Is its recent PSA encouraging a more diverse telling of history…or something else?
We teach children two contradictory lessons about the truth. The first is not to lie. The second is that you sometimes need to lie to avoid hurt feelings. The newest anti-racism PSA put out by Cartoon Network cleverly exploits both lessons. In the ad, Pearl from ‘Steven Universe’ informs students that there are problems with the way schools are teaching them history:
“I worry about you humans. Because you only live, what, about a hundred years? And you rely on these stories to know your own history.”
Given that Pearl is an alien with an extended lifespan, her observation is fair. Because human lives are finite, we have no choice but to rely on stories passed down by our elders as a chronicle of our civilization and achievements. In this endeavor, truth serves a uniquely important function.
She tells the story of Lewis Latimer, Black inventor of the filament inside lightbulbs, who receives scant if any mention in the textbooks in favor of white science savior Thomas Alva Edison. That’s a “One To Grow On” moment that anyone but the most fervent bigot can get behind. But that’s not what this PSA is really about. Pearl moves onto the meat of her argument:
“Thanks to systemic racism, most of your storytellers prioritized white accomplishments which leaves you with an incomplete picture. These textbooks are incomplete. There were Black Roman warriors, Black medieval knights, Black classical musicians, Black cowboys, Black fighter pilots. Where are they?”
It’s perhaps not surprising that this 30-second video spot went viral. The post received 200,000 likes and 5,000 comments on TikTok and was shared in over 50,000 tweets. Everyone from fashion designer Kenneth Cole to basketball star Rex Chapman to Barnes & Noble was lavish in their praise. Because, like the rest of us, they were taught not to lie. And, like most people with a high school-level education in history, they know their knowledge of western civilization to be incomplete. They have also been taught that lies are sometimes necessary to avoid hurt feelings, like those of white people.
The makers of the Cartoon Network PSA would have us believe that historians wrote their history as a purely emotional, self-interested narrative chronicle of white achievements intended to marginalize non-white people. But here, as is so often the case when discussing social justice matters, we begin with an accusation that reason cannot rebut.
History, Pearl argues, amounts to nothing more than a narrative Ponzi scheme intended to marginalize non-white people. She makes certain claims about history and, yes–there were black Roman soldiers and Medieval knights….but probably in rough equivalency to the number of white guys who fought in Shaka Zulu’s army. This was the result of geographical remoteness of different ethnic groups from one another, not any conspiracy to marginalize Black centurions and knights. But never mind such pesky historical details.
Perhaps most chillingly, Pearl concludes with this admonition:
“Ask yourself when you’re learning history: who’s telling the story? Was this modified to make white readers comfortable? Are major details being left out that would credit people of color and center their point of view?”
With a simple statement, Pearl immediately renders all history teachers, textbooks and curriculum as suspect–possible collaborators in a conspiracy to marginalize so-called “people of color.”
Cartoon Network developed this PSA in cooperation with psychologist Dr. Kira Banks, co-founder of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity and racial equity consultant for the Ferguson Commission. Such a pedigree renders Dr. Banks and her assertions, in the current climate, above reproach. To disagree with her would be, at best, evidence of “white fragility” and, at worst, “racism.”
With this public service announcement, Cartoon Network is encouraging children to distrust their parents, teachers, historical curriculum and any version of history that frames Western Civilization in even a marginally positive light. And we are encouraging them to believe there is no harm in this. But anyone with an actual “lived experience” of history cannot be alone in feeling unsettled by the implications.
Critical Race Theory is a totalizing ideology: you are either with it or against it. There is no middle ground. And this public service announcement is an unapologetic hymn to CRT aimed squarely at our children.
Targeting the young is common practice among totalizing ideologies seeking to transform civilizations. Their societies taught both Hitler Youth and communist Young Pioneers to be vigilant for lapses in ideological purity on the part of their parents and teachers and to report infractions. There’s an eerie resemblance to that appeal in the Cartoon Network’s PSA. What they’re teaching you, Pearl argues, is wrong because the adults teaching it are ignorant and self-interested.
By the circular logic of critical race theory, disagreement with its assertions is proof of complicity in racism. This is the new Red Scare of our age. Much as people rushed to denounce friends, neighbors and co-workers as Communist to the McCarthy hearings, modern Twitter mobs zero in on dissidents who take issue with the tenets of the true faith and “call out” their heresy, resulting in ruined reputations and loss of income and employment.
Only you, young pioneers, know and have sufficient courage to embrace the truth.
The future is ours, comrade.