must make work for us. Rather than resisting the Space Traders’ offer, let us circulate widely the rumor that the Space Traders, aware of our long fruitless struggle on this planet, are arranging to transport us to a land of milk and honey-a virtual paradise.”

And there is a lot to unpack, there.  First notice he talks about “whites’... general acquisitiveness” stereotyping white people as I suppose greedier than most groups.  Yeah, if you were not sure if this story was racist yet, there you go.

And I know it can be very risky attributing the views of a speaker to the author.  But really, read it and tell me what you think.  I feel reasonably confident that this character is serving as a mouthpiece for the author’s beliefs, feelings and attitudes.

And I always get annoyed with the idea that white people emulating black music is a form of theft.  It’s not like as if there is only a certain amount of music to go around.  Bell and others like him take a positive development in our culture—white kids crossing color lines and recognizing quality in black music—and in his mind imagines it is bad, somehow.  It is reasonable to say that Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and pretty much all of Motown Records did as much for civil rights as many of the leaders of the civil rights movement.  This was not accomplished by any song advocating any cause, but by being specific examples of the equal genius found among black people.  They were a living rebuttal to the idea promulgated by racists that black people had nothing to offer our society.  And with admiration comes imitation, but because it is white kids imitating black kids this becomes somehow a bad thing in some people’s minds.

Now there was an unfortunate time where black people singing black music couldn’t even get on the air.  So Pat Boone substituted in for Little Richard to sing a song secretly about gay sex, and similar events happened throughout the culture, and it is unfortunate that it was necessary, but it got the songs out there, and opened the door so that others like the Temptations could come through.

Alas, Golightly goes on:

”Remember, most whites are so jealous of their race-based prerogatives that they oppose affirmative action even though many of these programs would remove barriers that exclude whites as well as blacks.”

Well, now that is pure science fiction.  I have never heard of an affirmative action program that wasn’t a blunt reduction in opportunity for white people to benefit non-whites.  And of course they were often very selective in which non-whites to help, some programs excluding Asian Americans and even Hispanics from their benefits.

And Golightlly continues declaring that “I certainly have learned to understand how whites think on racial issues.”  Um, no Golightly and Professor Bell, I get the feeling that you have never really gotten to know a white person.  And certainly not a conservative one.

Anyway, Golightly’s proposal of reverse psychology fails and ruminating to himself the Professor explains why it was the only proposal that had a chance of working:

But he was crushed by his failure to get them to recognize what he had long known: that without power, a people must use cunning and guile.

This is a consistent theme in certain corners of the academic world, especially among critical race theorists (of whom Bell is a founding philosopher) that power is necessary for racism, defining racism as “prejudice or discrimination based on race, plus the power to enforce it.”  Thus, by their logic, it is impossible for a black person to be racist, because they have no power.  Besides the obvious self-serving aspect of this definition the amazing thing is that this definition is still being used when we have a *black president.  But even before then black people are not and have never truly been powerless.  For instance, if a black person is driving at night and sees a white person walking by the side of the road and there is no one around, that person could swerve and kill that pedestrian.  I’m not saying that this is likely, but it is possible and in that possibility is power.  And even in the days of slavery, the slaves had and exercised power by engaging in forms of passive resistance.  Obviously the slave didn’t have very much power, but they had some.  I would argue that the only person who doesn’t have power is one who is literally in a coma.

So the debate goes forward and the President pretends that this is not racial discrimination:

While these citizens [being asked for by the aliens] are of only one racial group, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the selection was intended to discriminate against any race or religion or ethnic background.”

Look, I am pretty cynical about politicians, but that is a bit too brazen a pile of B.S. for even Bill Clinton.  This strikes me as a clumsy attempt to put in a dig against people who are not eager to claim that a policy is racist because it falls more heavily on people of a certain race—that is disparate impact discrimination.  The problem is that the dig is so clumsy that it misses its mark.

Then big business swings in and decides that on balance black people are good for business so they wanted them to stay:

First, blacks represented 12 percent of the market and generally consumed much more of their income than did their white counterparts. No one wanted to send that portion of the market into outer space-not even for the social and practical benefits offered by the Space Traders.

And the real estate industry had an opinion, too.

Similarly, businesses whose profits were based on sales in black ghetto communities-or who supplied law enforcement agencies, prisons, and other such institutions-faced substantial losses in sales. The real estate industry, for example, annually reaped uncounted millions in commissions on sales and rentals, inflated by the understanding that blacks would not be allowed to purchase or rent in an area.

Oy, bad history and bad economics.

Even these concerns were overshadowed by fears of what the huge influx of gold to pay all state debts would do to the economy or to the value of either the current money supply or gold.

Which proves that Bell doesn’t understand economics.  If we were seriously considering such a thing, the bottom would drop out of the gold market immediately.  If we accepted it, the worldwide economy would probably collapse, due to the sudden destruction of wealth.  And business leaders would know that.

Though seldom acknowledging the fact, most business leaders understood that blacks were crucial in stabilizing the economy with its ever-increasing disparity between the incomes of rich and poor. They recognized that potentially turbulent unrest among those on the bottom was deflected by the continuing efforts of poorer whites to ensure that they, at least, remained ahead of blackss. If blacks were removed from the society, working- and middle-class whites-deprived of their racial distraction-might look upward toward the top of the societal well and realize that they as well as the blacks below them suffered because of the gross disparities in opportunities and income.

This would be junior Marxism 101, and incorrect.

And again, really, a bargain is not needed at all—in Bell’s mind, white people would get rid of black people for free!

”However, enticing such benefits of the Trade may be,” interjected a government census official, “the real attraction for a great many whites is that it would remove black people from this society. Since the first of the year, my staff and I have interviewed literally thousands of citizens across the country, and, though they don’t say it directly, it’s clear that at bottom they simply think this will be a better country without black people. I fear, gentlemen, that those of us who have been perpetuating this belief over the years have done a better job than we knew.”

That is right he is saying that the conservatives have successfully convinced white people that they are better off without black people.  Again, does he actually know any white conservatives, or are we just the “other” in his mind?

By the way, the big business felt confident that they could win this fight because “[t]hey controlled the media.”  Yes, yes, the same big business that put this conservative president in office.  Because we all know the big media supports mainly conservatives.  *rolls eyes*

Then the most unreal part:

6 January. Although the Television Evangelists of America also owned jets, they understood that their power lay less in these perks of the wealthy than in their own ability to manipulate their TV congregations’ religious feelings. So, after a lengthy conference call, they announced a massive evangelical rally in the Houston Astrodome which would be televised over their religious cable network. They went all out. The Trade offer was the evangelists’ chance to rebuild their prestige and fortunes, neither of which had recovered from the Jim and Tammy Bakker and the Jimmy Swaggart scandals. They would achieve this much-desired goal by playing on, rather than trying to change, the strongly racist views of their mostly working-class television audiences. True, some of the preachers had a substantial black following, but evangelical support for the Trade would not be the evangelists’ decision. Rather, these media messiahs heralded it as God’s will.

The Space Traders were, according to the televised “Gospel,” bringing America blessings earned by their listeners, and viewers’ faithful dedication to freedom, liberty, and God’s word.

So he predicts that the average televangelist would throw their black followers under the bus and embrace the aliens’ message.  Except of course would present an existential threat to faith.  For one thing, it would tend to prove that the book of Genesis is just plain wrong, and people of faith would have to wrap their heads around that.  And I say that as a person who believes that somewhere out in the heavens there probably are aliens,** and still being a believer in God, but people will have to rethink how they look at Genesis, and some will likely lose faith.

(Well, I suppose it’s not inevitable that the appearance of aliens would cause us to lose faith.  For instance, suppose we discovered that the aliens claim to have been visited by Jesus, in human form, who told them how to find us.  Indeed, suppose they had video footage of that event!  That might have the effect of confirming faith, rather than undermining it.  And for that matter an encounter with an alien helped revitalize the faith of Mel Gibson’s character in Signs.  But nothing in this story suggests any kind of faith-confirming element to the aliens’ appearance.)

And the televangelists decided to dramatize black people being sent into the ships, with blackface.  Yes, really.

[The televangelists’ presentation] whipped the crowd into a delirium of religious feeling, making them receptive both to the financial appeals, which raised millions, and to the rally’s grade finale: a somber tableau of black people marching stoically into the Space Traders’ ships, which here resembled ancient sacrificial altars. Try as they might, the producers of the pageant had had a hard time finding black people willing to act out roles they might soon be forced to experience, but a few blacks were glad to be paid handsomely for walking silently across the stage. These few were easily supplemented by the many whites eager to daub on “black face.”

Then he recognizes that this would in fact all be unconstitutional, so they would amend the constitution.  And jumping ahead, they do!  In this case they use the unusual method of proposing amendments by convention.  And let’s review how that process would work in Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof[.]

So you have to get two thirds of the states to propose that the convention happens.  So that is 33 states, if we assume that there are still 50 total in the far-flung year 2000.  And of course that has to be done over any attempts to filibuster, etc.  And then jumping ahead, you have to also get 75% of the states to agree to the final amendment.  And the professor thinks that this would be done in a matter of weeks.

The amendment was scheduled for ratification by the states on 15 January in a national referendum. If ratified, the  amendment would validate amendments to existing Selective Service laws authorizing the induction of all blacks into  special service for transportation under the terms of the Space Traders’ offer.

Um, except professor that isn’t how it works.  Either the state legislature itself would vote for it, or there would be a convention in each state, where we the people would vote for the delegates.

And notice how he glosses over that the selective service laws were already amended to allow for this.  Really?  So there would be a majority in favor of this sufficient to overcome a filibuster?

And then finally we get some diversity in this story beyond black and white, where the Jews decide to do something to oppose this because it is kind of “holocausty” but even then many of the Jews are against this not on principle but because

A concern of many Jews not contained in their official condemnations of the Trade offer, was that, in the absence of blacks, Jews could become the scapegoats for a system so reliant on an identifiable group on whose heads less-well-off whites can discharge their hate and frustrations for societal disabilities about which they are unwilling to confront their leaders.

Lovely.  He also imagines that Jews would promise to hide black people in America, and this attempt to do so would be brutally suppressed:

the Attorney General expressed his “grave concern” that what he felt certain was but a small group of Jews would, by acting in flagrant violation of the law of the land, besmirch the good names of all patriotic American Jews. For this reason, he said, he was releasing for publication the secret list, obtained by undercover FBI agents, of all those who had joined the Anne Frank Committee. He stated that the release was needed so that all Americans could easily distinguish this group from the majority of patriotic and law-abiding Jewish citizens. Retaliation was quick. Within hours, men and women listed as belonging to the committee lost their jobs; their contracts were canceled; their mortgages foreclosed; and harassment of them, including physical violence, escalated into a nationwide resurgence of anti-Semitic feeling

And those urging for ratification made this argument: “The Framers intended America to be a white country.”  Except of course they were only talking about getting rid of one of many non-white groups.  Again, it seems that it has never occurred to Bell that there were any groups in America besides black people and white people.

Indeed, indeed in a moment we will get the only other mention of anyone besides white and black people:

In the full page ads, they pressed the point “Are we cannibals ready to consume our own for profit? And if we are, the blacks may be only the first. If the Space Traders return with an irresistible offer for another group, the precedent will have been set, and none of us will be safe. Certainly not the minorities—Hispanics, Jews, Asians—and perhaps not even those of us identifiable by politics or religion or geographic location. Setting such a precedent of profit could consume us all.”

