Addis Ethiopia Weblog

Ethiopia's World / የኢትዮጵያ ዓለም

  • February 2009
    M T W T F S S
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    232425262728  
  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts

BLUE EYED

Posted by addisethiopia / አዲስ ኢትዮጵያ on February 11, 2009


JANE ELLIOTT AND THE “BLUE-EYED/ BROWN-EYED” EXERCISE

We live in a different World”

 

Jane Elliott, a pioneer in racism awareness training, was first inspired to action by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. As a third grade teacher in an all-white, all-Christian community, she struggled for ways to help her students understand racism and discrimination. She adopted the “Blue-Eyed/brown eyed” exercise, (in which participants are treated as inferior or superior based solely on the color of their eyes) as a result of reading about the techniques the Nazis used on those they designated undesirable during what is now called the Holocaust.

 

The purpose of the exercise is to give white people an opportunity to find out how it feels to be something other than white. The exercise gained national attention when it was featured on the Johnny Carson Show in 1968 and again when it aired on the ABC News show, Now, in a segment called Eye of the Storm.

 

After 16 years of teaching, Jane Elliott began to offer her training to scores of corporations, government agencies, colleges and community groups. Millions of people have been exposed to her powerful message through her appearances on Today, The Tonight Show, Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and PBS’ Frontline series in a program entitled A Class Divided.

Jane Elliott does not intellectualize highly emotionally charged or challenging topics. She creates a situation in which participants experience discrimination themselves and therefore feel its effects emotionally, not intellectually. She throws aside conventional wisdom about adult learning. Instead of respecting students’ existing knowledge, affirming their sense of self, etc., she uses participants’ own emotions to make them feel discomfort, guilt, shame, embarrassment and humiliation.

 

Jane Elliott would say that protecting white people from the pain of racism only serves to perpetuate it. Her skillful use of confrontation is intended to dislodge white people from their comfortable privilege long enough for them to learn. In organizational settings where constructive confrontation is not always appropriate, watching Jane Elliott on video can achieve some of the same benefits vicareously.

 

Jane Elliott focuses on white people as the targets for change. She sees white people as “owning” the problem of racism and having the power to eradicate it. For this reason, she does not look at “both sides of the problem” the way training programs about cultural difference, communication or performance often do. Facilitators should be aware that Jane Elliott’s focus on white people can lead viewers to the wrong impression that people of color are passively molded by white people’s behavior when, in actuality, people of color can and do respond to racism in a variety of ways.

 

Blue Eyed lets viewers participate vicariously in the “Blue-Eyed/brown eyed” exercise. In the video, we see adults from Kansas City, Missouri, who were invited by a local organization, “Harmony,” to take part in a workshop about appreciating diversity. We watch as the group is divided according to eye color. Since the blue-eyed people are “on the bottom” they are crowded into a small, hot room without enough chairs and watched by strict security.

 

Jane Elliott leaves them for a long while without any information while she prepares the brown-eyed people to be “on the top.” The brown-eyed people are given answers to test questions and instructed to demean the blue-eyed people. When the blue-eyed people are brought into the room, some are required to sit at the feet of the brown-eyed people as Jane Elliott treats them according to negative traits that are commonly assigned to people of color, women, lesbians and gay men, people with disabilities, and other non-dominant members of society.

 

Jane Elliott is unrelenting in her ridicule and humiliation of the blue-eyed people. When participants express sadness, shame, or tears, she drills in the point that participants only have to live this reality during the workshop, while people of color receive this treatment for a lifetime. Despite the fact that the group is participating voluntarily and, to some extent, knows what to expect, it seems clear that the exercise is painful.

 

The blue-eyed participants experience humiliation and powerlessness. The participants of color watch as white people learn what they already know to be true. Later in the film, people of color talk about the stress of being denied housing, job opportunities, and dignity as parents.

 

Interspersed between clips of the exercise we see Jane Elliott in her home and on the streets of her community describing the origins and consequences of the exercise. She describes, with great emotion, how her family has been harassed and ostracized as a result of her efforts to educate white people about racism.

 

 

The Thirty-Minute Blue Eyed

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: