Part 1 is a literature review which introduces an ambiguous narrator amidst imaginatively exploring the question, "what is race?" The protagonist, a frustrated social mechanic (i.e., scientist) living in a world of intelligent machines which connect to create large social machines, imparts an academic account about this slightly odd mechanical world with significant racial inequality. Over the course of this part, the account reviews several theories of race and, building on research in status construction, considers how race "happens" at the nexus of several competing and complementary theories. Additionally, the part presents important scientific concepts and key theatrical characters.
Part 2 is the methods section where the protagonist introduces the agent-based modeling approach and, simultaneously, further develops both the characters and narrative landscape. This part reviews several simple, accessible computational models, including the El-Farol bar problem and the works of Thomas Schelling and Robert Axelrod on segregation and cooperation, respectively. Furthermore, the narrative outlines the details of the Nash Bargaining game, a computational model which draws on the nexus of theories behind race, that is used to grow racial inequality in a population of artificial agents.
Part 3 is the first of two substantive parts. This part showcases the initial results using a series of graphs alongside analogies to highlight how the models work. The narrative transitions from revealing the egalitarian outcomes of the baseline models and the role of racists in perpetuating inequality to the large, persistent racial inequities observed in models where we allow non-racists agents to learn to use bias (i.e., subtle prejudice). In addition, this part further develops relationships between characters and presents a sub-climactic interaction where the protagonist is forced to perform an analysis of empirical data.
Part 4 is the second of two substantive parts. Here, the narrative reintroduces structural theory, those large, routinized patterns of interaction that guide social behaviors, and presents results on how large structures shape the experience of race. This part sheds new light on how population composition, intergroup contact and extremely high levels of discrimination uniquely interact and contribute to racial inequality in a social system. Additionally, this part details a peculiar sub-climactic encounter in which an ambiguous character questions the veracity of the protagonist and practicality of the computational model.
Part 5 is a discussion section where the protagonist encounters an entire crowd of characters engaging one another about the validity of the computational models. The narrative openly considers: Do real social actors host and employ subtle prejudice? Do they behave like the agents in the simulations? In the context of both dialogue and short research posts, the account reviews research on housing, hiring, health care and implicit attitudes, methodically assessing the extent to which the results of existing social scientific research are in line with the simulations. Although the discussion reveals clear evidence of actors employing subtle prejudice, Part 5 culminates with the crowd still pressing the protagonist to explain what this all means.
Part 6 is the conclusion section where the narrative turns to the explore the real world implications of the simulations. The part contains the culmination of a dream sequence which presents a general model of racial inequality—systemic imbalance. From this theoretical vantage, using a mix of storytelling and dialogue, the narrative in Part 6 adeptly highlights that racial inequities are much deeper than a nuanced set of outcomes in a popular statistical model. Rather, they emerge from a simple shared algorithm that has infected civil society.
The Afterword is a Q & A with the author. The author casually engages a series of unseen questions on topics ranging from the genre of the manuscript, to the applicability of the computational model to racial inequities in the real world, to the implications for policies that endeavor to eradicate racial inequality.