The Aliens and the Jews

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 8 2012 5:02 PM

The Aliens and the Jews

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02: A Dalek, a Cyberman and a Silent invade the Melbourne Cricket Ground on February 2, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. The Doctor Who Daleks this weekend are performing for the first time outside of the UK with the Melbourne Syphony Orchestra at Plenary Hall. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images for BBC Worldwide)

Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images for BBC Worldwide

The critics of Derrick Bell, who've been comparing him to Jeremiah Wright, have honed in on his satirical parable "Space Traders." Here's how Big Government's Joel Pollak described Bell's sci-fi tale.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Derrick Bell got into serious trouble when he wrote an essay, a fictional story, called "Space Traders," positing that Americans, white Americans would sell black Americans to space aliens in order to pay out the national debt and that Jews would stand by and let it happen... He writes a futuristic science fiction story about race, but it's really telling the story of the civil rights struggle. He thinks that basically white people sold blacks out and then Jews who pretended to be helpful to black people during the civil rights struggle, backed away when they saw it was no longer in their self-interest.

I found the exciting movie adaptation of Bell's parable; Conor Friedersdorf found the text. Pollak's Cliff Notes version of the story is... well, I wouldn't give his paper an "A." Bell's story takes place during the countdown period between the aliens' offer and the deadline to make good on it. On January 1 (the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, of course), the aliens set the deadline. On January 8, there's a "mammoth" rally against the blacks-for-prosperity alien deal at Madison Square Garden, led by a character named Rabbi Abraham Specter.

"We simply cannot stand by and allow America's version of the Final Solution to its race problem to be carried out without our strong protest and committed opposition." Thirty-five thousand Jews signed pledges to disrupt by all possible nonviolent means both the referendum and-if the amendment was ratified-the selection of blacks for 'special service.'

"Already," Rabbi Specter announced, "a secret Anne Frank Committee has formed, and its hundreds of members have begun to locate hiding places in out of the way sites across this great country. Blacks by the thousands can be hidden for years if necessary until the nation returns to its senses.

"We vow this action because we recognize the fateful parallel between the plight of the blacks in this country and the situation of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Holocaust scholars agree that the Final Solution in Germany would not have been possible without the pervasive presence and the uninterrupted tradition of anti-Semitism in Germany. We must not let the space Traders be the final solution for blacks in America."

On January 9, "responding almost immediately to the Jewish anti-Trade rally," the attorney general -- no last name, but presumably a goy -- cracks down.

[H]e 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. Groups on the far right, who were exploiting the growing support for the Trade, urged: "Send the blacks into space. Send the Jews into Hell." The Jews who opposed the Trade were intimidated into silence and inaction. The leaders of Rabbi Specter's group were themselves forced into hiding, leaving few able to provide any haven for blacks.

Pollak's shorthand of this: Bell imagined a black holocaust-of-sorts in which the "Jews would stand by and let it happen." I don't think that's a fair reading of the story at all. You could argue that Bell's story is anti-white, as loaded as that term is. But "anti-Semitic" is a nuclear-strength term to hurl at a guy. Does it fit? Not if this is the evidence.

UPDATE: And here's how Big Journalism's Dana Loesch characterized the story on CNN:

He thought what would happen if aliens came to the United States and they offered to absolve us of our national debt if we sell them black Americans, as Jews stood by, and for selling them black Americans as slaves, they would give us gold and we would pay off our national debt.

Read the story: Would you say the "Jews stood by" as the blacks were traded away? And this was the spin to two different, competing cable news audiences.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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