(Emphasis added.)  This is just about the only time Bell’s story even notices that Hispanics and Asian Americans exist and notice that there is no attempt to capture any impact either group has on the debate--indeed anything either group actually does. The story talks about black and white people fighting this, even Jews, but not Asian Americans or Hispanics.

And the pro-trade argument echoes Bell’s big theme:

the pro-Trade response focused on the past sacrifices of blacks. “In each instance,” it went, “the sacrifice of black rights was absolutely necessary to accomplish an important government purpose. These decisions were neither arbitrary nor capricious. Without the compromises on slavery in the Constitution of 1787, there would be no America. Nor would there by any framework under which those opposed to slavery could continue the struggle that eventually led to the Civil War and emancipation. ”

Which is just bad history, but we expect that by now.

But we do get a clue as to the intent of the aliens, when American negotiators suggested giving them only the black criminals:

But the Space Traders stated that they had no intention of turning their far-off homeland into an American prison colony for blacks.

And the magic aliens have an answer to the issue of black people leaving the country:

the Space Traders warned that they would withdraw their proposition unless the United States halted the flight of the growing numbers of middle-class blacks who-fearing the worst-were fleeing the country.

And I call them “magic aliens” because they are a classic example of aliens who follow absolutely no logic and just do whatever the story needs them to do.  Why would aliens care about black Americans only?  Why would they want only those who are identified on government documents as black?  It makes no sense, except when you understand it as allowing the aliens to fill the author’s narrative need.  The story would work equally well if you changed out the aliens with a magician.  Call it “Harry Potter and the Final Solution.”

So they end up doing things to keep black people here: “executive orders were issued and implemented, barring blacks from leaving the country until the Space Traders’ proposition was fully debated and resolved.”  Um, yeah, we can’t keep illegal immigrants out but we can figure out (within days!) how to keep black people in.  Also here’s an important part:

To ensure that the Trade debate and referendum were concluded in a “non-coercive environment,” all blacks serving in the military were placed on furlough and relieved of their weapons. State officials took similar action with respect to blacks on active duty in state and local police.

This is thankfully impossible due to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions upholding the right to bear arms.  So let’s everyone thank God for the Supreme Court.

And speaking of, Bell goes  on to claim that the Supreme Court would not step into this because it was a “political question.”  I think that is wrong, but it is a reasonable surmise (or at least less unreasonable than all the other predictions he has made so far).

And we get another insight into the aliens’ motives:

With the legal questions of the Trade resolved, the U.S. government announced that as a result of intensive negotiations with the Space Trader leaders, the latter had agreed to amend their offer and exclude from the Trade all black people seventy years old, and older, and all those blacks who were seriously handicapped, ill, and injured.

So my guess is that Bell imagines that the aliens want slave labor, and not solely criminal labor, or else they would not have agreed to that.

In addition, a thousand otherwise-eligible blacks and their immediate families would be left behind as trustees of black property and possessions, all of which were to be stored or held in escrow in case blacks were returned to this country. Each of the thousand black “detainees” was required to pledge to accept a subordinate status with “suspended citizenship” until such time as the “special service inductees” were returned to the country.

Which would also be unconstitutional.  Nothing in that proposed amendment superseded the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

And then it ends with the referendum passing and black people being sent away, almost naked and in chains, and “ black people left the New World as their forebears had arrived.”  Lovely.

In the end the story doesn’t tell us particularly much about reality but about the mind of Derrick Bell and his junior Marxist view of race and racism.  In his mind, white people are the true aliens, who do not act except in their racial self-interest—even when their racial self-interest conflicts with what he believes is their actual self-interest.  These “alien white people” in Bell’s mind are incapable of even the most basic human compassion towards African Americans and indeed many of them would even gladly vote for genocide or forced exodus.  And the result is a scummy tale that doesn’t pass basic tests of plausibility.


* recognizing of course that Obama’s heritage is as much black as white.

