In response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. over thirty years ago, Jane Elliott devised the controversial and startling, "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" exercise. This, now famous, exercise labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the color of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority. Everyone who is exposed to this movie will agree that we must stand and no longer be silent in the fight against discrimination, and equal rights.
"It won't help much to be prepared to face Jane Elliott. This elderly woman will tear down any shield. Even we, the spectators in BLUE EYED, can't get rid of this feeling of uneasiness, embarrassment, anxiety and utterly helpless hatred when she starts keeping people down, humiliating them, deriding them, incapacitating them. No doubt about this: for three quarters of the time in this documentation Jane Elliott is the meanest, the lowest, the most detestful, the most hypocritical human being hell has ever spit back on earth. But she should be an example for all of us."
"Oh, Great Spirit, keep me from ever judging a man until I have walked a mile in his moccasins."
"Yet all I could think of as I saw this attitude of sympathetic indifference develop was the way I had myself reacted to racial discrimination all these many years: Sure, an incident can anger you. Sure, you feel sorry about the way blacks are being treated. Sure, something ought to be done about it. And now, what shall we talk about?"
"...that there had to be a way to do more as a teacher than simply tell children that racial prejudice is irrational, that racial discrimination is wrong. We've all been told those things. We know them, at least in the sense that we mouth them at appropriate times. Yet we continue to discriminate, or to tolerate it in others, or to do nothing to stop it. What I had racked my brain to think of the night before was a way of letting my children find out for themselves, personally, deeply, what discrimination was really like, how it felt, what it could do to you. Now the time had come to try it."
"If hazel eyes ever go out of style, my father's going to be in trouble."
"and suddenly those warnings sprang into my mind. I hesitated a moment and then said that all of my neighbors were white."
"For a long time after that, I felt like a snake. I knew what I should have done -- I should have said the neighborhood was white but that she could come and look at the house if she were interested. But, of course, I hadn't. I tried to analyze why I had evaded the issue, and I was forced to the conclusion that I had backed away from my principles out of fear of my neighbors' opinions. If we had rented to a Negro family and later wanted to move back, we would have had to face their anger. I saw that when the chips were down, I had not been able to face that. And I hated myself for it."
"Well, would you like to find out?"
"Suppose we divided the class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed people,"
"Suppose that for the rest of today the blue-eyed people became the inferior group. Then, on Monday, we could reverse it so that the brown-eyed children were inferior. Wouldn't that give us a better understanding of what discrimination means?"
"Fine. OK. Will every white person in this room who would like to spend the rest of his or her life being treated, discussed, and looked upon as we treat, discuss, and look upon people of color, generally speaking, in this society, please stand?"
"Do you know what you just admitted? You just admitted that you know that it's happening, you know that it's ugly, and you know that you don't want it for you. So why are you so willing to accept it for others? The ultimate obscenity is that you deny that it's happening."
It's also fixing the system so that black or hispanic votes don't get counted.It's refusing to open the polling places in precincts where most of the eligible voters are people of color.It's outlawing affirmative action at the state level even though it has proven successful.It's building more prisons than we build schools and guaranteeing that they will be filled by targeting young men of color with things like the "three strikes" legislation in California, and the DWB -- "driving while black."
It's the fact that there are more children attending segregated schools in the U.S. today than there were previous to Brown vs. Board of Education.It's white flight and red-lining by financial institutions.It's television programming that portrays people of color as villains and white people as their victims.It's ballot-security systems, which are used to intimidate minority voters and so result in the very activities which they are supposedly designed to prevent.
However, the fear that that very thing could happen to white people is part of what drives the racist behaviors that we see in this society today. People need to realize that this ugliness is still going on and that it's still dangerous to stand up and be counted.
A Lesson Learned
We know that anything you learn you can unlearn, and the film gives people who watch it hope that they can unlearn and, ultimately, give up their racism.
Ms. Elliott continues to successfully deliver presentations to a wide variety of audiences thoughout the world and is available to present these moving lectures before your group or organization. [website]
When The Least of My People Are Blamed
The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro
What To The American Slave is Your 4th of July?