R.I.P. Derrick Bell, Creator of One of Science Fiction's Scariest Thought Experiments

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. Derrick Bell, Creator of One of Science Fictions Scariest Thought Experiments

Derrick Bell is primarily known as a pioneering law professor who helped improve civil rights in America. But he also wrote one of the most disturbing thought experiments in science fiction, which later became an HBO TV special. In "The Space Traders," aliens arrive and offer the United States "enough gold to retire the national debt, a magic chemical that will cleanse America's polluted skies and waters, and a limitless source of safe energy to replace our dwindling reserves." The U.S. just has to give the aliens one thing in return: all of our black people. (Guess what white Americans decide?) Read the whole story here. [New York Times, via K. Tempest Bradford]

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DISCUSSION

stupid inflammatory concept is stupid… and inflammatory.

Seriously, if your reaction to this is ‘it’s scary cause it’s true!’ you’re an idiot. OK, that’s a little mean, but at the very least, you’re letting your anti-government bias color your wild imagination. No. Just NO. The president and congress can’t come to a decision about finances, and you think in 16 days they could come to a decision on selling out a huge portion of US citizens?! Even conceding the possibility that the majority of the 457 white members of congress are UNREPENTANT RACISTS, you’re assuming that the Republicans and Democrats can agree on ANYTHING(protip: they CAN’T). Then there’s the issue of the United States being xenophobic when it comes to other countries, let alone another (totally mysterious) species. THEN, look at the United States history of extradition cases and laws. If unsure that the extradited individual isn’t going to be tortured or mistreated, we won’t extradite. But I’m not even claiming our government would refuse because it’s morally wrong. I’m not saying we’ve abolished racism, or we’re paragons of human rights… I’m saying logistically it’s not happening.

And to the people going ‘well, there is historical precedent…’ oh shut up, no there isn’t. Extraterrestrials showing up on our front door and offering us a psychotically racist trade is so beyond the pale you can’t compare it to anything in human history. It would knock the wind out of us, shatter a lot of people’s perceptions/beliefs, and more than anything our xenophobic, suspicious nature would come to the fore.

And of course, every white politician in the story is a racist caricature, and the whites unconditionally trust the aliens and mock the black population's reaction to the heinous offer:

"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."

Woa, when did Spike Lee start writing sci-fi?!