** No, I am not saying that aliens are visiting us, that UFOs are really alien ships and people have been abducted for various experiments.  I am just saying that with the billions of stars out there, there are probably billions of planets, and billions of them are going to be in a zone that can support life and eventually develop life that will eventually develop into intelligent life like we have here.  It’s hard to know or guess just how much intelligent life there is in the universe, and consequently it is hard to know or guess how likely it is for us to actually meet any of them, but I have to think there is likely to be at least one planet in the universe that will develop sentient life.


Follow me at Twitter @aaronworthing, mostly for snark and site updates.  And you can purchase my book (or borrow it for free if you have Amazon Prime), Archangel: A Novel of Alternate, Recent History here.  And you can read a little more about my novel, here.


  1. >> And bear in mind this appeared in a book in 1993...


    Yes, by all means, please link to the paperback, which came out (as paperbacks often do) a year or so after the hardcover -- a hardcover published in October 1992 (before election day)... meaning it couldn't have been written during a Clinton presidency. (And in fact, it is likely he had it kicking around for several years prior to publication).

    That said, I knew Professor Bell, having been his student in law school while he was on sabbatical from Harvard (about two years after the damning video where he and Obama have wild crazy socialist sex in front of protesting radical Harvard students). Your attempt to psychoanalyze him through his science fiction work is among the funniest things you have ever written.

    First of all, like many college and law school professors, Bell like to imagine scenarios to get his students thinking. "The Space Traders" was not intended to reflect his views, and it certainly wasn't trying to predict anything. It was intended as a thought piece to spark discussion. So trying to draw out Bell's views from a work of science fiction is ridiculous at best.

    Also, you are significantly wrong in many places, particularly where you discuss critical race theory. Like so many others now weighing in on Professor Bell, you fail to comprehend that CRT is an academic theory, not a blueprint, and certainly not a political tract. You also misstate what it actually is.

    I'm glad you read the story, but your analysis of it was a colossal waste of your time.

  2. Ken

    Fair point about publication, but if memory serves it was looking pretty grim for Bush Sr. in October 1992, too.

    And of course if Bush Sr. won that would be no guarantee that a republican would win in 1996. I mean the "natural successor" would be Dan Quayle... and we know he would not have even been nominated. My guess is that the most likely republican nominee in 1996 would have been... Bob Dole. But it certainly isn't guaranteed.

    And the story is full of predictions and events, but he is not predicting events, or even trying to portray anything as realistic, he is just trying to get us to think... Right, was his fingers crossed as he wrote this?

    > Also, you are significantly wrong in many places, particularly where you discuss critical race theory.

    I'm not trying to discuss CRT, just this story and its implications.

  3. >> Fair point about publication, but if memory serves it was looking pretty grim for Bush Sr. in October 1992, too.

    Again, that's assuming that he wrote that short story (as well as all the other ones) just prior to publication. That's not often the case. Authors can have stories kicking around for months, even years. (In the intro, Bell acknowledges that some of the material had been around for years, and even published before).

    And seeing as how the editorial process usually takes months, I doubt he had it written before the summer of 1992.

    >> And the story is full of predictions and events, but he is not predicting events, or even trying to portray anything as realistic, he is just trying to get us to think... Right, was his fingers crossed as he wrote this?

    Do you think every science fiction writer is trying to predict true events? Seriously? In the same book, Bell also wrote a totally separate short story about a "new Atlantis" coming to the surface of the ocean. Is it your position that he was predicting that aliens would come in 2000 AND Atlantis would resurface? And don't you think he might of mentioned Atlantis in "The Space Traders"?

    Of course not. Sci-fi authors -- including Robert Heinlein and Arthur C Clarke -- often write different treatments of the future.

  4. > Do you think every science fiction writer is trying to predict true events? Seriously? In the same book, Bell also wrote a totally separate short story about a "new Atlantis" coming to the surface of the ocean. Is it your position that he was predicting that aliens would come in 2000 AND Atlantis would resurface? And don't you think he might of mentioned Atlantis in "The Space Traders"?

