Link: "See Color"

Here we are in the future
Here we are in the future and it's wrong

"Who We Are", Steven Universe: The Movie

Whether or not you support the ongoing ideological transition from late-20th-century individualist "content of their character" liberalism to the successor ideology, it is imperative that students of literature and the arts know how to judge propaganda on its merits: not everything that tries to teach good morals is good art, and not everything your ideological enemies put out is badly done, either.

It is in this spirit that I say that the new Steven Universe anti-racism public service announcement is a masterfully well-executed piece of propaganda. It's actually persuasive. I've never seen anything like it.

There's some sense in which I think the creators "got lucky" with this short—I didn't think much of the two prior entries in the series, "Tell the Whole Story" and "Don't Deny It—Defy It", which follow the same pattern of portraying the filming of a 1990s-alike liberal PSA being interrupted by the actors supplying a more up-to-date woke moral. (I found Pearl's rant in "Tell the Whole Story" unpersuasive—you would expect systemic racism to suppress black accomplishment in the past, not just the portrayal thereof in modern textbooks; as for "Don't Deny It", I was too distracted by the kids taking gay marriage for granted to process the claim that anti-miscegenation attitudes are still a potent threat—Loving was forty-eight years before Obergefell.)

In contrast, "See Color"'s attacks on old-school liberalism land. We open to a '90s-alike PSA invoking the "doesn't matter if you're black, white, or purple" trope (which has been cringe for as long as I (born 1987) can remember, but which I imagine sounded progressive the first time someone said it), until Amethyst breaks character to object to the script—

AMETHYST: What the—woah, woah, woah. Hold up a minute here. Ugh, who wrote this? I think it kind of does matter that I'm purple? I mean, I'm purple because I'm literally an alien.

BLACK KID: Well I'm not an alien, but it definitely matters to me that I'm black.

WHITE KID: Yeah, it makes a difference that I'm white. [to BLACK KID] I know the two of us get treated, very differently.

AMETHYST: I just think it's messed up to compare me being an alien, to you two being different races. You're both human; you're totally biologically the same. Adding purple people into a lesson about human racism makes no sense.

BLACK KID and WHITE KID: [in unison] Yeah, that is pretty weird.

WHITE KID: I think people with the 'black, white, or purple' thing because adding a fantasy race in there helps distract from the actual racism black people have to deal with.

BLACK KID: Right. My experience with anti-black racism is really specific. Other people of color experience other forms of racism, too. But you won't see any of that if you don't see color.

AMETHYST: Dude, so this entire public service announcement could be a ploy to avoid talking about racism altogether! Hey, ah, could we get a rewrite where we appreciate each other without erasing what makes each of us different?

How is the old-school liberal to reply to this? I say: the function of saying "or purple" is to appeal to a principle of equal treatment. Adding a fantasy race in there highlights the universality of our commitment to equality: purple magical alien gem superheroines might not exist, but if they did, they would be entitled to the same rights and dignity as everyone.

But how should our principle of majestic equality be applied? Categories summarize informationcluster-structure in the real world. As a matter of AI design, there would be no functional reason to assign entities to different categories, if they didn't differ in some decision-relevant ways. The reason it's pretty weird to reference Amethyst's skin color in a lesson about human racism, is because the challenges Amethyst might face as a gem in a world of humans—perhaps the perceptual skew of living thousands of years when most humans don't see a hundred—are going to depend on the ways in which gems and humans are actually different, which don't apply to humans of different races who are relevantly the same.

In this way, we see that old-school liberalism is effectively the position that race shouldn't exist as a cognitively meaningful category. But is it that easy? If there's some sense in which race does exist—even just as a social "type tag" based on superficial anatomic markers in humans who are otherwise totally biologically the same—then verbally claiming to pretend that it doesn't, isn't a realistic or honest strategy for remediating the harm done by unfair conventions that culturally evolved around the presence of the category.

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