Is that Original Cindy in 2049?
Is that Original Cindy in 2049? Warner Brothers/Columbia

The only black people in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner are extras. The replicants are all white, and the city of Los Angeles is basically an unmixed population of whites and Asians. The Asians live on the streets or work in small shops. Whites rule the LAPD (all that's left of the city's government) and biotech corporations. Whites are also the slaves manufactured by Tyrell Corporation. There are no black, Mexican, or Asian replicants. And the leader of the rebel replicants is a very Aryan Roy Batty. Replicants, however, are, according to Rick Deckard's voiceover, called "skin jobs," which is equivalent to calling black people "niggers." So, Blade Runner is about a slave revolt. And what do the slaves want? Freedom? No. They want more life, which, to be fair, is another kind of freedom. As the 20th century British philosopher Alfred Whitehead put it: "Life is a bid for freedom."

Blade Runner 2049 has more color than Blade Runner, though its LA is less interesting and even less urban than the original. The prejudice against replicants has intensified. No one likes them. And if you are known to be one, and are allowed to live in the city, you're repeatedly and openly called a "skin job." Standard racism is a thing of the past, though there are still no blacks in the top positions of the corporations and the LAPD. One gathers that most have gone to one of the Off-Worlds. But what Blade Runner 2049 presents is the idea that racism was never about race, but about the exploitation of labor. This is why skin jobs can have white skin. This view is clearly stated near the beginning of 2049. The history of civilization has been built by slave labor. As a consequence, the motor of history is the master–slave dialectic.

Some blacks might be offended by this conception of history and civilization because it assumes that the end of slavery is accompanied by the end of racism. It's not; indeed, the history of US slavery is very much still with us to this day, still built into our economy. And so, there is no automatic clearing of the past, as imagined and celebrated by Cybotron's "Clear." We cannot wake up one morning and suddenly not see color simply because some law or economic mode has changed.

What history has shown us is that the oppression of a group persists even after that group has officially been liberated and made conventional citizens. So, even if the replicants are the new underclass in the Blade Runner worlds, they introduce not the end of something but a new layer of prejudice and exploitation in the stratum of their society. The other layers remain and might be re-purposed. A black man or woman may own a white replicant as a slave, but will find it hard to get into the top schools or positions at a biotech corporation.