    You confuse specific events with trends and human attitudes. He is telling us what he thinks of human nature, about what he thinks white people think. Twist and turn all you want, but there you go.

    The reason why you are fighting this so hard, is because it makes your former professor look so bad.

  5. >> He is telling us what he thinks of human nature, about what he thinks white people think.

    He's not. Perhaps you should read the whole book, rather than just the short story. One of the first things you'll discover is that he doesn't think "white people" all think the same (or all black people, for that matter). So trying to pin down his views of "what white people think" by reading his short story is flawed from the get-go.

    As for making Bell "look bad", I suggest to you that the latest attempt to smear Obama through his somewhat tenuous connection to Bell makes conservatives look bad. But, you've all had your go at women lately, why not go after recently-deceased black civil rights lawyers?

    I'm not kidding. This all plays well into the hands of Obama, a guy who -- as the video shows -- actually CAN speak with ease and passion without a teleprompter (so much for that meme!). Sure, it's raw meat to people who already aren't going to vote for Obama anyway. But for everyone else, it makes the right wing look not only desparate, but mean-spirited and bigoted. I know y'all don't like the epithet, but boy do you invite it.

    So please keep this attack going, conservatives. (Seriously, I don't understand what the right is thinking anymore.)

  6. > He's not. Perhaps you should read the whole book, rather than just the short story. One of the first things you'll discover is that he doesn't think "white people" all think the same (or all black people, for that matter).

    Where did i say that he thought we were a monolith.

    Although he is curiously unconcerned with the existance of groups others than black people and white people.

    > As for making Bell "look bad", I suggest to you that the latest attempt to smear Obama through his somewhat tenuous connection to Bell

    You mean when he endorsed him and taught his books in his law class?

    > But, you've all had your go at women lately,

    Yes, we attacked ALL women. *rolls eyes*

    > But for everyone else, it makes the right wing look not only desparate, but mean-spirited and bigoted. I know y'all don't like the epithet, but boy do you invite it.

    How is it bigoted to point out that Obama keeps associating himself with racists?

  7. Actually rewatching the HBO short it actually kind of works... as a satire. In the HBO short, the aliens set a shading test for how black the people have to be, which is slightly less ludicrous and overheard on the radio in one scene: "Actor George Hamilton vowed he too would go if called."

  8. >> You mean when he endorsed him and taught his books in his law class?

    Yes. That's a tenuous connection.

    >> How is it bigoted to point out that Obama keeps associating himself with racists?

    Because y'all keep going after the black people (to the pleasure of ACTUAL white racists) with the flimsiest of evidence (Sherrod, being another example). In short, you keep FAILING.

    But don't let me stop you. As I said, the bigger it becomes, the better it plays for Obama. If this issue reaches critical mass and the GOP candidates get asked whether they think Professor Derrick Bell was a racist, there's no answer they could give that will help them, and every answer they give is going to motivate voters on the left. Please please please inject race into the presidential contest! It worked so well last time!

  9. Eh. My biggest problem is that it's simply shitty writing. Really banal, repetitive and non-euophnious.

    And Kurt Russell IS a bad-ass.

  10. "If this issue reaches critical mass and the GOP candidates get asked whether they think Professor Derrick Bell was a racist"

    I hope they would answer "yes".

    Romney is cleverer than I and often is criticized for being so tepid when asked these questions, but it would open up the door for surrogates to explain the fact that Bell is racist. It's 2012, and people who think what Bell thought can be called racist without worrying too much that they were black and racist.

    In a sense, this is another legacy of the Jim Crow era and other bigotries against blacks in American history. There were bound to be racist blacks as a result. There were bound to be some who favored segregation and saw color of a white person's skin first and foremost. And I would like our next president to be able to explain that with enough skill that it's understood. Confronting that reaction is the grunt work to Martin Luther King's dream.

    I think that's feasible.