I stumbled upon a fascinating exercise recently. A woman named Jane Elliott has been trying to get people to understand racism for more than 40 years. In my privileged little bubble, I was unaware. I’m learning now.
In 1993, Jane was invited to do her program on Oprah Winfrey’s show. The setup is simple – the audience is segregated into blue-eyed people and brown-eyed people. The brown-eyed people are treated with courtesy and deference. The blue-eyed people are treated poorly, not even given chairs to sit on as they watch the show, and told to wear green collars around their necks, which identify them as “Blue-eyes.”
Jane informs the audience that scientific research has proven that blue-eyed people are not as intelligent as brown-eyed people, and are less likely to achieve success. And it took off from there.
Jane, a blue-eyed white woman, is a stern teacher. She takes no crap and is most definitely, at times, unfair. But that’s the point.
The blue-eyed people argue, are righteously indignant, and try to argue with Jane. Some of the white, brown-eyed people are clearly uncomfortable, too.
What fascinated me was to see the reaction of people of color, who are, for perhaps the first time, in the position of privilege. They recognize almost immediately what is going on. Each time Jane accuses the blue-eyed people of not being respectful, not following the rules, not acting like brown-eyed people, they nod. It is all clearly familiar.
Of course, there is a blue-eyed white man who brings up religion, claiming God made the races, and “someone has to be in charge.”
“God made the races,” Jane tells him. “Human beings made racism.”
Read more installments of Village Voices by Susan Barnett.