The Cotton Gin
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. That’s what you learn in high school. Then in college, you find out the really important part: slavery in America had much to owe to the cotton gin. Without Eli Whitney, America might be a different place, without as sordid a past when it comes to race. Or at least the Black people might be happier, had they decided to come. The Natives, they’re still screwed.
So the real question here is, would you go back in time and kill Eli Whitney? NOT SO FAST. You’re thinking “of course. Stop him. He’s America’s Hitler.” And you’re right. But you’re also wrong, friend. So, so wrong.
First of all, killing someone who hasn’t done something yet is called “unilateral invasion,” or as Jesus said once, “a total bummer.” For all you know, you teleported back to 1975 (or whenever slavery happened lol) and you stepped on a bug and that bug was supposed to bite Eli Whitney and make him immune to a disease he would catch. So maybe just being in 1975 was enough to kill him, and you had to go one better and take the components of the cotton gin he was building and beat him to death with them. That’s gross. Time-travel is so complicated you could probably kill Eli Whitney just by trying to explain it to him.
Second of all, if there were no cotton gin, those acid-washed jeans you wore back in time, the ones you thought would be amazing to show off and that might make you a king among men? Yeah they’re going to disappear as soon as you kill Eli Whitney. Immediately. You’re going to kill a historical figure, and then you’ll be naked and covered in blood, in a time when they drowned witches and didn’t let gay people get married. So good luck I guess.
Third, if you kill Eli Whitney and your acid-washed jeans DO NOT disappear, then you have a much worse problem. It means that Eli Whitney wasn’t the only person who figured out that cotton was a fiber, and thus might make Chinese people fabulously wealthy someday, when woven into slutty and embarrassing t-shirts, and bought in lots of 40,000 for a dollar. So you’re going to have to travel back in time, kill Eli Whitney, then wait around for the next person who invents the cotton gin, allowing your pants to continue existing. If that doesn’t happen before you die in 1979 or whatever, since there was no medicine back then so four years was the average life span of a time-travelling murderer (1979, Us Census.), then tough luck, you’ll have to go FORWARD in time and convince yourself that the acid-washed jeans thing isn’t going to work, AND that future you has to travel back in time AFTER past you kills Eli Whitney in 1975, so future you can find the new cotton gin inventor and kill that schmuck. And if future you doesn’t suddenly feel a draft after he beats the inventor to death with a cotton gin? Well, let’s just say it gets messy.
Fourth, and this is the one that keeps me up at night: if Eli Whitney is dead, and that somehow works out that there’s no slavery (none), then you have to think about the peripheral effects. Slaves sang spirituals and employed African rhythms which eventually turned into modern American music. The only music which has no basis in soul or rhythm, country music, would be the only music in America. We would have no offensive syrups or rices. We would lack New Orleans jazz, the blues, rock and roll. We wouldn’t have any of the seven or eight things Black people invented. We would have no matching pantsuits, no hip-hop. If you killed Eli Whitney out of some kind-hearted, Black-loving mentality, you might actually do more to destroy Black progress than anything since Eminem.
I’ll write a closer to this bit later.